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Broncos Notebook: Who to watch for in the preseason finale

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 28, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The final preseason game is within grasp, meaning the Denver Broncos regular season is oh-so-close.

But before the team begins their prep for the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, they’ve got to dwindle down their roster from 90 to 53 players.

Officially, that process will take place on Friday and Saturday, but the fourth preseason game will go a long way in the team’s evaluation.

Twenty-two players—presumably the starters on offense and defense—will not play in Denver’s preseason finale on Thursday night along with injured players. Outside of the 22 starters, according to head coach Vance Joseph, “Everyone is still fighting for jobs.”

“As a young player, you get one more chance to prove you can play in this league,” Joseph said on Tuesday, not understating the stakes of the game. “For some of the guys, it’s the most important football game they’ve played in their whole lives.”

Here’s what to expect and who to keep an eye on in the meaningless—for the starters—and ever important—for the other 68 players—fourth preseason game Thursday night.


Who won’t play

  • The starters on offense and defense are not expected to play. No Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., or Case Keenum for the preseason finale.
  • Along with the starters, it’s not expected that Troy Fumagalli will play, due to injury.
  • Joseph was noncommittal on Adam Jones playing, simply saying, “We’ll see.”
  • Jerrol Garcia-Williams is being evaluated for a knee injury after leaving Tuesday’s practice under his own power. He left the facility on crutches, wearing a sleeve around his leg. His status for Thursday’s game is unclear.
  • On Tuesday, Joseph was “not sure” if any of the running backs wouldn’t play. He will meet with John Elway and the staff before the game to ”see where they are.”

Who will play

  • Chad Kelly will start the team’s preseason finale and will play about a half. Paxton Lynch will play the rest of the game.
  • Brandon McManus, Marquette King and Casey Kreiter will play. Although they are special teams starters, they don’t have backups on the team and will have to play out of necessity.
  • “Right now” Royce Freeman is scheduled to play, according to Joseph. That could change before the game, however, as Joseph said, “We’ll see if he plays and how much he plays.”
  • Joseph hinted that Freeman, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Devontae Booker, Max Garcia, Shelby Harris and Zach Kerr will play by saying, “It’s a toss up how much those guys play. You want them to play some, but you don’t want to expose them to too many reps to get them nicked, because our real game is next Sunday.


Chad Kelly

Currently, the second-year quarterback is listed as the Broncos’ backup, but the dialogue out of the UCHealth Training Center for weeks has centered around him being the backup “right now.”

Kelly has done nothing to date to prove he shouldn’t be the team’s backup for the regular season and could force the Broncos hand with a fourth-straight impressive performance.

The most important thing for Kelly to do against Arizona is protect the ball.

Isaiah McKenzie

After signing Adam Jones for his ability as a cornerback and punt returner, it’s clear Denver isn’t intent on handing McKenzie a spot on the team.

As a significantly younger, and faster, player, McKenzie provides more of a home-run threat as a punt returner than the soon-to-be 35-year-old Jones, but the second-year player is walking a tightrope now.

One mistake in Thursday’s game could drastically change his immediate future with the team. It would be a bonus if the speedster showed his potential big-play ability on offense, too.

Dymonte Thomas

The second-year safety out of Michigan starred in the team’s third preseason game. If Thomas puts on another impressive performance in the fourth game, he could force the Broncos to put him on the final 53-man roster as he would be too hot of a commodity to slip onto their practice squad.

“He’s played that way the entire training camp,” Joseph said, commenting on Thomas’ impressive performance against Washington. “He played that way in Week 15, 16 and 17 last year. I’m not surprised that he’s playing well.”

De’Angelo Henderson

The running back room is taking shape, with Freeman, Booker and Phillip Lindsay set to make the final cut. With the team likely keeping fullback Andy Janovich on the roster, that will force the Broncos to make at least one cut to either Henderson or David Williams.

As of now, Henderson has the advantage. He can solidify that with a solid game against Arizona.

“De’Angelo has done some good things,” Joseph added on Tuesday.

Additionally, there are reports indicating Henderson will garner interest if he hits waivers.

River Cracraft

The addition of Adam Jones might not benefit anyone more than the shifty second-year receiver out of Washington State. If the team views Jones as the starting punt returner, that would make McKenzie expendable.

Currently, Cracraft is listed just ahead of McKenzie on the receiver depth chart and if the team were to keep six wideouts, Cracraft could edge out McKenzie and John Diarse for the final spot.

Cracraft impressed during parts of training camp, but hasn’t put enough separation between himself and the other receivers to be a lock. The traditional slot receiver would greatly benefit from a solid game Thursday night.

Clinton McDonald

The Broncos were high on the interior pass rusher from the moment they signed him—as the two-year, $7 million contract they gave him during free agency would indicate.

However, McDonald wasn’t healthy in the spring and dealt with a should injury during the preseason, which led to him restructuring his contract before even playing a single snap in Denver.

Joseph praised McDonald during training camp for his ability to rush the passer and stop the run, giving him an advantage entering Thursday.

Tuesday, Joseph hinted at the veteran’s status with the team, saying, “Experienced backup players are valuable in this league and it’s hard to keep them because of salaries. So when you find an experienced guy you can afford, it’s always a good deal to keep those guys.”

“He’s looked great. He’s looked really good,” Joseph said, when asked how McDonald has performed since coming back from injury. “He provides an inside pass rush that we haven’t had here in a long time.”

Alexander Johnson

There’s no question the Broncos are very high on the undrafted rookie as they gave him a whopping $50,000 of guarantees when he signed with the team during camp.

However, after not playing football for over three years, it’s not clear if the team plans to keep him on their 53-man roster or attempt to stash him on the practice squad as he gets back into football shape.

Johnson has impressed on special teams during the preseason. If he continues to do so in the preseason finale, even just on special teams, he could lock up a roster spot for himself.

Additionally, the way John Elway talked about him during the team’s joint practices with the Chicago Bears would suggest he’s in the team’s future plans.

“I think he’ll be a great addition here,” Elway stated. “He’s a guy where obviously it’s going to take some time.”

Johnson will be wearing No. 45 this week after he changed from No. 62.

Jeff Holland

Holland is another player the Broncos thought very highly of as an undrafted rookie, giving him a then-team high $15,000 signing bonus after the draft.

The Auburn product drew massive praise from defensive coordinator Joe Woods during the spring, but has had a relatively quiet preseason, only racking up one sack.

The talented pass rusher could lock himself in as the team’s fifth outside linebacker by getting after Arizona’s quarterbacks.


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