ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos ditched pads and helmets for their 100-minute practice Thursday, working at a jog-through tempo one day after their full-pad, full-speed work as they continued to prepare for their third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
Practices are only a small part of the business at hand for Head Coach Vance Joseph over the next 10 days, as he must shepherd the team through its final two preseason games and be involved in the meetings with fellow coaches and football executives necessary pare the roster from 90 players to 53 by Sept. 2.
Having been a player going through this time of year two decades ago, Joseph empathizes with the excruciating nature of what many of his players will face between now and the deadline as they await a decision on their future with the Broncos.
"It's tough, because it's a tough league, and everything we do matters from OTAs to training camp to the games, so obviously it's tough," Joseph said. "There's pressure every day and every week on these guys, so I respect that, and it's the best in the world, so you get it.
"From my perspective, to watch these guys compete every day and not get what they want, that's heartbreaking sometimes."
... One player who should be in good shape at the deadline is RB Devontae Booker, who has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list because of a fractured wrist but remains on track to return early in the regular season. Joseph said that Booker "should be on the roster" after the cut to 53 players.
"His injury should not put him out past two weeks, three weeks max," Joseph said. "Book, he's on the roster."
... The defining characteristic that will determine who gets the roster spots on the offensive line behind the starters? Versatility.
"That's very important," Joseph said. "Obviously, the first five is your starters, but you want guys in the second five that can play multiple positions, like a swing tackle or a big guard who can play some tackle, so that's definitely critical. That second five has to got to be smart guys."
To that end, Joseph has worked guard Billy Turner at right tackle in the past eight days of practice. He's also used Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo at both tackle spots during the course of training camp; each of them saw first-team repetitions at left tackle before Garett Bolles won the No. 1 job outright.
Connor McGovern, who worked at center in place of Matt Paradis throughout the offseason and training camp, has taken snaps at right guard and also started at right and left tackle at Missouri before being drafted by the Broncos last year. Fellow backup Michael Schofield, who started the last two seasons, can also work at every position but center if needed.
... Roster construction, particularly beyond the starting lineup on offense and defense, is also a delicate balance that accounts for factors beyond the answer to the simple question of whether a player is good enough to make the team.
"I want the best guys for the roster," Joseph said. "Sometimes when you're building a roster, you make decisions on how well they play for [Special Teams Coordinator] Brock [Olivo], smarts, guys staying healthy. So those things come into play when you're building a roster, not just the promising, talented guy.
"It can be a guy that's a smart guy that can help you in all phases. So that's where my job changes. It's about building the best roster overall from top to bottom."
With Saturday's preseason game against the Packers quickly approaching, the Broncos held a light practice on Thursday. (photos by Ben Swanson)
... One player who fits into the equation for Olivo is fullback Andy Janovich. Some teams won't carry a fullback on their 53-man roster, but the second-year veteran has carved out a niche for himself on the Broncos' roster.
"In this day and age of the NFL, it's a passing league, so some teams have fullbacks, and some teams don't. We have one, and he's a pretty good one, so we're going to use him," Joseph said. "Outside of that, he's good for Brock, and that's huge for him to be a core [special] teams player.
"If he wasn't, it would be a discussion, but he is, and he's a really good fullback, so he's important to our football team."
... DE Jared Crick (back spasms), DE Derek Wolfe (lower ankle sprain), WR Carlos Henderson (thumb) and OLB Shane Ray (torn wrist ligament) did not practice.
... S T.J. Ward was on hand and in uniform as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Joseph said he was "not really" worried about where Ward stands in his recovery, offering hope that the eight-year veteran could see more on-field work next week.
"Hamstring injuries, they're strange," Joseph said. "Some guys recover faster from those injuries; some guys don't. So I'm not concerned about it."