GLENDALE, Ariz. – By Friday at 7 p.m. MDT, the Broncos can have only 53 men on their roster. The team entered Thursday's game with 75.
Head Coach John Fox made the decision to hold 25 players, most of which starters, out of the game to give the bottom of the roster more playing time.
"We didn't play any of our starters and then some," Fox said. "We wanted to look at our down at the bottom part of the roster. I thought some guys helped themselves and I thought we made some improvement. We've struggled over the last couple of weeks in the second halves of the preseason games. We'll watch the tape – we have a lot of tough decisions. Tomorrow is never a fun day."
Linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team with eight tackles, seven of which came in the first half, and added a pass breakup. Despite the strong showing, Trevathan knows nothing is assured when it comes to a roster spot.
"I'm still not going to rest," he said. "Anything can happen. You just have to play while you're out there. I think I left all of it out on the field."
Fellow rookie Omar Bolden finished second on the team with five tackles and added the Broncos' only touchdown of the game – a 103-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.
As a member of a crowded position group at cornerback, Bolden knows that being able to contribute on special teams could be a key to his future with the team.
"Oh, no doubt about it," he said. "Everybody's out here fighting for scraps. It's just the nature of the business. Some guys are going to get let go. I'm just trying to make sure I'm not one of those guys."
Quarterback Caleb Hanie opened the game and played the entire first half before giving way to Brock Osweiler and Adam Weber.
Hanie, who is competing with Osweiler and Weber for the backup position to Peyton Manning, finished 7-of-13 for 75 yards and a 71.0 passer rating.
"It's always tough," Hanie said. "You just hope you did enough to prove yourself. Let the chips fall from there. You can only control what you control. Some of the guys you've been playing with and come to know and are friends with aren't going to be here. It's always tough to see that. But hopefully it works out well for everybody."
With Willis McGahee held out of action against the Cardinals, running backs Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman shouldered the majority of the workload in the run game.
The pair combined for 117 yards on 21 carries in their most extensive action of the preseason.
Moreno opened the game and ran for 49 yards on seven carries in the first half, while Hillman finished with 68 yards on 14 carries in the second half.
"I think it went pretty good," Hillman said. "I just showed a little bit of what I can do and just got my feet wet a little bit more than last week. (I'm) just trying to make the team."
Hillman, who missed the team's first two preseason games due to injury, saw his most action as a pro against the Cardinals.
He said that getting a few carries in last week's game against San Francisco helped him adjust to playing at the NFL level.
"When you miss two games of preseason, you expect to perform," Hillman said. "It kind of irritates you and bothers you. Once you finally get out there, it's like, OK, now you're calm and you're ready to go."
Fox liked what he saw out of Moreno as he continues to work his way back from an ACL injury suffered last season.
"He played well," Fox said. "He's a guy that's made steady improvement in each of the games, which is a credit to him, Eric Studesville, his coach, (Head Athletic Trainer Steve) 'Greek' (Antonopulos), his training staff."
Jeremiah Johnson added five carries for 31 yards and Lance Ball rushed once for 1 yard. All together, the team totaled 31 attempts for 168 yards on the night.
"Willis (McGahee), Jeremiah (Johnson), Lance Ball, Knowshon (Moreno), we all did a good job just coming together and helping each other out," Hillman said.
LEONHARD BACK ON THE FIELD
As he continues to work back from an injury suffered during the 2011 season, safety Jim Leonhard saw his first game action as a Bronco on Thursday night.
He opened the game at safety and helped hold the Cardinals to just seven first-half points.
"It felt great," Leonhard said. "Obviously, I've been away from a long time, a long road back, it just felt good to get back out on the field and get a couple hits in. Knock a little bit of the rust off, I'm feeling good, it felt good to be out there."
In addition to lining up at safety, Leonhard returned the first Cardinals punt of the game. His return went for 17 yards to represent the longest punt return of the preseason for Denver.
"It felt good," he said. "There was a little daylight. It's always nice to get a little space and make some people miss. I got out of bounds, but I think it was good. Everything felt good tonight."
Arizona's only touchdown came on a play that Leonhard thought he'd stopped.
On the second play of the second quarter, Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley dropped back from the Denver 22-yard line and lofted a pass into the end zone.
Leonhard hit wide receiver Michael Floyd as the rookie was trying to get his hands on the ball, but Floyd was able to tip the ball to himself as he was falling to the turf for the score.
"It's tough," Leonhard said of the play. "I thought I was going to have a chance for an interception. I saw him turning back for the outside and I figured the ball was to the outside. I knew I just had to put a hit on him and I thought I did a decent job. The ball bounced around a little bit. In hindsight, you always look back and try to think of what you'd do different but the guy made a great play, and you have to give him a little credit."
With the regular-season opener approaching, Leonhard said he was glad to get a chance to show the team what he can do.
"I always feel like I have something to prove," he said. "It's great to get out there. It's been a long road back. This is the first time I put on full pads. To come into a game and do that, it's a unique situation, but it felt good to get out there and just communicate and get a couple tackles in. Hopefully, I put enough on film."