5 things to watch during the Broncos’ preseason finale vs. Vikings

The Denver Broncos conclude their preseason tonight when they host the Minnesota Vikings. They are coming off a total ass whooping by the Buffalo Bills so we will get to see how they bounce back from that and finish their preseason strong. We will also see the conclusion of some positional battles and a handful of players on the roster bubble making their final case for a roster spot.

I am going to give you five things to watch during the Broncos preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings.

1. Will they bounce back?

After a week one performance that had the Broncos fans, media, and team hyped up for their potential, they were seriously humbled a week later. The Buffalo Bills dominated them in the trenches and outplayed them throughout the game. Sure, it was the Bills 1’s vs. the Broncos 2’s and the Bills 2’s against the Broncos 3rd team, so the result was expected. However, it is still not what you wanted to see.

During the week, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett was asked what bothered him the most from the Bills loss and he told reporters it was the Broncos’ lack of physical play.

“There was, obviously, a lot of stuff when you have a game like that. One thing I’ll tell you [that] I liked that the offense kept battling [and] the defense finally got a couple of stops there at the end. In the end, that’s not what we want to be about when it comes to physicality across the board. I think everybody can be more physical, but it looked like they were thinking too much. There was too much on their minds. There were just simple things that when we came out here, I wish we would get some of those looks and there were just some misalignments. The starting point is always alignment and assignment for defense [and] for offense. It’s just hearing the call, knowing where to line up, and then execute. Those basic things, for whatever reason, didn’t work. So, we have to evaluate all those guys. Those guys have to evaluate their process to get ready for that game, because we can’t put that stuff on tape. That’s not what we’re about.”

I want to see the Broncos’ defense tackle better, make some stops, pressure the quarterback, and create some turnovers. Get that confidence back and continue it through the week leading up to the season opener and into week one when they head to Seattle.

On offense, I want to see them score some points, get movement in the run game, make some plays downfield, and block well. Just a solid all-around game. Move past the sloppy practices and execute on game day.

2. KJ Hamler returns!

After a long rehabilitation process, Broncos explosive wide receiver KJ Hamler will take the field and return to action. Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said that Hamler will play a “few snaps” tonight so it will be exciting to see him on the field.

Hackett said after practice that Hamler is looking good after practicing all week in team drills and his speed is standing out on the practice field.

“Yeah. He’s getting into football shape. He’s getting out there. Being in full pads and watching him run, you definitely feel some of that speed that he has and that he brings, and just the attitude he brings. He’s great to have out there, and he is just going to have to continually build into it.”

He was then asked if Hamler would play and he said: “Yeah, I think he’s going to get a couple of snaps. We’re going to try to get him in there. It’s been a while since he’s played.

He hasn’t played since the week three victory against the New York Jets and missed the entire offseason and all of the training camp. So, getting him some reps to shake the rust off, get over the mental hurdles, and just getting him into a groove as they head into week one of the regular season.

I think we will see Hamler getting reps and targets in the first series, let him take some hits, land on his knee and hip, and then rest and get ready for week one.

3. Brett Rypien gets the start

It was announced early in the week that Brett Rypien, not Josh Johnson, would get the start in the preseason finale vs. the Minnesota Vikings. Johnson started the first two games and played the entire first half of both while Rypien played the entire second half.

This week? We see a role reversal.

As for what Hackett is looking for? He wants consistency from both his quarterbacks.

“Consistency. Consistency is the big one. You want to be sure that they’re going out there, executing the plan, understanding when we want to change plays or keep the same play on, understanding the progressions and all those things, and making good decisions. To this point, they have made some pretty good decisions, so we want them to continuously take care of the ball, too.”

It seems like Johnson has the slight lead in this battle but we shall see how both do during this game. If Rypien can play well, protect the ball, and put some points on the board, he could show enough to make the team. If Rypien struggles, Johnson still has to play well because I am not so sure that both players are roster locks. If a player who is familiar with this offensive scheme becomes available and is deemed a better fit, I could see them making the move.

In the end, I think it will be Johnson, but we will get an idea tonight of how it will eventually shake out.

4. The wide receiver battle continues

One of the most intriguing storylines this summer has been the Broncos’ deep wide receiving core. Losing veteran Tim Patrick early on to an ACL injury sucked, but the emergence of rookies Brandon Johnson, Montrell Washington, Jalen Virgil, and others have made this battle pretty intriguing.

As we know, Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jewdy are locked in as starters. Speedster KJ Hamler is locked in and likely the Broncos’ third receiver and rookie Montrell Washington is your returner/receiver. After that? There are four or five players worthy of the final one or two roster spots.

I think we’ll see Hall of Famer Kendall Hinton and rookie Brandon Johnson get the start again while Seth Williams, Darius Shepherd, and speedster Jalen Virgil get reps as well.

After cuts, we should see plenty of these guys during the game and I am anxious to see them make some plays.

5. The thrilling punting battle continues

The Broncos punting competition between veteran Sam Martin and Corliss Waitman continues into the preseason finale. Martin looked to edge Waitman in the opener but after an injury sidelined Martin against the Bills and Waitman capitalized, we’re still pretty even.

Special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes said during the week that both Martin and Waitman will alternate punting reps during the game.

“That’s the best way to do it. Some people like to do halves, but how many punts—how do you know how many punts you’re going to get in the second half? You can get all these punts in the first half and then the offense starts driving the ball and starts scoring points. Now the other punter doesn’t get a true evaluation. Yes, the preference is to have those guys alternate every single punt.”

I would imagine Martin would get the first reps, but that will be something to watch for sure.

Now, we shouldn’t overreact to the outcomes of these punts during the game. Stukes mentions that they have been tracking everything during the offseason, training camp, and the preseason, so it’s an accumulation of things.

It’s still an ongoing evaluation. We took it from the offseason. We took it to the training camp and now we’re still trying to evaluate these guys during the preseason games. We chart them in practice, as well. [We] chart their kicks, chart their distance, and chart their hangs. It’s not just the preseason games, it’s an accumulation of things.”

“It’s still an ongoing evaluation. We took it from the offseason. We took it to the training camp and now we’re still trying to evaluate these guys during the preseason games. We chart them in practice, as well. [We] chart their kicks, chart their distance, and chart their hangs. It’s not just the preseason games, it’s an accumulation of things.”

Keeping two punters this late into the process is a bit interesting and shows that Martin’s job is far from safe. Especially with a new coaching staff and a General Manager who didn’t sign Martin. Also, Dwayne Stukes had some high praise for Waitman after the Buffalo game when he took over the full punting duties after Martin injured his ankle.

“I thought he handled it well. Finding out prior to the game that the other punter is not going and now you have to handle all of the punting duties—it takes mental strength and fortitude to go out there and execute because a lot of the time, he’s relying on, ‘OK , I did this first one, then I’ll get the third one.’ No, you’re locked in for the whole game. I thought that [P] Corliss [Waitman] handled himself well. That one punt that he punted—it was 5.3 [seconds] hang and 50-some yards or whatever the case may be. We would like to down that, but it’s also guys starting to figure out where they fit within our scheme.”

So we shall see how it all shakes out tonight. It’s not the most exciting competition on the roster, but it’s still an important one.

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