C.J. Anderson had to absorb one body blow after another Saturday night before reaping his reward. It wasn’t until his third attempt from the 1-yard line on the Broncos’ first scoring drive against San Francisco that the veteran running back finally crossed the goal line.
Suffering such punishment to gain a few inches may seem like a dirty NFL job, especially in the preseason. But Anderson prefers it to the task of facing others at the Broncos’ headquarters who have to make roster decisions.
“I’m glad I don’t have to go look at a big whiteboard of 90 players and flip it around,” Anderson said. “I guess it’s a good problem to have, as they say, but it sucks to be Mr. (general manager John) Elway, and it sucks to be (coach Vance Joseph) and all the coaches who deal with it every day.”
Anderson was referring, of course, to the unenviable task of reducing a roster from 90 players to the 53 who will open the regular season Sept. 11 on the active roster. In a change by the league this season, those cuts will all be made at once ahead of the Sept. 2 deadline as opposed to a preliminary cut down to 75 players that previously took place after the third preseason game.
The Broncos made their biggest roster decision of the offseason Monday when they announced Trevor Siemian will be the team’s starting quarterback. But tough choices — both as they relate to starting positions and roster spots in general — remain as the Broncos head into Saturday night’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest roster battles remaining for the Broncos:
Jamaal Charles dreamed as a kid of playing for the Broncos, long before he became a star for the rival Kansas City Chiefs. Charles will finally have an opportunity to suit up for Denver on Saturday when he makes his preseason debut with the team — and much could be on the line.
The Broncos have a stockpile of running backs who have shown flashes in training camp. Anderson and second-year back Devontae Booker, who should return from a wrist injury somewhere near the start of the season, lead the rotation.
Behind that duo, rookie De’Angelo Henderson, a sixth-round pick from Coastal Carolina, has impressed with his big-play ability. Joseph has praised the hard-running style of Stevan Ridley, the veteran who joined the Broncos near the start of training camp, and Juwan Thompson showed off his breakaway speed with a 20-yard touchdown run Saturday against the 49ers.
Each of those running backs has made his case. Now, Charles gets his turn in what will be his only preseason action.
“I’m just going out there to play ball and do what I always do, and let my talent speak for itself,” Charles said.
Much of the composition at this spot could depend on what the Broncos do with rookie Carlos Henderson, who had surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament Aug. 13 and has no definitive timetable for a return.
Joseph indicated Saturday that the Broncos are likely to carry six wide receivers on the active roster. If Henderson, a third-round pick, were moved to injured reserve, that would seemingly open a spot for Kalif Raymond or Jordan Taylor to make the roster. Rookie Isaiah McKenzie, a wide receiver from Georgia, has already been named the Broncos’ starting punt returner, and Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer are likely to fill in the spots behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Raymond and Taylor have had strong performances of late. Taylor caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Siemian in Saturday’s game against the 49ers.
Max Garcia participated in every offensive snap for the Broncos last season. Now, he’s fighting for his starting job against 10-year veteran Allen Barbre, whom the Broncos acquired in a trade with Philadelphia at the beginning of training camp.
Garcia was listed as the first-team left guard on the Broncos’ most recent depth chart, released Tuesday, and he has started both preseason games. Yet, his first-team action has been split evenly with Barbre in practice the last two weeks.
“They are both playing very well,” Joseph said. “We want to see who is the best guy for the job. Max has been aggressive. He’s been better in pass (protection). Obviously, Barbre is a savvy vet. He’s done a good job also.”
Who backs up the “No-Fly Zone” trio of Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby?
The top three players battling for backup spots are rookie Brendan Langley, 2015 Broncos draft pick Lorenzo Doss and veteran free-agent acquisition Chris Lewis-Harris. Langley is listed as the fourth cornerback on the team’s depth chart ahead of Doss on the right side. He has also been used as a returner on special teams. Lewis-Harris, who had an interception against San Francisco on Saturday, is listed third at left corner behind Roby.