BRONCOS

Ask Mase: Broncos’ injuries show why Hackett’s preseason plan is wise

Aug 21, 2022, 10:04 PM | Updated: Aug 22, 2022, 12:23 am
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

Two dislocated elbows in two games.

The Broncos couldn’t emerge unscathed from their first two preseason games, even though the vast majority of their starters rested. By halftime Saturday in Buffalo, they were down their No. 3 edge rusher (Malik Reed), their No. 4 cornerback (Michael Ojemudia) and one of their two starting inside linebackers (Jonas Griffith, injured the previous week).

Reed appears to be fine. Two-and-a-half hours later, he reported no discomfort — not even any vision issues. Even so, that means that of the Broncos’ top 10 offensive and defensive players to play so far in the preseason, three left games with injuries. And for Griffith and Ojemudia, their absences are likely to extend into the regular season.

Injuries to one starter and two players likely to start at some point in the regular season. It’s not everything, but it’s something.

Now, imagine if those injuries happened to top-shelf starters playing in the preseason. Few would be talking about the potential benefit of playing key starters right now.

And with that, Hackett has all the rationalization he needs for sitting most of his starters until the regular season.

“I don’t like preseason,” he said last week.

You can understand why.

That being said …

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From Brandon in Waterloo, Iowa:

Why do you think Super Bowl contender teams are playing their starting QBs even if it’s just one series or quarter and the Broncos are not?

It depends on the Super Bowl contender in question. For starters, both of last year’s Super Bowl participants — the Bengals and Rams — haven’t played their starting QBs. The same is true for both of last season’s top seeds, the Titans and Packers. Lamar Jackson hasn’t seen the field for Baltimore. The same is true for Dak Prescott in Dallas. And three-quarters of the AFC West hasn’t had their first-team QBs throw a preseason pass.

The truth is, more contenders think like the Broncos than like Kansas City and Buffalo. It’s a risk-reward proposition. And whatever happens over the next five months, the eventual outcome will probably be over-attributed to teams’ preseason philosophy.

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From Chase in Pueblo, Colo.:

What do you think our CB room looks like on the final 53-man roster?

I expect the Broncos will carry six cornerbacks. You can write Pat Surtain II, Ronald Darby, K’Waun Williams and fourth-round rookie Damarri Mathis in Sharpie. Michael Ojemudia is on the bubble, but the dislocated elbow he suffered complicates things. Specifically, it makes it less likely that the Broncos can trade him. And as I’ve noted previously, George Paton would like to make some deals from the back of the roster for 2023 draft picks.

If Mathis moves past Ojemudia, offering the third-year cornerback in a potential trade would appear to be a logical move. But if Ojemudia’s injury lingers into the regular season, a trade appears less likely. Thus, I think he sticks as the No. 5 cornerback. The sixth spot could come down to slot corners Essang Bassey and Faion Hicks.

The advantage for Hicks is that he is a rookie, with four years of team control. Bassey is in his third season. He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent next year — with the pay bump to go along with it. Bassey has a prominent role on special teams, but that will not be the sole consideration. Guessing that Hicks sticks, with Bassey a trade candidate.

Speaking of possible trades …

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From Jeff in Thornton, Colo.:

George Paton has said that they will definitely have more picks in next year’s draft than they currently do. Obviously, this means trade(s). Hard to guage depth, but where do you see trade potential so far? Premium picks would seem to come from starter-level players (Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed). Picks are important, but I’m a little concerned about depth.

In the next nine days, I think any trades would come from cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker — inside and outside — and the lines. But do not expect any starters or core rotational players to be involved. You’re probably talking about trades like the one that Paton made with Trinity Benson last year — get a team to give up a late-round pick for a player, rather than run the risk of not being able to claim him on waivers.

Edge rusher seems to make plenty of sense. The Broncos got Jonathon Cooper into team periods last week, and he played Saturday in Buffalo. But with Bradley Chubb, Randy Gregory, Malik Reed, Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto in the mix, as well as Aaron Patrick as a potential core special-teamer, there isn’t going to be enough room on the 53-man roster. But even a player like Reed wouldn’t fetch much. He’s an unrestricted free agent next year.

That said, the draft-capital return will likely be low — sixth- or seventh-round picks. It won’t be until next offseason that the Broncos could possibly get even mid-round return, and that might take some creativity.

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From Adam in Colorado Springs:

Seems like the Bills game was a great chance to evaluate team depth and player development. Which Broncos players stood out most to you, positively or negatively, and why?

Positives: Jalen Virgil continues to make a good impression … Montrell Washington is fearless and overcame shaky blocking to have an explosive kickoff return … Cooper had a solid second half and made a good acquittal of himself coming back from a finger injury … Luke Wattenberg played all three interior positions and held up well, better than most of the Broncos’ offensive linemen … And Corliss Waitman was a bad bounce away from having a terrific punt that would have pinned the Bills inside their 5-yard line.

Negative: The No. 2 defensive line got battered, even after the Bills’ starters gave way to reserves. Once Quinn Meinerz left after the first series, the quality of the run blocking diminished, evidenced by the fact that all of the Broncos’ rushing first downs came on their opening drive. And tackling was a problem for the entire defense; Pro Football Focus tallied 12 missed tackles. Joe Schobert is still finding his way; as he noted after the game, since he’s still learning the scheme, he’s thinking rather than quickly reacting, something which he expects to change as he becomes more familiar with the scheme.

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From Jake in Missoula, Mont.:

Do you think the Broncos new ownership is planning a stadium upgrade? And if so, renovation or brand new stadium?

And in either scenario, what direction do you think it would head designwise? (Los Angeles and Minnesota seem to be likely candidates to crib from.)

The new upper management knows that the venue is important long-term, but this isn’t a front-burner issue right now. The first tasks involve settling in, observing and getting to know the various departments and how they work together, and generally establishing a tone and direction for the organization. Every indication that I have is that this year is going to be about learning the business of football, about analyzing what they have in terms of personnel, staff and facilities, and getting a grasp on what — if anything — needs to be done short- and long-term.

So, when it comes to the stadium, cost-benefit analyses must happen — is it worth spending now on upkeep, or is the better play to build anew? Recently, MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays chose the former; the Tennessee Titans opted for the latter.

As for what a new venue would look like … it depends on if and when shovels go into the ground. If the new owners decide to wait a few years before going forward, the template might change. For example, the soon-to-be-constructed domed stadium in Nashville could offer conceptual ideas. The landscape is ever-changing.

That being said, USBank Stadium in Minneapolis is worth studying. The only design flaw was that to host the Men’s Final Four in 2019, stadium officials had to spend $4.6 million on curtains to cover the windows, since the NCAA wanted consistent lighting. But with a unique design, the flexibility to have it be an open-air stadium on temperate days and a near-perfect downtown location easily accessible from the Twin Cities’ light-rail system, the Vikings have a gem. However, there isn’t much in the way of team-controlled development around the stadium site; the Vikings’ real-estate development efforts focus on the area around their training facility in suburban Eagan, Minn.

So, the practice facility is another component. If you look at the Los Angeles Rams and SoFi Stadium, they have development rights around that spot … while reportedly gathering land in Woodland Hills, Calif. with the expected intent of having a facility surrounded by development.

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From Shawn in Rapid City, S.D.:

Are you currently part of a podcast? Enjoyed you and your with your previous gig and want to follow you. Thanks!

Not at present. While I think about it from time to time, I feel the Broncos podcast sphere is oversaturated. Frankly, I’m going to do something, I want it to be different. And I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.


Got a question? Submit it here to be a part of the next edition of the “Ask Mase” mailbag, dropping weekly at DenverFan.com!

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Ask Mase: Broncos’ injuries show why Hackett’s preseason plan is wise