They’re all going to play. That was the message of Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak as he spoke to the media down at Dove Valley on Monday.
The Broncos head into week one of the NFL season against the Baltimore Ravens, a team that has been a trendy pick to be atop AFC this year and one that Denver has no shortage of familiarity with.
But beyond Baltimore, the team must also keep tabs on the looming Thursday night matchup just five days later at Arrowhead Stadium against the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Lest we forget, this is a team that is 18-1 against divisional opponents during the Peyton Manning era, a trend I’m sure the team would like to continue. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have added enough weapons to convince at least some analysts that they could be the team to unseat the Broncos as the class of the AFC West in 2015.
Add to this stretch of two brutal games that the Broncos will be dealing with the suspension of starting safety T.J. Ward for the first, and Derek Wolfe for a full four games to start the year, and it’s not difficult to see how the back end of Denver’s active roster might get stretched out more than some of its counterparts across the league.
David Bruton will start in place of Ward, but Kubiak was also adamant that other safeties like Omar Bolden, Josh Bush, and maybe even Bradley Roby could get looks in place of the bruising strong safety.
Similarly, when directly asked about the state of the depth chart at wide receiver, Kubiak’s response was that “they’re going to all play.”
“I think that we’re going to rotate guys,” he continued. “We play two games in five days. I have confidence in all of them, so we’ll see how we end up, but I think that you’re going to see them all out there.”
While it’s not unusual for every member of the active 46 on game day to see the field (as one former NFL player told me, “if a coach doesn’t have a plan for every player [other than the backup quarterback], he’s wasting roster spots”), the extent that Kubiak uses the Broncos’ depth over the first two games may end up being unprecedented. Denver’s coaching staff has remained adamant that they believed they had quality NFL football players basically since the team made the cut to 76 players earlier in the preseason. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where not just the starters, but all of Denver’s young players come home with more NFL seasoning than perhaps most people expected.
While the Broncos have done a great job constructing a starting 22 made up of a Who’s Who of NFL top talent, the fact of the matter is that no team can ever be truly confident of its depth until it’s tested.
Objectively, the Broncos just made moves to insert two undrafted players cut by other teams onto their 53-man roster in prominent backup positions. They have one suspended defensive end and another that’s ailing. They have a nose tackle who struggled as a defensive tackle with less responsibility the past two years, and his backup is a fifth-round draft pick of this offseason.
Each of these positions could end up being a total non-issue for the Broncos, but we won’t know until the entire team is pressed into action, and Gary Kubiak wants to get that done in the first two games of the season.
The Denver Broncos may have some growing pains early in the year. Peyton Manning and the Kubiak offense may have some gelling to do, and battling suspensions, injury, and inexperience on the defensive line could lead to susceptibility against the run.
But the good news for the team is that they’re all going to learn together, because they’re all going to play. If the team, top to bottom, has the championship mentality that John Elway’s been searching for, we should all enjoy the results.