Broncos’ Backups Shine In Preseason Loss To Cardinals As Cuts Loom

Denver Broncos wide receiver Gerell Robinson (10) is tackled after a reception by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antoine Cason (20) during first quarter at Sports Authority Field. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

The Denver Broncos’ coaching staff and front office saw some gutsy performances in the team’s 32-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth and final preseason game of 2013.

Except for running back Ronnie Hillman, the starters (including Von Miller) sat this one out. Hillman only carried the ball twice, but averaged 7.0 yards per carry. John Fox  sat Montee Ball, but put Hillman in to help erase the two preseason fumbles that went for touchdowns from his mind.

“It was as much for Ronnie as anything,” Fox said following the game. “Just to throw him in there and he popped off a great run. It was a positive point in his mind.”

The evening’s show stealer was none other than “Plan C,” third string quarterback Zac Dysert. Many “experts” didn’t have Dysert on their projected 53-man rosters, but the seventh-round rookie draft pick out of Miami University ended the night going 9-for-20 for 163 yards and a touchdown, making a strong case for himself. He also led the Broncos on another scoring drive, capped off by a Jacob Hester 7-yard touchdown run. It was a showing good enough to potentially put him on the 53-man roster. If not, the Jets and Bills could use this young talent perhaps as a starter.

“I just tried to not do too much,” Dysert said. “I just tried to put the ball in the playmakers hands and let them to the work for me.”

Dysert dumped a pass off to Lance Ball who barreled down the field for 69 yards. For a young guy, Dysert played a smart and efficient game, letting his receivers do the work.

Brock Osweiler did a fine job going 7-for-11 for 108 yards in the first half. He also added 25 yards on four carries. Unlike Peyton Manning, Osweiler went with the huddle exclusively. He also led the team on two scoring drives right off the bat. Huddle up all you want, Brock.

After Hillman was done, the Broncos went with preseason and practice squad stud Jeremiah Johnson, who punched the ball into the end zone from 9 yards out for the game’s first points. The second offensive series for the Broncos was highlighted by an Osweiler to Gerell Robinson bomb for 45 yards. Prater nailed a 27-yard field goal four plays later.

Robinson led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 99 yards and the touchdown. He has to be in serious consideration to make the 53-man roster behind the Big 3 and Andre Caldwell.

Johnson is another guy who would be a candidate to make the squad, but his practice squad eligibility is up and the Broncos already have a lot of ball carrying options in Hillman, Ball, and Knowshon Moreno, who are locks to make the team. Lance Ball made a great case for himself remaining on the team with his long run. Hester also had a strong showing Thursday evening, so it will be interesting to see whether the Broncos keep Lance Ball or Hester, or even both. Johnson will go somewhere (Philadelphia?) and be effective immediately if he can stay healthy.

Outside linebacker Lerentee McCray (47) in the second quarter against the St. Louis Rams at Sports Authority Field . (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Defensively, Kayvon Webster and Lerentee McCray were the talk of the town. Webster was all over the field and made people realize why he’s a lock in the team’s secondary. He was tied for the lead in team tackles (7) and brought thousands of watts of energy on every play. Unfortunately he was also penalized for unnecessary roughness on a Hulk Hogan-like body slam.

“I’m going to continue to play football,” Webster said. “I can’t let that scare me.”

McCray started at strongside linebacker and finished with four tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble before leaving the game with an ankle injury.

“It’s unfortunate that he got an ankle sprain,” Fox said. “I think he’s worked very hard this training camp. We’ll see where it goes.”

That’s the case for many players. They’ll have to wait to see where it goes. The team has to trim its roster to 53 on Saturday. That’s 22 guys who will be packing up their locker. Then the Broncos have to mold the team even more and form the practice squad by Sunday.

For the guys who are cut, the disappointment after a long month of training camp and preseason play will settle soon enough. For the 53 that make it, the real deal begins next Thursday.

I hear it’s the Broncos and the Ravens kicking things off for the NFL. I’m not sure. Let me go check the banners outside the stadium.

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