EAGAN, Minn. -- Watching the second joint practice between the Broncos and Vikings, as a Minnesota linebacker intercepted a pass and raced to daylight, I found myself daydreaming about Eminem. Truth be told, I was thinking about M&M's because I was starving, but the brain WiFi fizzled, leaving the synapses to dissolve into a rapper, not a wrapper.
Anyway. ... In his 2000 release "Real Slim Shady," Eminem asks:
May I have your attention, please?
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
We're gonna have a problem here
He might as well have been talking about the Broncos quarterback position. In the next two weeks, the Broncos need separation, they need a winner between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. Or yes, they will have a problem here. Or Seattle. Or anywhere on the schedule.
The Broncos open the preseason Saturday at 2 p.m. Mountain Time against the Vikings. Camp continues to pick up, but the real evaluation begins for roughly the final 10 roster spots and starting jobs at quarterback and right tackle. My Denver7 Things to watch:
Lock it down
I asked Lock if he saw this opportunity as a chance to grab the job by the nape of the neck. The old Drew, dripping in swagger, would have likely said, "Absolutely." This version said, "Sure." Lock has become more refined, matured. But let's not take the wag out of the puppy's tail. He can't be so focused on not turning the ball over that he fails to make plays. He has shown improvement with his footwork and mechanics. The issue remains consistency. In a competition that remains a toss-up based on performance, Lock can make a huge statement with a touchdown in one of his first three drives as he figures to get around 15 plays. And it's fair to wonder if he doesn't land a few haymakers Saturday, if he will have enough time left to win this fight with Bridgewater starting against the Seahawks. Lock's time will be based on snaps, not quarters, coach Vic Fangio said.
Bridgewater hasn't exactly lived up that nickname. His good days are solid, but when he's been bad, it's been awful. He won Wednesday, which included a touchdown to Jerry Jeudy, then threw two perplexing interceptions Thursday. He rebounded with a 45-yard floating scoring pass to K.J. Hamler, but it could not negate the mistakes. Can Bridgewater improve situationally then claim the job with his start in Seattle? He has work to do. And if there is no separation, I continue to insist it will become a philosophical decision: Go with the veteran with more of a track record or the drafted in-house prospect with the higher upside with the coaching staff desperately needing a fast start after going 0-7 in September the past two seasons.
“I know what (Broncos Country) has lived, and it’s a really good question (about their concern). I know that quarterback is of high importance. I’m not panicked. I’m not panicked about the quarterback position," Broncos general manager George Paton said when I asked him about the QB uncertainty in his Thursday presser. "I like our two quarterbacks.”
Starting over or under?
Many of the Broncos offensive starters could play a quarter, at least along the offensive line. Left guard Dalton Risner tweaked his right knee in Thursday's practice, but is ready to go if they deem it necessary, he told Denver7. Don't look for Courtland Sutton (working his way back from ACL surgery) and Tim Patrick (hamstring) to play, leaving opportunities for Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Seth Williams, Trinity Benson and Devontres Duke. Jeudy has been the Broncos' best offensive player this offseason, so I wonder if they will limit his reps to keep him healthy.
Does this look right?
The Broncos' starter at right tackle the past five years has been written in Etch-A-Sketch. Draw. Shake. Presto, new player. Bobby Massie is leading the bid to land the job this summer, slightly ahead of Calvin Anderson with Cam Fleming in third place by my count. Massie or Anderson could start Saturday based on how Fangio has rotated them. Massie helped settle the line down in Thursday's practice after Wednesday's clumsy performance of false starts and bad snaps. Also, Anderson is viewed as a swing tackle, which is another reason I give Massie a slight hedge to win the spot.
Forget Mookie Betts, the Broncos have Pookie Hits. I kid because I care. Javonte "Pookie" Williams is exactly the type of rookie running back who should shine in a preseason game. Since there's only thudding and no tackling to the ground in practice, we've only seen his explosiveness, not his violent tendencies. He should get a fair share of carries Saturday along with Royce Freeman. Mike Boone, who was running third on the depth chart as a special teams ace and change of pace option, is expected to miss at least a month with.a strained left quadriceps suffered in Thursday's practice. His injury likely creates a path for Freeman, who has been good in camp, to make the team rather than be offered as trade bait.
One player with plenty on the line: inside linebacker Justin Strnad. He continues to show promise while filling in for Josey Jewell (groin). Can Strnad be physical enough in the run game, while also excelling in coverage? He has an intriguing skillset as a hybrid safety/linebacker type. He missed all of last season, so game reps matter and should help gain the trust of the coaches.
Young and restless
Preseason games can get ugly, but there are plenty of rookies I am eager to watch excel. Beyond Pat Surtain II -- he looks the part of a future star -- and Williams, safety Caden Sterns and receiver Seth Williams have turned heads. Sterns is competing with rookie safety Jamar Johnson might be competing for reps. Johnson is a playmaker, but is playing catch up after missing time while on the COVID-19 list. Williams is built like Courtland Sutton. He continues to get better. And Dukes comes up with big catches. Also, tight end Eric Saubert isn't exactly a young guy, but his blocking could land him a roster spot.