Players angling for a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad will have one more shot Thursday night when the Denver Broncos host the Arizona Cardinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the final week of preseason.
Following the game, both squads will have to trim their rosters down from 75 players to 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, and each head coach faces some very difficult decisions before the deadline.
About to embark on his first season at the Broncos helm, head coach Gary Kubiak has some intriguing position battles at running back and along the offensive line, and his choices will go a long way in determining how well Denver’s offense can still hum under quarterback Peyton Manning.
The futures of several running backs and receivers, as well as defensive backs, hang over the Cardinals and head coach Bruce Arians as they look to repeat last year’s surprising 11-5 run.
The Cardinals put veteran running back Chris Johnson through a full practice on Tuesday, and he’s expected to start against Denver. Johnson endured a hamstring injury prior to the second preseason game, and he’s been out ever since. Arians said Johnson should get 10 to 12 carries.
Inside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and tight end Jermain Gresham also dealt with hamstring injuries, but the former is expected to play while Gresham didn’t travel with the team to Denver.
Arizona also received some good news regarding injured receiver Michael Floyd. He caught passes on the sidelines this week, according to AZCentral.com, nearly three weeks after he dislocated three fingers on his left hand during camp.
For the Broncos, cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Tony Carter were held of practice for the second straight day due to “mild” hamstring injuries, the Denver Post reports. Safety Omar Bolden was also out for sore ribs following the nasty block he received during last week’s victory over San Francisco. However Bolden is expected to play against Arizona.
Meanwhile, defensive end Kenny Anunike is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, but should be back by Week 1.
Players to Watch
Most or all of the starters on each side will likely sit, including Manning and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. That allows Denver’s Brock Osweiler to start and he’s expected to play all of the first half. It could be the last Broncos fans see of the 24-year-old as he enters the final year of his current contract.
With Palmer up top and Drew Stanton as the clear No. 2 quarterback, Arizona's Phillip Sims and Logan Thomas are fighting for the No. 3 spot but AZCentral posits Arians might not even carry a third quarterback onto the final roster. Still a solid performance could mean a spot on the practice squad, and Arizona has dealt with numerous injuries at quarterback for the last couple of seasons.
Cardinals rusher Johnson has the chance to show he can still compete, though the team likely understands he’s not the same player who ripped opposing defenses with Tennessee.
Arizona already has Andre Ellington as the starting back, and rookie David Johnson and third-year back Stepfan Taylor are predicted to make the squad, with Robert Hughes, Kerwynn Williams, Maron Grice, and Paul Lasike on the outside looking in.
Floyd’s injury does allow for several receivers to earn a spot, including Jaxon Shipley, Trevor Harman, J.J. Nelson, and Brittan Golden.
Denver also has a battle at running back with Montee Ball and Kapri Bibbs expected to get the bulk of the carries for a chance at the No. 3 spot.
Who protects Manning and Denver’s offensive line has been the talk for much of camp, and center Gino Gradkowski and guards Shelley Smith and Ben Garland all have the opportunity to join the rotation or make the practice squad, according to The Post.
And with Emmanuel Sanders banged up, Denver receivers Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor, and Corbin Louks are looking to make big plays down field for a 53-man nod or the practice squad.
Kickoff Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channels: ABC-15 (Arizona) and KTVD (Denver)
Live Online: NFL Game Pass