We did it everybody, we made it.
After six long months without a football game, we’ll finally get our first taste of the 2019 season — and even better, the Broncos’ 2019 season — Thursday night. Here are the top storylines, and position battles to watch heading into the game.
Kevin Hogan vs. Drew Lock vs. Brett Rypien
For much of the Broncos’ training camp, Kevin Hogan has seemed like the odd man out, which made it surprising when it was announced he would start the Hall of Fame game. The Broncos likely won’t carry more than two quarterbacks on the active roster, and Rypien has outperformed Hogan in camp and is younger, making him the likely quarterback of the scout team.
It’s likely that Vic Fangio and the rest of the Broncos’ staff are trying to both give veteran quarterback Joe Flacco as long of a leash as possible by making it clear that Lock isn’t challenging for the job, as well as make Lock “earn” his spot through competition.
It will be fun to watch Thursday night as Hogan and Rypien battle it out for the scout team job, and more importantly, to see if Lock can solidify his role as the backup quarterback with some “wow” throws.
Does Juwann Winfree‘s standout camp performance continue?
This year’s sixth-round pick has been one of training camp’s most pleasant surprises with consistent stellar showings and that should excite both the Broncos and their fans.
Winfree didn’t fall to the sixth round due to a lack of talent or character concerns, which has been clear so far in camp. At this point, Winfree should be considered a near-lock for the roster, but he could carve out a large role for himself with strong outings in the preseason.
With his University of Colorado origin, potential, draft status, strong character, and rapid camp rise to prominence it’s hard not to compare Winfree to what we saw from Phillip Lindsay in 2018.
Did John Elway strike gold in back-to-back seasons? We might get the answer Thursday night.
Denver’s battle for the final receiver spot and kick returner
The Broncos will probably enter the 2019 season with six receivers on their roster, one of which will also likely be tasked with kick returning duties.
Now, the Broncos should get plenty of good looks at both spots. Special teams coordinator Tom McMahon said earlier, “There is no depth chart at the returner spot, you have to give names when you go into games. Everybody is gonna play, as many as we can get in. There’ll be a different guy on every single punt return, I promise you.” This makes those in-game reps incredibly valuable for those receivers trying to make the roster.
Guys like Nick Williams, Trinity Benson, Brendan Langley, Fred Brown and Kelvin McKnight all have caught eyes during training camp for their work in the passing game. Now, the Broncos may be able to carve out a spot for a seventh receiver on the roster or stash one to two of them on their practice squad, but odds are they’ll have to let most of them go, adding to the importance of these preseason games and their performances as returners.
Vic Fangio putting players through trial by fire in preseason
The preseason isn’t about win-loss record. There’s no greater proof of this than the 0-16 Lions of 2007 ironically finishing 4-0 in the preseason.
The preseason is a tool for teams to warm up and more importantly, evaluate the back-end of their roster, and Vic Fangio is very aware of this.
“As we stand here today it’s not that important, but invariably when we get on that sideline it’s like playing a game of Horse in the backyard,” Fangio said in regards to the importance of winning Thursday’s game. “You still want to win. We want to win but we know there’s bigger fish to fry in the game, meaning we’ve got to get evaluations of these guys to help us pick the best 53 for the team.”
One way Fangio uses the preseason as an evaluation tool is by putting his defensive players in uncomfortable positions.
“If I’m pretty confident they might be throwing it, instead of maybe giving a corner some help I’m going to see if he can cover his guy; play a light box even though we think they might be running it.” This allows the Broncos to evaluate who can perform well even when things go wrong or Fangio makes the wrong call on defense.
You can expect offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to do the same on his side of the ball too. When asked if he told Scangarello to make the offensive players uncomfortable, Fangio said, “Yeah. Let’s see who can block a good pass rusher without chipping him. Even though they’ve got the box loaded, let’s see if we can run it up in there.”