By Chad Jensen
DENVER (CBS) – It might just be a preseason game, but the Denver Broncos felt good about getting back on the winning tack. Denver took to the road for the first time this year, lambasting the Washington Redskins 29-17 on Friday night.
The game was nowhere near as close as the final score would lead you to believe. The Broncos controlled this game from the start and never relinquished it.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 29, Redskins 17
As the regular season ‘dress rehearsal’, the third preseason game always carries more weight. It was just an exhibition game, but it meant the world to the guys fighting to earn a job and a place on the roster.
We saw some players who had heretofore been no-shows suddenly explode on Friday night, while other guys faded into the background. With one more preseason game to go, in which we will not see the starters play, there’s still a chance for guys to leapfrog their competition and carve themselves out a role.
This game in D.C. revealed several Broncos who solidified themselves a role in Denver. Let’s break it down.
PHILLIP LINDSAY, RB
The diminutive running back was well on his way to earning a roster spot before the plane ever touched down in Washington, but he punctuated his preseason body of work with yet another impressive performance. What’s exciting about Phillip Lindsay is he didn’t just come in on third-team and play well.
OC Bill Musgrave deployed Lindsay with the ones and the twos and whenever he was on the field, he made a difference. In just 14 offensive snaps, he received six touches and parlayed them into 49 yards from scrimmage.
Has Lindsay earned a roster spot? No question.
But he may have earned a job that nobody could have predicted when training camp convened last month. Lindsay might end up as Denver’s 1b running back behind the next guy we’ll talk about.
ROYCE FREEMAN, RB
A roster spot was never in doubt for Royce Freeman, but he laid absolute claim to Denver’s starting job on Friday night. Freeman wasn’t lights out, but he still found a way to produce.
That’s what the last three preseason games have taught us. There are no excuses. Freeman has no use for them.
When the chips are down, give the ball to Royce Freeman because he’ll find a way to make a man miss and move the ball down the field. What’s interesting about Freeman’s three preseason touchdowns is the fact that he broke multiple tackles on each run. He’s the starter, hands down. 1a.
ANDY JANOVICH, FB
On both of Denver’s big rushing touchdowns it was fullback Andy Janovich who laid the key block at the point of attack to spring the ball-carriers. I’ll be the first to stand up and admit my misgivings about Janovich and whether or not he had a place on the 53-man roster this year.
He didn’t make himself valuable last year, but a lot of that likely had to do with the scheme as designed by the former offensive coordinator. However, Janovich has more than impressed through three preseason games.
He is making this roster, no question.
ADAM GOTSIS, DE
Again, it’s not like Adam Gotsis was ever in danger of losing a roster spot, especially after being cleared of the rape allegations in Georgia. But with how deep Denver’s defensive line is this year, Gotsis was no shoe-in for a starting job.
However, the 2016 second-round pick showed that he can perhaps be more than just a two-down run-stopper, if given the chance. Gotsis sacked Alex Smith in the first quarter, which all but cemented his starting job opposite of Derek Wolfe.
ISAIAH MCKENZIE, PR/WR
Denver’s second-year punt returner didn’t have a huge return against the Redskins, but coming off a game in which he fumbled, he needed to prove that the faux pas against Chicago didn’t get in his head. Isaiah McKenzie confidently fielded each of his punt returns on Friday night.
The ‘Human Joystick’ has a different aura about him this year. As a rookie he started off cocky, due in large part to his coaches handing him a job, but he quickly lost his luster when the fumbling issues cropped up and by season’s end, he was an emotional wreck.
McKenzie will make this roster. The question is; will he be wide receiver No. 5, or No. 6?
CHAD KELLY, QB
Did Chad Kelly do enough on Friday night to convince the Broncos brass that he can be trusted as the backup QB for the regular season? I think he did.
For the first time this August, Kelly did not lead a touchdown drive while on the field, but each of his possessions ended in a score. When he’s on the field, he moves the ball.
There’s no doubt Kelly has earned a roster spot. The Broncos will not risk him to the waiver wire. We won’t know whether he won a job or not for a week or so, but I believe he did. He’ll get another long look in the preseason finale next week vs. Arizona.
DYMONTE THOMAS, S
Denver’s second-year safety had a quiet preseason leading up to this game. Dymonte Thomas looked off-kilter in the preseason opener and he needed a big performance in Game 3 to generate some momentum heading into final cuts week.
With Will Parks banged up, Thomas got his chance. Despite only receiving a few practice snaps as the ‘dime-backer’, Thomas was phenomenal on Friday night.
Running with the first team, he made multiple stops to get the Broncos defense off the field, and broke up a pass intended for Vernon Davis. He played with great intensity, showing impressive instincts and play-making ability.
With Su’a Cravens’ future up in the air (availability is the best ability), and Jamal Carter on IR, the Broncos would be crazy to waive Thomas. This kid has himself a job, at least until Cravens gets healthy.
CYRUS KOUANDJIO, LT
“But Cyrus Kouandjio had two holding penalties against the Redskins,” you might be saying right now. True, but the former Bills second-rounder has been stout as it comes as the second-team left tackle.
He’s helped to blast open running lanes, and has kept Chad Kelly’s jersey clean. The Broncos need a swing tackle who can step in and be trusted to keep the O-line functioning as a unit.
Kouandjio is that man. The team likely hoped it would be Billy Turner, but Kouandjio has far out-played him.
The only question with Kouandjio is his ability at right tackle. I trust him on the left side, even against starters. But if something happened to Jared Veldheer, could the Broncos count on Kouandjio? Denver might not have a choice.
ZACH KERR, DL
Although it hasn’t been talked about much, with the exception of Erick Trickel, Zach Kerr has been in a pitched battle with Clinton McDonald for a roster spot. With guys like Shelby Harris, and DeMarcus Walker playing lights out, on top of the starting-three (Wolfe, Peko, Gotsis), the Broncos might have to choose between Kerr and McDonald.
While I believe there’s a way to keep both, thanks to Chad Kelly playing well enough that Denver can afford to roster only two QBs, if a decision had to be made today, it would be Zach Kerr.
Both veterans have played well this preseason but Kerr has been the more consistent player. Plus at 334 pounds, Kerr has more position versatility than McDonald, able to play defensive end and swing inside to back up Domata Peko at nose tackle.
In just 10 snaps, Kerr notched himself a tackle and he laid a hit on the opposing QB, going against mostly Washington’s second team. McDonald, on the other hand, saw 11 snaps, chipping in two tackles (one solo) against the third-team offense. An agonizing decision awaits.
ALEXANDER JOHNSON, LB
This one is a little ‘iffy’, I’ll admit, but in the case of Alexander Johnson, all you’ve got to do is follow the money. When the Broncos signed him more than a week ago, it wasn’t just on a short-term, ‘come on in and compete in camp’ type of deal.
The Broncos inked Johnson to a three-year deal with a what is believed to be a franchise record in guarantees for an undrafted rookie. The Broncos are worried about their off-ball linebacker depth, and Johnson will play a big role in shoring up the unit.
He didn’t play a single snap on defense on Friday night, so you’re probably wondering why he makes this list. Having spent the last three years out of football, the team is slowly working Johnson back into the football groove.
In the two games he’s worn the Orange and Blue, he’s already proven himself to be a capable core special-teamer. Johnson made yet another big hit on coverage team against Washington. Next week we’ll see him on defense, but with how well Josey Jewell is playing, the Broncos will probably part ways with Zaire Anderson, Joseph Jones and rookie sixth-rounder Keishawn Bierria to make room for Johnson.
The team will nurture the former SEC tackling machine back into prime football form. Alexander Johnson is here to stay.