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Positions Decided on Thursday

Posted Aug 27, 2012

Head Coach John Fox said questions could be answered on Thursday as to who makes the final roster. We take a position-by-position look at what to keep an eye on during the preseason finale at Arizona.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In just four days, the Broncos will have to cut their recently trimmed roster even further in order to reach the regular-season total of 53 players.

Twenty-two players on the team today can't be by Friday at 7 p.m. MDT.

But a day earlier -- Thursday, Aug. 30 -- players have one final chance to leave an impression on the coaching staff when the Broncos take on the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The preseason finale takes on added importance for the group of players trying to make the final roster, as starters historically don't see much -- if any -- playing time. It's not yet known exactly how much the starters will play on Thursday, but the backups should have plenty of time to show what they can do.

"The bottom part of the roster, as far as backups, special-teams guys that can be core contributors, there’ll be a lot of those questions answered or this will be the last opportunity to have those questions answered Thursday night (at) Arizona,” Head Coach John Fox said.

With that in mind, below is a look at how many players at each position made the opening-day roster in 2011, how many are currently on the roster, and key points to keep an eye on in the fourth and final preseason game.

QUARTERBACK
• 2011 WEEK 1: Three
• CURRENT ROSTER: Four

What To Watch For:
Last season, the Broncos entered the regular season carrying three quarterbacks, but ended the season with just two. Teams have been known to hold on to as few as two quarterbacks, so with Peyton Manning the starter, three Broncos signal callers could be playing for either one or two spots on Thursday.

Fifth-year pro Caleb Hanie has the most experience of the position group outside of Manning. He has seen second-team reps in two of the team's three preseason games, completing 15-of-26 passes for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Player

2012 second-round pick Brock Osweiler took second-string snaps in the club's second preseason game, when he played the entire second half. He played nearly the entire second half again last Sunday, and has completed 13-of-27 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

Adam Weber, who spent 2011 on the team's practice squad, has seen limited playing time, but threw a touchdown in the team's first preseason game. He has completed 6-of-13 passes for 80 yards and a score.

RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK
Player • 2011 WEEK 1: Four
• CURRENT ROSTER: Six

What To Watch For:
Last season, the team kept three running backs and one fullback. With Willis McGahee the starter and Chris Gronkowski the only fullback on the roster, four running backs could be competing for two remaining spots if last year is any indication.

Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno both made the team last season, but the team took Ronnie Hillman in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and Jeremiah Johnson has impressed in training camp and the preseason.

In the preseason, Ball has 24 yards and a touchdown on the ground along with 75 receiving yards, Moreno has 35 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards, Hillman has 29 rushing yards and a 4-yard catch in one game and Johnson has 32 yards on the ground and 48 yards through the air.

Ball and Johnson have also contributed on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVER
• 2011 WEEK 1: Five
• CURRENT ROSTER: Eight

What To Watch For:
Manning has shown a knack for spreading the ball around, so it's anyone's guess how many receivers will make the final roster. But if 2011 is the barometer, three pass-catchers could be playing their last game as a Bronco on Thursday.

Eric Decker leads his position group with eight catches during the preseason, followed by Matthew Willis (6), Brandon Stokley and Demaryius Thomas (5), Jason Hill and Andre Caldwell (3) and Gerell Robinson (2). Greg Orton hasn't recorded a catch.

Player

Hill is the only receiver to record a touchdown other than Decker, who caught two against San Francisco.

Willis and Caldwell have both lined up as returners through the team’s first three preseason games.

TIGHT END
Player • 2011 WEEK 1: Three
• CURRENT ROSTER: Five

What To Watch For:
Virgil Green and Julius Thomas, both 2011 NFL Draft picks, were on the team last season, but the Broncos added two veteran pass-catchers through free agency.

Those additions, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, have both hauled in four passes for 43 yards in the preseason, and Dreessen caught a touchdown last Sunday against San Francisco. The pair have opened each of the team’s three preseason contests in two-tight end sets.

Cornelius Ingram leads the team with an average of 22.5 yards per catch on his two receptions, one of which was a 25-yarder for a touchdown.

Green has also caught two passes for 27 yards, but Thomas, who missed the majority of last season with an ankle injury, hasn't recorded a catch.

OFFENSIVE LINE
• 2011 WEEK 1: Nine
• CURRENT ROSTER: 13

What To Watch For:
Using last season as a base, the Broncos kept one center, four tackles and four guards.

The starters are Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton, Chris Kuper and Orlando Franklin, but with Kuper missing time due to a forearm fracture, Manny Ramirez has stepped into a starting role at right guard.

That would leave one guard and two tackle spots left, but this year, the team has placed added value on versatility along the offensive line.

Player

Franklin, Tony Hills and Adam Grant have lined up at both tackle and guard. Ramirez, fourth-round pick Philip Blake and C.J. Davis have all played center and guard.

There could be some tough decisions along the line, as there is a lot of Broncos experience at the position. Ryan Harris played in 46 games -- including 34 starts -- with the Broncos from 2007-10. Chris Clark has played 24 games with the Broncos, including six starts as an extra offensive lineman last season. Hills saw time in the team's AFC Wild Card win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Davis hasn't played for the Broncos, but spent his first two NFL seasons with Fox in Carolina in 2009 and 2010.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Player • 2011 WEEK 1: 10
• CURRENT ROSTER: 12

What To Watch For:
In 2011, the Broncos kept six defensive tackles and four defensive ends.

Currently, there are seven tackles and five ends on the roster.

At tackle, Ty Warren and Justin Bannan are listed as the starters. Kevin Vickerson and Mitch Unrein have seen plenty of playing time, and both were on the roster in 2011. Sealver Siliga, who has five tackles in the preseason, was a standout during OTAs and training camp, and fifth-round pick Malik Jackson has a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Ben Garland, a 1st Lt. in the Air Force, has two tackles in the preseason.

At end, the team's top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Derek Wolfe, is expected to start opposite Elvis Dumervil.

Behind them are 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers, who has a sack in the preseason, Jeremy Beal, who has two sacks, and Jamie Blatnick, a college free agent who is tied for seventh on the team with six tackles in the preseason.

LINEBACKER
• 2011 WEEK 1: Seven
• CURRENT ROSTER: 10

What To Watch For:
Linebacker could be one of the more interesting groups to keep an eye on in Thursday's preseason finale.

The starters throughout the preseason have been Von Miller, Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard.

Rounding out the group are five-time Pro Bowler Keith Brooking, who has yet to play in a preseason game due to injury; college free agent Steven Johnson, who leads the team with 12 tackles and a sack during the preseason; 2011 third-round pick Nate Irving, who is second on the club with nine preseason tackles;

Player

2012 seventh-round pick Danny Trevathan, who has impressed throughout training camp; 2011 sixth-round pick Mike Mohamed, who has been limited by a hamstring injury but still has three preseason tackles; college free agent Jerry Franklin, who has notched three tackles in the preseason; and D.J. Williams, who will not count against the 53-man roster due to a suspension.

If last year is any indication, only four of those seven reserves -- six, excluding Williams -- will make the final, 53-man roster.

CORNERBACK
Player • 2011 WEEK 1: Five
• CURRENT ROSTER: Seven

What To Watch For:
Cornerback is another position with a lot of competition.

Behind starters Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter, there are five players presumably battling for three spots -- based on 2011's numbers.

Chris Harris emerged as a player the Broncos can count on as the team's nickel back in 2011, and he has three pass breakups and three tackles in the preseason. Denver brought in veteran Drayton Florence through free agency, and he is tied for 10th on the team with five tackles.

The team drafted Omar Bolden in the fourth round, and he has a defensive tackle and a special-teams stop in the preseason. Syd'Quan Thompson, a seventh-round pick in 2010, has lined up as a returner on special teams in addition to his defensive duties.

Finally, Tony Carter played two games with the Broncos in 2009 and three in 2011, also playing in the team's AFC Divisional Playoff game in New England, contributing a special-teams tackle.

SAFETY
• 2011 WEEK 1: Four
• CURRENT ROSTER: Seven

What To Watch For:
At safety, Mike Adams and Rahim Moore have gotten the starts in preseason.

If the Broncos keep four safeties, as they did in 2011, that would leave two spots on the roster between five players.

Quinton Carter started 10 regular season games – and two postseason contests – in 2011, though knee and hamstring injuries have hampered him during training camp and the preseason.

Player

Jim Leonhard has yet to play in a preseason game but has returned to practice after recovering from a knee injury that ended his 2011 season prematurely. Though the team hasn't had much time to evaluate Leonhard in practice, he has a track record through seven NFL seasons that includes 309 tackles, six interceptions, 24 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

David Bruton is another notable name in the conversation. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Bruton has spent the past three seasons in Denver, excelling on special teams. His 29 special-teams stops in the span rank second on the club, and he blocked one punt and got his hand on another during the preseason. He started both of the team's 2011 playoff games, tying for the team lead with 15 defensive tackles.

Rafael Bush played six regular-season games for the Broncos in 2011 and played in both of the team's playoff games, ranking sixth on the team with nine tackles in the postseason. He is tied for seventh on the team in the preseason with six tackles and a pass defensed.

Last but not least, Duke Ihenacho has made plays as an undrafted free agent. He has four tackles and a special-teams stop in the preseason.

Between battles at cornerback and safety, the defensive secondary will be a place to keep a close eye on during Thursday's game.

SPECIALISTS
Player • 2011 WEEK 1: Three
• CURRENT ROSTER: Three

What To Watch For:
The only spots on the roster with no competition in the final week of the preseason are kicker, punter and long snapper.

Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt are set at kicker and punter, respectively, and rookie Aaron Brewer inherited the starting long snapper spot with the news that Lonie Paxton was released on Monday.

Fox said the team "felt great about (Brewer's) upside and his performance in the preseason," so watch for yourself as the specialists work together in their final tune-up before the regular season.

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