The NFL preseason. A series of games held before the regular season gives the young players a chance to prove themselves. This series of exhibition games date all the way back to the 1920s. It is a great opportunity to allow rookies, young players, and other depth players to get a chance to familiarize themselves with the team while competing for a spot on the 53-man roster. As we approach the 2021 NFL preseason, I will lay out for you all of the key details, players to watch, and headlines for the Denver Broncos. Let’s jump right in!
Denver Broncos Preseason Schedule:
Week 1: @ Vikings (Sat. 8/14, 2:00 PM M.T.)
Week 2: @ Seahawks (Sat. 8/21, 8:00 PM M.T.)
Week 3: vs Rams (Sat. 8/28, 7:05 PM M.T.)
HEADLINES LEADING UP TO THE PRESEASON
The quarterback competition taking place in Broncos’ training camp and preseason games has drawn attention. Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater are both giving it their all to earn the title of ‘Week 1 Starter’ in the season-opener against the Giants. Broncos’ head coach Vic Fangio recently made an announcement that Drew Lock would be starting in Week 1 of the preseason against the Vikings while Teddy Bridgewater would start in Week 2 of the preseason against the Seahawks. This would give both QBs equal opportunity in a live-game experience to prove their worth to the front office.
It’s likely that we will see both quarterbacks and even third-string QB Brett Rypien in each and every preseason game, but it’s significant that no Broncos quarterback has taken the leap to earn the starter title. If you have been keeping up with training camp, you’d know that the two are pretty much even in the competition. In every post-camp press conference, Vic Fangio gives the same answer to the same question. “Who’s in the lead for the QB competition,” a reporter would ask. “They’re even-steven,” Vic Fangio would answer. It may come in different forms, but Fangio has had the same answer: Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock are neck-and-neck for the Denver Broncos’ starting QB role.
It’s no secret that the injury bug took a major bite out of the Broncos’ roster in 2020. As of August 14th, I would say that it’s only taking a little nibble. Some Broncos players have been missing quality training camp time due to injuries and many will miss some, if not, all preseason games for the Broncos. Let me list some of those injuries out for you.
Most recently, Broncos’ reporter Mike Klis informed fans that running back Mike Boone, who was acquired this offseason, will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks with a quad injury. That means he will miss all of the preseason (including the game against his former team), plus it is possible that he misses the beginning of the regular season. Linebacker Josey Jewell has missed about a week of training camp due to a groin injury and he is set to be sidelined for Week 1 of the preseason barring any setbacks. In a recent press conference, Vic Fangio stated that the 3rd-round pick out of Ohio State, Baron Browning, was ‘stuck’ in his recovery which will cause him to likely miss all of the preseason. During one of the training camp practices, rookie defensive end Marquiss Spencer went down with a leg injury and was looked at by trainers. He hasn’t practiced since and will be out for Week 1 of the preseason. Other depth players, such as cornerback Mac McCain and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, have been dealing with injuries in recent days. They are questionable for the preseason opener. While it is only preseason now, and all of these players will likely be healthy by Week 1 of the regular season, you have to ask yourself: will the injury bug bite as hard as it did in 2020 for the Broncos?
BRONCOS PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THE PRESEASON
Teddy Bridgewater/Drew Lock
As I mentioned in the section about the Broncos’ quarterback competition, these three preseason games will be crucial in determining who will be the Week 1 starter in Denver. Lock will start against the Vikings and Bridgewater will start against the Seahawks. Both are fully capable of covering the starting role for the Broncos and while training camp is an important factor in determining the ‘winner’ of this quarterback competition, the preseason games will likely be the decision-maker.
Melvin Gordon is RB1. There is no open competition at the running back position for the Broncos. However, it is totally reasonable to expect Javonte Williams, the 2nd-round pick from North Carolina, to display his abilities in these three preseason games. He will likely get the majority of the carries in the preseason with Denver taking the approach of limiting or resting their starters plus the injury of Mike Boone. While these games probably won’t declare Williams as the starting running back for the Broncos, expect the games to show his strength and capability as the future of the position for Denver.
Jerry Jeudy has probably been the best player in the Denver Broncos’ training camp. The clear improvements that we’ve seen from last year, the descriptions from other players, and the film from training camp that we have seen point in the direction of his emergence as a top receiver in the league. He is the favorite for the Broncos’ 2021 breakout player award. We’ve seen him in camp, we’ve seen him in practice, but now it’s time to watch him live in-game as he begins his sophomore campaign. Be on the lookout for some ankles to be broken this preseason as Jerry Jeudy steals the show!
According to PFF, Lloyd Cushenberry was ranked as the 32nd best starting center in the NFL, or in other words, the worst starting center in the league. There wouldn’t be many surprises in that statement as he was a rookie who was thrown into a starting role on day 1. However, players and coaches have outlined his major improvements during training camp this year. Pat Shurmur has been especially high on him in recent days claiming ‘his future is bright.’ But, as I said before, training camp and live game action are two different things. We need to see if his training camp improvements can translate into improvements on the field. Stay on the lookout for Cushenberry!
Vic Fangio, as well as other Broncos’ coaches, has confirmed that the Broncos are holding an open competition for the starting right tackle spot. This competition consists of Bobby Massie, a former Chicago Bear, and Calvin Anderson, a 25-year old veteran who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Patriots in 2019. Both are fully capable of succeeding as a starter at the right tackle positions– but only one can get the nod as the starter. Preseason will likely decide who will be the starting right tackle for Week 1, so look out for Calvin Anderson to see if he takes a big leap to secure that title.
The second-year defensive lineman out of Arkansas, McTelvin Agim, has had nothing shy of an amazing camp so far. He has obviously learned a lot from Shelby Harris, hence the amount of batted passes he’s had in camp. Agim has been knocking balls down, disrupting plays, and even had an interception during camp. As a key young player to a deep Broncos defensive line group, it will be interesting to see how Agim translates his practice into the real game.
Coming out of Wake Forest in the 2020 NFL Draft, Justin Strnad is technically a second-year player for the Broncos. However, he missed all of the 2020 season with a hand injury which means he has not played an NFL snap yet. Barring any new injuries, he is set to make his debut on Saturday against the Vikings. Coaches have talked about how impressive he was in last year’s camp and this year’s camp. He could potentially snag a starting inside linebacker spot if he plays good enough, although that is a highly unlikely scenario. Expect Strnad to have an impressive debut plus added playing time with the injury of rookie linebacker Baron Browning.
Patrick Surtain II
The man himself. The buzz around the Broncos. The Broncos’ 2021 1st-round pick will make his NFL debut against the Vikings in Week 1 of the preseason. Many have high expectations for him, including me. The Broncos passed on a potential franchise-level quarterback in Justin Fields so that they could select Surtain. Broncos’ GM George Paton has expressed that Surtain was the guy they wanted all along and that during evaluations, he was just the perfect guy for the team. Obviously, the scouts saw a lot in him. From what we’ve heard in camp, he is living up to those expectations. Coaches say that they don’t even treat him like a rookie because he’s so skilled and experienced. He runs a lot of plays with the starters and many believe he will hit the ground running making a large impact on that stacked Denver defense. Hopefully, we get a sample of that in the three preseason games to come.
The last player that I would recommend keeping a close eye on is none other than camp standout Caden Sterns. Drafted in the 5th-round out of Texas, Sterns was one of two safeties selected by the Broncos in the 2021 NFL Draft, the other being Jamar Johnson out of Indiana. It is safe to say that Sterns has been playing at a wow-factor level during training camp. He has 2 interceptions in camp, one more than Patrick Surtain II. Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, the Broncos’ current starting safety duo, have both spoke very highly of Sterns in interviews. Jackson’s age is starting to catch up with him, as he is currently 33 years old. When the torch of starting strong safety that will play alongside Justin Simmons needs to be passed, expect Caden Sterns to be ready and hungry for that role. We will probably get to see flashes of that during Denver’s three preseason games.