No player with more experience was trimmed from the Broncos' roster on Saturday. But a flare-up of his knee against Seattle on Aug. 17 and his occasional struggles with handling bull-rushes from defensive tackles 40 or 50 pounds heavier sounded alarms that his late-summer comeback was not going to work out as he or the Broncos hoped.
Lilja's release was a justifiable decision given the overall construction of depth on the interior offensive line.
The cut decisions are painful, but sometimes they are clear: there are other players, younger and with potentially untapped upside, who can do what someone older does. It's cold, it's calculated, and it's life, and unfortunately for Lilja, it made him the most prominent name among those on the Broncos' list Saturday.
Five more thoughts jump out from the 22 roster moves made by the Broncos to pare the roster down to 53.
1. The waiving of draft picks Vinston Painter and Tavarres King was a bit of a stunner, given the Broncos' patience in recent years with members of their draft class. King becomes the highest draft pick of the John Elway/John Fox era to be waived as a rookie.
2. With King, Gerell Robinson and Lamaar Thomas all waived, the Broncos go into the season with limited depth behind
But in effect, much of their in-game, emergency depth at wide receiver will come from the tight end spot. If they lose two of their three starting receivers in a game, you can expect to see heavy use of two-tight end formations, which will be a staple of the offense, anyway.
Expect the Broncos to target this area heavily when they construct the practice squad. The question now is whether any of the receivers they released will pass through waivers, or if they will have to look elsewhere.
3. Five running backs for a team that used more than one man in the backfield with the quarterback on just 20.2 percent of its preseason snaps seems to be a bit of a luxury, but the multi-faceted use of those runners -- whether split wide or lined up closer to the offensive tackles -- will make this justifiable as game plans are put together.
It was also clear the Broncos did not believe
The heavy boot on McCray's right leg and foot and the crutches he needed to leave Sports Authority Field at Mile High after Thursday's game offered evidence that McCray's fate involved IR. It was a crushing blow to McCray and the Broncos, but if he heals probably, he should still factor into their long-term plans, as his skill set makes him an ideal backup for
Smith noted that his knee became more sore as Thursday's game progressed. It was clear that he was not all the way back from the November 2012 surgery he underwent to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament; the burst he displayed off the snap and getting to the edge prior to the injury only emerged in flashes this summer. Injured reserve was a possibility all along for Smith, and this draft pick was going to be judged by where he was in 2014 and 2015, not this moment.
Bradley's move to injured reserve ends his season; the Broncos opted not to use the eligible-to-return designation on him. This appears to make
5. When you're trying to sign undrafted rookies, it's like college-football recruiting compressed down to its barest essence: it's a sales pitch, and you need a hook and a lure to catch the big fish. The best hook is legitimate hope, and the Broncos have been able to offer that -- and can continue to do so, now that their streak of years with at least one undrafted player making the 53-man roster now stands at 10.
Signing undrafted players gets more difficult when you're pushing for a Super Bowl. The rookies often perceive their chances of making a roster to be greater on a team with plentiful holes. But the decision to keep Anderson, even with an injury, shows that if you do enough in the summer, the Broncos will find a way to keep you, even if it means a slight re-shuffling of their plans.
A few other quick hits …
Steven Johnsonlooked to be on the bubble at one point during training camp, but his work on special teams was always going to give him a good shot to remain on the 53-man roster. He now has more time to develop on the practice field as a linebacker, and could have a greater defensive presence long-term if he blossoms there.
- Expect running back Lance Ball to catch on somewhere. Running backs as versatile as him end up finding spots. The Broncos would be thrilled if Anderson eventually develops into the kind of all-around back that can handle as much varied work as Ball did.
- In addition to King and Painter, two more recent draft picks were waived: defensive end Jeremy Beal and offensive lineman Philip Blake. Blake, as a fourth-rounder, is the highest draft pick of the Elway era to be released.