ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are 88 players on the Broncos’ active roster. By Aug. 27, that number must be cut to 75. At the start of September, only 53 players will remain on the team.
The coaching staff has made it clear this offseason that very few players are promised a place on the team. But every single one of them is promised is a chance to earn their spot.
“The great thing here is that (Head) Coach (John) Fox gives everyone an opportunity,” Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. “He breaks it down and as camp goes along you cut back those reps, but from OTAs until this last week, they’ve gotten a fair shot. He always tells the players, ‘Hey, you’re going to create your role on this football team.’ We’re going to give them plenty of reps, and as we start cutting back, it’s the coaches’ job to make sure that we’re working towards the best 53.”
In selecting the final roster, coaches take every little detail into account, from meetings to walkthroughs to practices and games. Ultimately, the goal is to assemble a group of players that, collectively, give the Broncos the greatest chance at success.
“From my standpoint, it’s not any one thing,” Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “You really talk about – and really it is true -- that you’re looking for guys that you can depend on in the fall to help your football team win. That’s really what you’re looking for. I think Coach Fox, he speaks to the team about it all the time, he wants to make sure he picks the best 53 for this team, for this year, for us to win. That’s what he’s after and that’s what we’re all after.”
Certain factors are more heavily weighted than others – particularly for those that are on the cusp of making the team.
“The next couple weeks, the final spots on the roster come down to special teams,” McCoy said. “The young players have got to understand that it’s not just having success on offense or defense, but what you do in the kicking game. We’d always like to keep an extra running back here or there, or tight end, whatever it’s going to be, but it doesn’t (always) happen.”
Another way for a player to secure a role on the team is to show something in the preseason games that can’t be evaluated in practices. Though opportunities are more limited, their performances in live situations are magnified.
“I think game exposure is more heavily weighted, as it should be,” Del Rio said. “That’s what we’re all about -- playing well in the games."
"You don’t get as many reps, but you do get an opportunity to show who you are, what you stand for and whether or not the team can count on you.”
Offseason practices give the staff a chance to get to know each player’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. But instincts, character and makeup are more accurately judged in game situations.
“You get a good feel for guys in OTAs, minicamps and through training camp,” McCoy said. “You learn something different about all the players throughout, whether it’s mentally, physically or whatever it’s going to be. The true test is when they have no idea, there’s no script in front of them, they don’t know what’s coming, you call plays as you feel the game, and they have to just react.”
Both Del Rio and McCoy joked about hoping their side of the ball will have the most players -- therefore the most flexibility and depth -- after final cuts are made. But everyone is on the same page in knowing that the ultimate decisions are made by Coach Fox and Vice President of Football Operations John Elway, with input from the rest of the staff.
“I’m pulling hard for the defense,” Del Rio laughed. “But I understand as a former head coach that you have to do what’s best for the football team. And ultimately that’s what Coach Fox and John Elway will do. But from our standpoint we’re going to stack them how we like them and give them that information and they go from there.”
With single-digit practices and just two preseason games remaining before final cuts, players need to use the last stretch of the offseason to prove they are indispensable.
“Everybody has to step their game up and do the best they can because we’re going to pick the best 53,” McCoy said. “It’s not always fair, but this is not a fair business.”