Hackett should decide preseason starters based on practice vs. Cowboys

Aug 9, 2022, 2:31 PM
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
(Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

We’re 12 days into Broncos training camp and have officially reached the dog days.

The hill where fans sit was probably the least populated of any day thus far at practice on Tuesday. And I don’t blame anyone.

It’s hot. People who want to come to camp have probably already been. And the excitement of football practice being back has lost a little bit of its luster.

But that will change on Thursday. The NFL’s most polarizing team will be at UCHealth Training Center, as the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Denver for a joint session with the Broncos. Jerry Jones. Dak Prescott. Ezekiel Elliott. Trevon Diggs. CeeDee Lamb.

All the stars will be out, and I’m not just talking about the logo on the side of the Cowboys helmet. It’s a big day for the Broncos, and the type of practice that will help them gauge where they’re at right now.

There’s been a lot of chatter about how Russell Wilson has looked. If the defense is miles ahead or just a little bit better than the offense so far. And there’s a variety of opinions on the issue, some of which are more valid than others.

I’ve been to camp nearly every day and think the defense has been the more impressive unit. But that doesn’t mean Wilson hasn’t had his moments, along with guys like Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. I expect this offense to be just fine come Week 1 in Seattle, but there’s an important choice yet to be decided. How much should the starters play in the preseason?

I asked head coach Nathaniel Hackett after practice on Tuesday if a decision has been made for preseason game No. 1, and his answer was short and sweet.

“No, we haven’t yet,” Hackett told me.

That makes sense, but I have a guess what he’s waiting for. And that’s how his team performs on Thursday against a real, live opponent in a different jersey. If the practice looks like it did against the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, when Denver got thoroughly dominated, Wilson and the offense should play an entire quarter on Saturday night at Mile High.

But if the Broncos compete, move the ball and score touchdowns, I’d put those guys in street clothes. Thursday will be Denver’s most critical day of practice this entire summer, and Hackett will likely treat it as such.

If you see the starters on Saturday, things didn’t go well. If they’re laughing it up on the sidelines from the opening kickoff, then everything went just fine against the boys from Dallas.

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