Jussel: Preseason finale all about kicker, roster spots

The last time we chatted, I suggested recording the Broncos’ preseason contest and not wasting a beautiful day outdoors.

This time around, don’t bother with the recorder. Don’t waste your time, period.

Denver takes on the Dallas Cowboys tonight in Irving, Texas, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. for the diehards who don’t mind watching regulars sit on the sideline and no-names battle for final roster spots.

Ah, yes, about that kickoff and perhaps a stray field goal or two. It seems Denver needs a kicker, at least for its first four regular-season games.

Matt Prater, the top-ranked placekicker in every fantasy league imaginable, unfortunately “had a couple of beers” at his Florida home during down time this spring.

Even those couple of beers was a no-no for Prater because he has been busted for DUIs twice before and, according to No Fun League rules, sipping the suds meant a mandatory four-game suspension.

Prater’s suspension, relatively light because the league reportedly wanted to suspend him for the entire season, is unfortunate timing for the Broncos because the kicking job for at least the duration of Prater’s suspension will now apparently go to Brandon McManus, a 23-year-old with two preseasons of experience.

McManus was acquired from the New York Giants on Tuesday for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. Rookie Mitch Ewald, a free agent out of Indiana, had been in camp with the Broncos but was waived with McManus’ arrival.

Prater being out should be the biggest problem the Broncos will have going into the Sept. 7 opener against the Indianapolis Colts because the injury situation is, if not nonexistent, at least minimal.

All together now, knock on wood!

Wes Welker, the slot receiver, is probably the biggest concern thanks to repeated concussions and likely a question mark right up until game time in the opener.

If he cannot go, it’s not time to panic because he can be replaced in a variety of ways, any and all of which will certainly be used.

For one thing, Emmanuel Sanders can move into the slot, with Andre Caldwell or Cody Latimer getting the start on the outside. Tight end Jacob Tamme excels out of the slot and can work the middle of the field with Sanders still on the outside or from a two-tight-end formation.

Denver will be fine with or without Welker.

The Broncos’ only other injury of consequence in preseason, the broken knee cap of starting linebacker Danny Trevathan, has been handled well by Brandon Marshall over two preseason contests and will be in his capable hands until Trevathan comes back a couple of weeks into the season.

Others still getting into full-frenzy mode include running back Montee Ball, linebacker Von Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and corner Chris Harris and all should be good to go vs. the Colts in Week 1 of the regular season.

Knock on wood again.

As for reasons to watch tonight other than just making sure all bodies get back onto the plane for the return flight to Denver, let’s go to a few players hoping to hang around when the roster is finalized:

Running backs hoping to hang on behind Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson include Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs, both of whom were impressive in last week’s 18-17 defeat against Houston.

On the offensive line, Central grad Ben Garland is in a battle with Will Montgomery, Vinston Painter and Ryan Miller for a backup spot at guard and/or center.

On the defensive side, there are still plenty of questions on the defensive line, with veterans Sione Fua and Mitch Unrein among those on the bubble inside and Kenny Anunike and Shaqil Barrett vying for backup spots on the outside.

And veteran defensive backs like Duke Ihenacho and Omar Bolden are in need of great performances tonight to stay on the final roster.

Those are the battles you may or may not watch tonight, battles between players trying to hang on and, at least in McManus’ case, probably several battles with huge butterflies.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one. His Broncos-related columns also are published on SI.com’s “Predominantly Orange” and “Fan-sided” websites.


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