ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the final time this preseason, the Broncos will get the chance to take live reps.
And when Denver takes on the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High, it will be a different game than the normal preseason finale.
While the final preseason contest is usually reserved for players on the back half of the roster fighting for jobs, those in attendance can expect to see Teddy Bridgewater under center for the first time since being named the starting quarterbacks. Many of the Broncos' other starters are expected to play, which should give us our first look at Von Miller and Courtland Sutton since they suffered season-ending injuries in 2020.
Of course, the second half should still be an opportunity for players to make their final case for a roster spot. Those dueling elements of the Broncos' preseason finale could make this game the most interesting of the team's three preseason contests.
And, as we approach the matchup with the Rams, these are the Burning Questions that we expect to be answered:
CAN TEDDY BRIDGEWATER CONTINUE HIS PRESEASON MOMENTUM?
Bridgewater earned the Broncos' starting job behind a strong, consistent training camp and a nearly flawless preseason. During his four drives this preseason, he led the Broncos to three touchdowns and a field goal as he completed 16-of-19 passes for 179 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. Bridgewater's best performance came during his opportunity to start against the Seahawks, as he went 9-for-11 for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Now, everyone wants to see what Bridgewater can do next. He'll be without starting tight end Noah Fant, but Head Coach Vic Fangio said the starting offense would play "a few series, at least" on Saturday. That means Bridgewater will get another opportunity to work with Jerry Jeudy while also getting some reps with Sutton and Melvin Gordon III.
In all likelihood, Bridgewater and Co. will work against the Rams' second-team defense, as Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay has shown an aversion to playing his starters in the preseason. If Bridgewater and the offense can replicate their success from their first two games, the fan base should feel reassured in the team's decision to move forward with the veteran as the starter. Regardless of the results, every rep should be valuable for an offense with a recently named starter. Bridgewater's performance should be intriguing to watch in the early minutes of Saturday's game.
HOW DO COURTLAND SUTTON AND VON MILLER LOOK IN THEIR FIRST ACTION?
For the first time since Week 2 of the 2020 season, Courtland Sutton is expected to return to game action. Von Miller, meanwhile, should appear in a game for the first time since the end of the 2019 season.
In all likelihood, neither of the two players will see too many reps. As they return to the field, it would make sense to give them a few series to re-familiarize themselves with the speed of the game and to get comfortable ahead of Week 1. Still, it's possible they could make an impact in their short cameos.
In an ideal world, Bridgewater would look for Sutton early in the game to both build their in-game chemistry and to help Sutton get back in rhythm. A quick catch for Sutton would likely get the Empower Field crowd going and be good for the fourth-year wide receiver's confidence going into Week 1.
"I think the game reps are important for him," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said Thursday. "We've talked about this throughout the camp, but we need to see him get out there. I think it'll be good for him. This is kind of the next phase of his recovery, and he's done a great job in practice and just go out and play good football: Run good, crisp routes; if he's asked to block, do his business; and then catch the ball."
If a Sutton reception would stir up the crowd, it's hard to imagine the reaction if Miller could get a sack in his first game back. Miller said he would treat this week's game like a tune-up for Week 1, and he's approached the matchup with regular-season intensity.
"I've attacked this week like a regular week for me," Miller said Wednesday. "This is a true dress rehearsal for me. Yesterday was [the] first day of practice [going] hard like I would in [the] regular season. [I] attacked the day like I would in the regular season today. I'm going to get ready and I'm going to go through pregame warmup and I'm going to go through my whole routine from the night before, two nights out. … This is a true dress rehearsal for me and I'm going to go out there and play. I'm not really worried about the numbers. I just want to go out there and touch the field [for the first time]in a long time. I haven't played in a game since the Raiders in 2019, so it's super exciting to be back in there and go through the motions, and just drive to the stadium and go through the whole thing. So, it's a true dress rehearsal for me, and I'm attacking it like it's game week for me."
WHICH PLAYERS CAN EARN A ROSTER SPOT?
The third preseason game means it's also the final chance for players on the fringe of the roster to state their case for a spot. On Thursday, Fangio said there's still plenty of jobs up for grabs.
"I haven't really sat down and looked at it to give you an exact number, but there's always the usual numbers — anywhere from five to eight," Fangio said.
On a deeper roster than the team has seen in several years, there are battles going on at a variety of positions. At wide receiver, Trinity Benson, Kendall Hinton, Tyrie Cleveland and Seth Williams could be jockeying for a single spot. At cornerback, Kary Vincent Jr. and Nate Hairston could be among the players looking to lock up a roster spot. Cam Fleming, Quinn Bailey and Austin Schlottmann will all aim to show they are worthy of a spot along the offensive line. At safety, Caden Sterns and P.J. Locke will look to cement roster spots, while Jamar Johnson will aim to make a late surge.
At this stage of the preseason, a strong game — or a single big play — could be enough to shift one's fortunes. Even once the starters have long exited the field, keep your eyes glued to the action. A single touchdown catch, interception or punt return could change the complexion of the back of the roster.
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