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Woody Paige: Broncos have 70 players who belong in the NFL, but who will make the cut?

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Posted at 1:22 PM, Aug 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-07 15:22:20-04

DENVER — The Broncos’ depth is deep.

That sounds rather oxymoron-ish.

The Broncos depth chart is not as unfathomable as Jules Verne’s’ Nautilus submarine at "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea," but the deepness is not shallow like a shoal.

The Broncos possess a plethora of players – 70 or so who definitely can play in the National Football League. The coaching staff, and John Elway, master of all he sees, must whittle the number from 90 to almost 70, which would include an active roster of 53, a practice squad of 10 and another seven that could, unfortunately, end up on the injured list to start the season (i.e., Jake Butt and Chad Kelly, for instance).

Nevertheless, the Broncos did release today (Monday) the team’s first official "depth chart" heading into the opening exhibition at Chicago on Thursday night.

There were, to be expected, some surprise, but, mostly, units filled with uncertainty.

Nobody should be shocked that the two quarterback vying to start were listed as co-No. 1 quarterbacks, with a convenient "Trevor Siemian OR Paxton Lynch."

Even though Siemian clearly led in the competition after nine training camp practices, and was head-in-helmet and shoulders-in-pads above Lynch in the quasi-scrimmage on Saturday – to me and all witnesses except coach Vance Joseph, who said after both were "very solid" – the duel is not done.

Trevor will get the start against the Bears, and Paxton will play with the first offensive unit vs. the 49ers. And the coaches, and Elway, hope that one will separate himself from the other.

But it seems, based on camp so far, Trevor may win by default, as he did last year against Mistake Machine Mark Sanchez and raw rookie Paxton.

Paxton needs to show his athletic ability – to scramble and keep plays alive and run 30 yards, and throw 30 yards – in the exhibitions.  If he doesn’t, Trevor, more experienced and more reliable, will finished atop the depth chart.

On Saturday Joseph did end the drama at one spot – punt return specialist.  Isaiah McKenzie was declared by the coach as the opening-day man. "You can print it," he said. So Kalif Raymond, who was the punt returner for four games, and other candidates have been pushed aside by the rookie from Georgia who returned six punts and kickoffs for touchdowns during his college career.  McKenzie certainly is a keeper. However, even though Joseph was forthright, his pronouncement seemed premature – if McKenzie drops a couple of punts, or fumbles as his predecessors have. Joseph, though, is assured enough that McKenzie "catches the ball."

First-round draft choice Garett Bolles was listed as the first-team left tackle. That’s not shocking, since everyone believes he will be the starter, but there is no hemming and hawing. Veteran tackles now know they are competing on the right side and for a place as a replacement.

Defensively, nine of last year’s starters are on the first team. The only new people will be veteran free agent signee Domata Peko at nose tackle and Who Knows? at the outside linebacker opposite Von Miller.  Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett are listed Nos. 1 and 2, but both are injured and in parenthesis on the chart. The next man up will be decided from among second-round draft choice DeMarcus Walker (who actually is a defensive lineman), veteran free agent Kasim Edeball and young returnee Vontarrius Dora. My guess is that all three will make the team and share time until Ray and Barrett are healthy.

On the offensive line with Bolles are Max Garcia at left guard, Connor McGovern at center, Ron Leary at right guard and Menelik Watson at right tackle. Starting center is being handled with care because of his off-season double-hip surgeries, but he won’t be Parenthesis Paradis when the season starts. The other positions are fluid. Leary should be the left guard, but Garcia couldn’t make the shift to right guard. Late acquisition Allen Barbre is listed behind Garcia, but will push last year’s starter or serve as the backup on both sides. Ty Sambrailo is No. 2 behind Bolles, but he primarily played right tackle on Saturday. And Michael Schofield, who was the starting right guard in 2016, is listed as the third-string left guard, although his versatility as a guard/tackle will help him.

We know who the starting wide receivers are, but Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer were listed as 2’s. Fowler is the leader in the locker room for the slot receiver’s position, and Latimer was considered vulnerable, but he make it because of special teams play (as a tackler) and kickoff returner, and the Broncos aren’t ready to give up on him as a slot/outside receiver.

Virgil Green, the longest-standing player on the Broncos other than Demaryius Thomas, is No. 1 at tight end on the depth chart, but he’s being pushed by Jeff Heuerman and A.J. Derby (although none of the three has being spectacular so far) until Butt can practice and play. Green, Heuerman and Derby will take turns.

Seven running backs are on the depth chart, but Devontae Booker is an injury parenthesis. C.J. Anderson is the starter, with elder veteran add-ons Jamaal Charles and Stevan Ridley next, but rookie De’Angelo has been most impressive in camp and will make the team. Veterans Juwan Thompson and Bernard Pierce are at the bottom of the depth, and only serve as injury insurance.

Looking for undrafted free agent wild cards? Tyrique "Meat Loaf" Jarrett at nose tackle, listed at No. 3, and safety Jamal Carter, third at strong safety. Third-round draft pick Brendon Langley is No. 2 at cornerback to Chris Harris Jr. and not only make the team, but become a contributing factor on special teams in dime defenses.

So, there is depth on the depth carter. But, as the BeeGees sang, how deep is your, or the Broncos, love for the depth?