Five things that actually matter in the Broncos-Vikings preseason finale
No one can say that Brett Rypien didn’t have a shot at the backup job.
Two halves in the first two preseason games, and now a chance to start in the finale. And while Josh Johnson had more move-the-ball opportunities during training camp than the four-year veteran, Rypien at least gets a chance to make a final statement — for both the Broncos and the NFL at large.
“I think it’s important to flip the script on them,” Broncos offensive coordinator Justin Outten said. “Having ‘Ryp’ start it out and Josh on the back end. It’s important for those guys to really understand the different mindset of the game and how they handle it, how they handle the huddle and the presentation in the huddle itself, and just the communication aspect of it.
“It’s important to move those guys around and just continue to evaluate. We evaluate them all week, and it’s going to be an ongoing process until the game.”
So, Rypien gets a shot to open things up. Realistically, he needs another performance like the one he had in Buffalo last week. After going 8-of-18 with no scoring drives, against Dallas, he completed 22-of-26 passes in the second half last week, with two drives resulting in points.
What else is in play Saturday?
1. BE STRONGER UP FRONT ON D
The defining sight of last week’s loss in Buffalo was that of Buffalo’s offensive line pushing back the Broncos’ front seven on one play after another.
“There are a lot of things — more physicality, more urgency, more competitiveness, and better coaching,” defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. “It’s all of it. We all have to be better.”
Of those, “coaching,” “competitiveness” and “urgency” are the starting points — and the ones of which the Broncos have the most control. The latter two are on the players, and those were the biggest disappointments from last week in Buffalo. Sometimes you’ll get beat, but the general lack of persistence was frustrating and easily corrected.
2. CAN THEY IMPROVE ON THE GROUND?
Denver has three rushing first downs in the preseason. All came on the opening drive last Saturday at Buffalo. Aside from that burst, Denver’s ground game has been fruitless. Most runs have been DOA, with defenders arriving before a running back can get out of the backfield.
To Hackett, the physical domination absorbed by the Broncos’ blockers started with the mind.
“Whenever you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to ask a guy to be physical,” Hackett said. “In the run-game standpoint is that there were some unbelievable looks for us to be able to take advantage of the defense.
“But when people are either going the wrong way or not understanding the angle that we’re trying to create for them, it’s not going to be advantageous for us and they’re going to take advantage of it.”
3. THE FINAL CHAPTER IN THE PUNTING COMPETITION
It’s about far more than just preseason games, so don’t put too much on the work Saturday. As special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes noted, coaches have scrutinized every punt in camp for incumbent Sam Martin and newcomer Corliss Waitman.
“We took it from the offseason … to the training camp and now we’re still trying to evaluate these guys during the preseason games,” Stukes said. ” We chart them in practice, as well. [We] chart their kicks, chart their distance, and chart their [hang times]. It’s not just the preseason games, it’s an accumulation of things.”
So, to that end, here’s what happened on the four training-camp days with punt periods, per the daily camp reports here at DenverFan.com:
- Day 4: “Martin had six punts with an average hang time of 4.21 seconds, including two with hang times beyond 4.5 seconds. Waitman’s four punts had an average hang time of 4.82 seconds, including one that stayed aloft for 5.06 seconds.”
- Day 6: “Martin’s hang times ranged from 4.08 seconds to 4.54 seconds, including an excellent rugby-style punt that hung in the air for 4.48 seconds, aimed to the right side of the field outside of the numbers. Waitman’s punts had more variance; he had a low hang time of 3.99 seconds to the left sideline, but he had one blast that lingered in the air for 5.34 seconds. Waitman also had a 35-yard punt that was fair-caught at the 10-yard line after hanging in the air for 4.34 seconds.”
- Day 8: “Martin had a good day. His four punts ranged between 4.40 and 4.86 seconds, including two rugby-style punts that he dropped inside the 20. Waitman also went 2-for-2 on dropping punts inside the 20, including one that bounced at the 7-yard line and died at the 8. But Waitman had wider hang-time variance. He began his four-punt period with a short clunker that turned end-over-end and stayed in the air for just 3.54 seconds. But he also had a blast down the left side of the field that hung up for 5.06 seconds.”
- Day 12: “Martin had five punts, while Waitman had six. Both opened with punts from the back of their end zone. On his punt, Martin clocked a hang time of 3.67 seconds, while Waitman uncorked a 4.96-second blast that appeared to cover over 55 yards from the line of scrimmage (at the punt team’s 1-yard line). Martin dropped a short rugby-style punt at the 15-yard line for a fair catch, with a hang time of 4.52 seconds. However, Martin also had a shank off the side of his foot that went out of bounds and had a brief 3.16-second hang time. Martin’s average hang time for five punts was 4.19 seconds, with a range of 3.16 seconds to 4.82 seconds. Waitman drew cheers from the crowd for his placement punt, which came with the line of scrimmage just past midfield. He hit a 4.61-second punt that teammates downed around the 5-yard line. Waitman also averaged 4.86 seconds of hang time on his six punts, ranging from 4.60 seconds to 5.17 seconds.”
(The field-level view prevented accurate measurement of distance.)
So, what do you draw from that?
- Waitman has a higher average hang-time.
- Martin is more consistent, but he had the single worst hang time of camp.
- All of the hang times above 5.00 seconds belonged to Waitman.
And from two games of preseason work:
- Waitman: 4 punts, 39.8-yard net average. 44.8-yard gross average, average hang time 4.58 seconds, 1 of 4 punts inside the 20
- Martin: 2 punts, 45.5-yard net average. 50.5-yard gross average, average hang time 4.12 seconds, 1 of 2 punts inside the 20
But Stukes implied that Waitman’s 63-yard punt last week might have been downed inside the 10-yard line with better coverage.
“We would like to down that, but it’s also guys starting to figure out where they fit within our scheme,” Stukes said.
And then there is the final piece of data: If the Broncos opt for Waitman over Martin, they will have a net salary-cap savings of $1.425 million, per the figures compiled by OvertheCap.com. If the two punters are close to equal, this data point is hard to ignore.
4. ROOKIES CAN PUT THE PERIOD ON THE SENTENCE
For a player like sixth-round pick Matt Henningsen, a roster spot is not assured. If you’re a pick in the fifth round or later, you’re in the danger zone without a good camp. But Henningsen, a defensive end, has distinguished himself to the point where he might steal a spot from a veteran.
“Since he’s gotten back for camp, every day has been better,” Evero said. “It’s very, very rare to find a player that doesn’t take steps back, where he’ll have a good day and a bad day. He just [has] steady improvement, and he’s been getting better and better. I really like where he’s going.”
Other rookies such as undrafted wide receivers Brandon Johnson and Jalen Virgil, fifth-round safety Delarrin Turner-Yell and seventh-round cornerback Faion Hicks will have opportunities to consolidate their position if they can make an impression.
But for all of the Broncos’ picks from the first four rounds — as well as fifth-round center/guard Luke Wattenberg and returner/receiver Montrell Washington — the next few nights shouldn’t be sleepless ones.
Still, don’t be surprised if all nine draft picks end up sticking on the 53-man roster.
5. AND FINALLY … KEEP KJ HAMLER HEALTHY:
Hamler is expected to see his first game-time repetitions since tearing an ACL and dislocating his hip last Sept. 26. The goal? Allow him to overcome another hurdle on his road to recovery, while snoring that he doesn’t have a setback.
“You want to get him started; you want to get his confidence back,” Outten said. “He has been in a controlled setting this whole time, and he’s eager. He’s ready.”