ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With less than four days before the Broncos must trim their roster to an initial 53-man group, you wouldn't be alone if you figured the battles on the roster bubble had already been wrapped up.
Head Coach Vic Fangio maintained Tuesday, though, that those decisions have not been made in their entirety.
"It's not set yet," Fangio said of the roster. "This year's different in that you're going from 80 to 53. You will have a 16-man practice squad. All those guys that will be on the practice squad you do have to expose to waivers. We haven't had final sit-down discussions about how it's going to look, but we will as this week goes on and as we go through the week. We'll see how it goes. Yeah, there are some choices to be made still."
The Broncos figure to have close competition at a number of roster spots, but it's been more difficult this year for fringe players to prove their value to the team. Without preseason games, many roster hopefuls have had to convince the front office and coaching staff of their talent without the benefit of live action. For defensive players, that means they largely will not have the chance to demonstrate their ability to tackle. On offense, shedding tackles may be left to projection.
Fangio said the team may hold another short-yardage or goal-line period that features live action, but the team has largely decided that the risks of live tackling aren't worth the benefit of just a few reps per player.
After speaking about the need for his team to be "calloused" going into Week 1, Fangio said the lack of live action would be a concern. The balance between preserving a team's health and preparing for a game has been delicate, and Fangio and the Broncos have tried to toe the line.
"It's hard," Fangio said. "It's not an easy decision to make. Part of the thought going into it is we always had the preseason games for that, so you didn't have to worry about it. Now, if you do 12 or 24 live plays between now and game time, how much is that really simulating it? Everybody might get one or two shots. We've just made the decision as an organization to not do it other than outside of some isolated situations. Am I worried about it? Am I concerned about it? Yeah, I am, but that's the choice and decision we've made."
Come Sept. 14, we'll see how the Broncos and Titans each adapt to the unusual circumstances. Cornerback A.J. Bouye, though, admitted it may be a challenge in Week 1 given the inability to completely simulate game action.
"It's very different," said Bouye of the lack of live action during the preseason. "You have some form of tackling we work on, but you don't get that game feel. Without having preseason games this year, it also makes it tough. You never want to go into Week 1 having the expectation that you're going to miss tackles, but we have to do everything we can to be put in position. With the run game, we're doing things. We're making sure we know where our help is when we're tackling and running to the ball, still trying to thud up. Like I said, you can't simulate the game feel."
CALLING THE SHOTS
Just as the players must prepare for Week 1 without the benefit of live action, so too must the coaches. As Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur aims to implement a new system and become comfortable with new personnel, the Broncos have tried to replicate game scenarios in each practice. Fangio said Tuesday the Broncos have averaged two or three periods per practice that are unscripted, which allows both he and Shurmur to call plays in a way that mirrors a normal game.
The entire practice at Empower Field at Mile High on Saturday was also unscripted.
"For the most part, yes," Fangio said when asked whether he liked the play-calling rhythm Shurmur has developed with Lock. "We had some struggles the other day at the stadium getting the correct calls made. We had a delay of game once. We seem to have one or two a practice. That's not good enough, really. … It's hard enough to move the ball and score points in the league. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot."
IMPRESSING THE VET
Third-year wide receiver Courtland Sutton is no stranger to contributing early, as he was the Broncos' top option late in the year during his rookie season. Asked about Jerry Jeudy's ability to contribute during his own rookie campaign, Sutton seemed encouraged.
"Honestly, I saw a little of Jerry in college," Sutton said. "Being able to be around him on practice field, the dude makes plays. … He's getting better every day. That's all we can ask. Even for myself, for everybody in our room, everybody on the team, it's to go out and get better every single day. That's what he's doing. He's attacking the coaching that he's been given from coaches and other players in our room. He's adding that to his game. It's fun to watch his game continue to mature and continue to grow. I look forward to seeing how he performs Monday night vs. the Titans and the rest of the season because he is special. He has very unique attributes that are special to his game. It's fun to watch, fun to see. I'm looking forward to watching him continue to flourish and grow through the season."