It’s back; it’s finally back.
After a half-year drought of live-action football, the Broncos take the field for training camp Thursday.
But until Von Miller pins his ears back to chase down Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in the regular-season opener Sept. 11, there are plenty of things the Broncos need to straighten out internally. Aside from the hottest positional battle in the league — Paxton Lynch v. Trevor Siemian at QB — first-year head coach Vance Joseph will have his hands full putting together his first NFL roster.
With four preseason games and 12 days of training camp to gather information on each and every player, the roster is bound to take many twists and turns on its way to completion.
Here’s how I see things shaking out:
Undrafted rookie will make squad, again
After an eleven year streak (2004-2014) in which an undrafted rookie made the 53-man squad, the Broncos saw the league’s longest streak come to and end in 2015. But last season the team started a new streak with defensive lineman Kyle Peko making the roster, and thanks to the massive blocker-eating nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett, the streak will reach two years 2017.
Denver’s main objective on defense this off-season was clear: get bigger. Jarrett’s official 340 pounds adds even more weight to a unit looking to eat-up blockers. His unique size lands him on the 53.
The additions of Jamaal Charles and De’Angelo Henderson in the backfield don’t leave room for Thompson, ending his three-year stint in Denver. Thompson, however, will find a new home in the league given his skillset and versatility.
John Elway didn’t use two draft picks on wide receivers because he was happy with the players already on the roster. Outside of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, no returning Broncos receiver is guaranteed a roster spot. Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer and Jordan Taylor are all on the hot seat with at least one likely to be cut.
Stephenson was eliminated from the left tackle battle during OTAs, and with Menelik Watson holding the right side of the line strong, Stephenson is without a position entering camp. The Broncos restructured Stephenson’s contract in March to save them $2 million if he doesn’t make 53-man roster, and they could very well cash in on that savings in a few weeks.
With plenty of undrafted rookie safeties earning praise — Dante Barnett, Jamal Carter, Orion Stewart and Dymonte Thomas among them— Parks’ off-season mistakes could catch up to him. If Denver sees enough from one of the four rookie safeties, it could make it easy to move on from the talented sixth-round pick of just a year ago.
After failing to establish himself as a consistent receiving option, Green could be looking for a new team as Denver would save $2.8 million if they release him. With recent additions of A.J. Derby and Jake Butt, Green may not get a chance to play out his contract.
No drafted rookies will be cut
John Elway might get a “W” before the season even begins. While every player was drafted because the team liked something about them, it’s no guarantee back-end draft picks make the roster.
It does seem that quarterback Chad Kelly could be placed on the injured reserve. Other than that, every drafted rookie has a strong chance to make the team’s initial 53-man squad.
Outside of Kelly, sixth-round running back D. Henderson is the only rookie in the draft class who could realistically get cut. However, we think Henderson’s versatility will end up being enough to earn himself a spot on the roster and the recent injury to Devontae Booker makes that seem even more likely.
Fifth-round pick Jake Butt will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from ACL surgery, but he isn’t in jeopardy of being cut.
Offensive line will look different at the end of camp than at the beginning
Not only is it possible — and likely — that the offensive line will look different at the end of camp, it’s not a stretch to say multiple positions could change in that time, too.
Entering camp, guard Ron Leary is the only lock to remain a starter, though he has a significant injury history.
The Broncos already showed that guard Max Garcia may not be a starter for long, as they moved him from the right side to the left in the off-season to cater to his skill set better. On Wednesday, the Broncos traded for guard Allen Barbre in a move that will put even more pressure on Garcia.
Center Matt Paradis could be in more of a competition with Connor McGovern than fans realize, as Paradis is returning from double hip surgery in the offseason.
Ty Sambrailo will likely be overtaken by rookie Garett Bolles for the starting left tackle spot, and the loser of that competition could end up competing with Menelik Watson for right tackle.
What is clear when it comes to the Broncos’ offensive line: The starting lineup is far from decided.
Projected changes in lineup from beginning to end of training camp
*BOLD indicates a change in projections from the beginning of camp to the end