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Depth Chart a Work in Progress

The first preseason game is in the books and there is even more excitement among Denver Broncos fans now, if that is even possible.

The 31-3 win over the Chicago Bears Thursday night was seen by fans and media throughout the state of Colorado and, due to the cut-ins by the NFL Network, many smaller game segments have been viewed nationally.

One of the favored topics of discussion is the depth chart.  The first one was published last week, and quite naturally it stimulates great conversation.

However, it is well to remember that at this time of the year, every player has to be listed somewhere, but the depth chart is more accurately said to be written not in concrete but in concrete dust.

The coaches evaluate the players on their performance in the four preseason games, but also on the training camp practices, as well as on general behavior that excludes nothing—how is someone at the team meetings?  Does he pay attention?  Take a lot of notes?  How about when it is time to lift?  Good with the coaches, does all his repetitions properly?  How are his mannerisms with people?  What is his general attitude like?

Some guys do it all, are all things positive at all times, and they rub off on others.

Clearly, the perfect example of that is Peyton Manning.

If a player is way less than that, at all times, his chances diminish.

But fans and media often can judge only by the preseason game, which does not tell all.

And the place that his name appears on the roster, at this time, tells even less.

Every player on the team, from one through 90, is approaching his work with the same sense of urgency.  Everyone is being observed and evaluated every day.

The depth chart is something to study, but it is not how you start, it is how you finish. 

I have seen so many examples of lower round draft choices and free agent players start off at the bottom and wind up as Bronco starters.

I vividly remember the summer of 1995, when Terrell Davis steadily marched through training camp and the depth chart itself, moving from a deep reserve role to NFL stardom that culminated in TD being selected for the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.

In fact, he is one of just three running backs in NFL history to have averaged more than one touchdown per game over his entire NFL career—the other two being Jim Brown and Barry Sanders—giving you some clue as to what my opinion is regarding whether or not TD belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Wide receiver Steve Watson, linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, defensive back Tyrone Braxton, those are just a few more examples of guys whose stock rose during camp.

Richard Jackson was a linebacker who was just a  "throw in" in a trade with the Oakland Raiders.  Denver made his a defensive end and he made himself "Tombstone" Jackson, a pass rusher of such renown that Sports Illustrated writing legend Paul Zimmerman said belonged on the NFL's All-NFL team of the league's first 50 years.  Richard Jackson is in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame as well.

Or how about barefoot kicker Rich Karlis, who had to survive a 478-player tryout just to earn a free agent contract for training camp, eventually helping kick the Broncos into Super Bowl XXI with three pressure field goals in "The Drive" AFC Championship game in Cleveland. 

I could go on and on.

Last year Chris Harris led all of our defensive backs in tackles last year, but his 2011 training camp began as an undrafted free agent from the University of Kansas.

The examples are too many to go through one by one.

But there are 90 players fighting for roster spots and playing time.  They are all listed on the depth chart, somewhere, but only 53 names will be on that depth chart at the end. 

And there are guaranteed to be some surprises.  It is where you are listed at the finish, not at the start.

Remember that as a truism of the meritocracy that is the NFL as Broncos players determine their roles on the growth and development of the final roster. 

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