DENVER --The Broncos' defensive line didn't want its depth to be tested like this.
Not with the loss of one rotational contributor, Billy Winn, for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Not with the absence of two starters, ends Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick, for over two weeks because of injuries suffered in training-camp practices held after the preseason opener at Chicago. And not with a knee bruise incurred by free-agent pickup Zach Kerr that could keep him out for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
This was the hand the group was dealt. Somehow, it didn't miss a step.
"We were rolling with six or seven guys from the end of camp basically all the way through [the end of preseason]," said defensive end Adam Gotsis, who was the only defensive lineman to start each of the final three preseason games. "Hats off to those guys. We just put our head down and grinded, and that's what we've got to do as a D-line.
"You can't take a day off, and I don't think any guy in our group did."
It helps that the defense as a whole accounted for just 24 points allowed in the last three games -- with one of the three touchdowns permitted coming on a 2-yard drive that came after an interception return. The results were positive, despite the absence of Crick and Wolfe for each of the last three games.
"I think everyone on the D-line either got a sack or a [tackle for loss] or something," Gotsis said. "It's everyone just getting off the ball, just trying to make plays."
Indeed, over the course of the preseason, defensive end Shelby Harris notched three sacks, four tackles for loss, another quarterback hit and a pass breakup. Defensive end Shakir Soto had a quarterback hit and a pass defensed. Gotsis had a sack and two tackles for losses. Nose tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Domata Peko Sr. each posted one tackle for a loss, as did defensive end Nelson Adams. Kerr had a quarterback hit and a pass breakup before he was injured, and Crick helped provide the pressure that led to Chris Harris Jr.'s pick-six in the preseason opener.
"You can kind of see that the chemistry of the D-line is a bit different this year than last year," Gotsis said.
Gotsis credits Peko for that.
"He does a great job with bringing the young guys along and making it like a family in that room," Gotsis said. "I think when we go out there, we're playing for each other as a family out there. It's not just the defense and the offense. It's that we've got to do our job so the rest of the family can do what they need to do."
For Gotsis in particular, it was a chance to start over. His rookie season was a frustrating one, as he finished without a sack in his first year removed from the torn ACL he suffered in his senior season at Georgia Tech.
Once he got back up to speed following minor knee surgery that ended his offseason work in June, he became a steady presence.
"I feel like it's my first preseason again," Gotsis said. "It's out there, you've got to make plays and you've got to make a name for yourself."
The Broncos expect Crick and Wolfe back by Week 1. In the meantime, they've learned that no matter who ends up comprising their rotation, they have quality options. They passed the preseason test.
BUSY MEN:Quarterback Kyle Sloter and cornerback Brendan Langley each played 100 percent of the snaps on offense and defense, respectively, during Thursday's game. They were the only Broncos to play each snap on their side of the football.
Offensive lineman Michael Schofield played the second-most snaps on offense; he lined up for 43 of 61 plays (70 percent). Rookie safety Orion Stewart was right behind Langley on defense; he saw action on 63 of 68 defensive plays (93 percent).
Four players tied for the team lead in special-teams snaps Thursday night. Safety Jamal Carter, cornerback Marcus Rios, outside linebacker Vontarrius Dora and inside linebacker Quentin Gause each played 14 snaps (50 percent) on special teams.
A black-and-white look at the big moments from the preseason finale, which will go a long way for the young players. (Photos by Gabriel Christus, unless noted)