Initial roster cuts brought a slightly somber mood to Dove Valley Monday morning, but receiver Emmanuel Sanders' return to practice revived the scene.
Sanders missed all but one practice since initially suffering a mild hamstring injury on Aug. 6.
Coach Gary Kubiak said last week that the team planned to be cautious with Sanders, but he expected him back at full practice this week.
Montee Ball doesn't see the fire yet, but he sure smells the smoke. Despite being listed as the No. 2 tailback on the Broncos' depth chart, Ball didn't get a carry until the fourth quarter of their 19-12 preseason victory over the 49ers on Saturday.
The third preseason game usually is the one that best models the regular season, and Ball was stuck without a significant role in it.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who has built a career out of getting the most out of running backs, defended his decision to not play Ball much by saying it's difficult to give carries to four running backs during a game.
"Special teams is a big factor with him and (Juwan Thompson)," Kubiak said. "We'll see. I'm fine with Montee."
C.J. Anderson, the Broncos' starting tailback, controlled most of the carries in the first half Saturday with Ronnie Hillman spelling him occasionally. Hillman and Thompson were the go-to backs to start the second half.
It's possible that on gameday, the Broncos will dress only Anderson, Hillman and Thompson, due to Thompson's role on special teams. The team could attempt to trade Ball, or just wait for an injury further up the depth chart before making him active on Sundays.
"You just want to see him making plays," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak this week. "He's a hard worker. He does the right thing. He's in the right place, but it's time for him to start making plays on the ball, coming up with big plays. The good news with him is he has worked as basically a starter from OTAs through [training] camp and everything. Everything's in place for Cody to grow up and have a big year. I like the way he works, [he] just needs to keep coming."
Latimer had a disappointing rookie season and wasn't even able to beat out Andre Caldwell. Kubiak tends to favor two-TE sets, so Latimer’s snaps may be limited for that reason. The third receiver in Baltimore didn’t even play half the snaps under Kubiak. Latimer’s talent may earn him a larger role, but that remains to be seen.
Connor Barth is returning to Tampa.
A mere hours after being released by the Broncos, Barth agreed to terms with the Buccaneers on a two-year deal, the team announced Wednesday. The deal is for a maximum value of $2.75 million, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of his decision.
Barth kicked for the Bucs from 2009 to 2013, drawing the franchise tag in 2012. One of the most accurate kickers of the past half-decade, Barth has drilled 85.3 percent of his field goals and 100 percent of his extra points. Patrick Murray was slated to be the Bucs kicker before this transaction.
Renck: I am not ready to say Ball's roster spot is in jeopardy. But clearly he needs to finish strong, beginning in the third week vs. the 49ers. Ronnie Hillman zoomed past him on the depth chart by leading the NFL with 120 yards in the first two preseason games. Ball has long gain of 12 yards, and 18 yards on his other 11 carries. That's not cutting it. I don't know if he's over thinking it or what, but he should be better in this offense. Juwan Thompson has played well and excels on special teams.
For Ball, the clock is ticking to make an impression on the new coaching staff. Without real improvement, anything is possible.
Hillman has gained a lot of press this camp and looks like he has the RB2 job behind C.J. Anderson. Once projected as the team's RB1, Ball seems to be sliding down the depth chart. Given how the team went deep into their RB stash last year, they may not be in a hurry to part ways with Ball. Thompson's ability on special teams would only help his cause.
In the Mile-High City, the San Francisco 49ers offense mostly kept the ball on the ground on Wednesday.
And while Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Mike Davis and Jarryd Hayne all got their reps, the featured runner for the first day of the team’s joint practices with the Denver Broncos was none other than Kendall Hunter.
It appears as if Hunter, who missed 2014 with an ACL injury, has little-to-no lingering effects from the lost season.
The fifth-year running back began team periods with the first unit and went on to receive a hefty amount of touches. He recorded several lengthy carries, cutting up the field with ease. He also caught a couple passes out of the backfield and deployed some nifty moves to get past the first wave of defenders. Denver's front seven includes the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan. Hunter ranks below Hyde and Bush on our RB list.
To make room for two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis, the Broncos on Wednesday released kicker Connor Barth, the team announced. Barth took over as the team's starting kicker in the last five weeks of the season last season and made 15 of his 16 field-goal attempts and all 15 PATs. He also made 11 consecutive field goals to begin his tenure with the Broncos and twice tied the team's single-game record for made field goals, going 5-for-5 at Kansas City and at San Diego. But Barth's inability to kickoff doomed him this year, as special teams coach Joe DeCamillis has reiterated that he wants to keep two dual-threat kickers — players who can both kick field goals and kick off, and punt and kick off.
Related players: Brandon McManus
As a result Sanders, who has been held out of practice since he suffered some hamstring soreness after warming up before the preseason opener in Seattle on Aug. 14 , may not play, as a precaution, for the remainder of the preseason. The Broncos open the regular season Sept. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens.
“The expectations are for him to maybe be on the field [for practice] by the end of the week or beginning of next week,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “We have good news on him and we’re doing everything we can to get him ready for our opening weekend, basically.’’
Both Kubiak and Sanders have said the receiver is on track to play in the opener. It's becoming a growing theme around the league and team's don't want to chance it with injured stars even with the third preseason game on the horizon.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 2:54pm
But he was the second running back up against Houston on Saturday. And after slashing through blocks and around the edges of the Texans' defense for 54 yards on just eight first-half carries, he is second to none in the league in rushing yardage so far this preseason, with 120 yards on 16 carries.
Yeah, yeah, it's just preseason. The Broncos know that. Hillman, in his fourth year, knows that. Last year's preseason rushing leader, Baltimore's Lorenzo Taliaferro, gained just 292 yards in limited duty in the regular season. No one's breaking out the streamers and balloons to herald Hillman's arrival.
But there's something different about the San Diego State product now. As the offense as a whole searches for consistency in a tweaked scheme, Hillman appears more comfortable now than ever before.
"He’s moved himself up. He’s had a really good camp," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said after Saturday's game. "... He deserves more reps and if he keeps playing like that he’ll continue to get some more."
Kubiak has always noted that he won't strictly have No. 1 and No. 2 running backs; instead, they will be 1 and 1a. The best example of how that worked for him came in the 2011 season with the Houston Texans, when backup Ben Tate had 175 carries -- 62.9 percent as many as first-teamer Arian Foster. They combined for 2,166 yards and the Texans sprinted to their first division title. The No. 2 back will play -- and he could see a lot of work, the story said. Right now, C.J. Anderson figures to be the lead back with Montee Ball also a factor. But Hillman has been good and the Broncos appear to have three legit threats. While Anderson is a popular early round pick after stepping up late last season, it looks like at least Hillman is trying to make a push for playing time.
Sunday, August 23, 2015, 4:28pm
The Denver Broncos' offense has certainly had its moments in the preseason sun in the team’s first two August outings, but there is no question the group has let the opportunity to run a pile of additional plays slip away because of some short-yardage stumbles.
Or as coach Gary Kubiak put it following the Broncos’ 14-10 win in Houston Saturday night: “I’m pleased with a lot of things that we are doing, but I’m very disappointed with what we’re doing right now short yardage-wise.’’
Because in the Broncos’ two preseason games they have faced six third-and-1 situations to go with two third-and-2 situations. On those eight plays when the Broncos needed 72 inches or less worth of offensive production, they have produced just two first downs. Not converting is leaving plays on the field, and as the story said, in the five third-and-1 situations the Broncos have not converted, they have run for no gain three times -- two by Montee Ball and one by Juwan Thompson -- and quarterback Trevor Siemian has been sacked for no gain and fullback/tight end James Casey dropped a pass from Peyton Manning. The good news is projected starting RB C.J. Anderson didn't get any of those carries.
The bulky black brace Cards QB Carson Palmer wears on his left knee is about the only sign he is less than nine months removed from his second torn anterior cruciate ligament.
That and, well, the way head coach Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians still sometimes shakes his head in disbelief that three weeks into training camp, Palmer isn’t just healthy, he’s better.
And maybe better than he’s been at any point since he made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2005 and 2006 while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Carson is in great shape, mentally and physically,” Arians told USA TODAY Sports.
Plenty of coaches gush these sorts of platitudes about their quarterback this time of year. But it means something coming from a quarterback guru like Arians, who has tutored passers like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.
The story said that through three weeks of training camp, Palmer has been among the Cardinals’ most consistent players, something that backs up numerous reports we've had here at 4for4. In a recent fully-padded practice, he zipped pass after pass across the middle of the field to Larry Fitzgerald, and nailed several deep touchdown passes to second-year receiver John Brown — all while playing against a secondary that includes stars Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Then, in his first live action since suffering the knee injury on Nov. 9, Palmer went 4-for-4 for 77 yards to lead the Cardinals to a touchdown in his one series of work in the preseason opener against Kansas City last week. All signs are pointing to Palmer having very nice, later-round value at the QB position, definitely something to note if you're waiting to draft at the position.
Andrew Mason of the Broncos website:
I was asked recently on a radio appearance about Cody Latimer's fantasy value, and I think he's worth a late-round flyer based on his potential, and if there's an injury to one of the top two receivers, he's going to be targeted frequently. But with the Broncos making use of "12" and "21" personnel more often than in past years, I don't know that Latimer will see enough targets to be an every-week fantasy starter, even though his performance, skill set and improved command of the scheme screams, "quality NFL starter."
Latimer had a disappointing rookie season and wasn't even able to beat out Andre Caldwell. As Mason stated, new HC Gary Kubiak favors two-TE sets, so Latimer’s snaps may be limited. The third receiver in Baltimore didn’t even play half the snaps under Kubiak. However, Latimer’s talent may force him into a larger role, but that remains to be seen.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 5:51pm
Those who have wondered what it will look like when Peyton Manning runs an offense constructed by Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff will get their first chance to see it Saturday night (8 ET) in Houston.
Manning was held out of the preseason opener in Seattle this past Friday night, but Kubiak said following Tuesday's practice Manning will get his first action of the preseason when the Denver Broncos face the Texans in NRG Stadium.
"He's going to play. ...I'll say he's going to play quite a bit," Kubiak said. "I'd like our 1s to play quite a bit. Is that a quarter? A quarter and a half? Is that a half? I don't know, I'll see how the game goes, but I want them to get a bunch of snaps under their belt. We have some guys that have not been working together who need to work together. ...Expect him to play quite a bit."
After long months of debate about whether or not Peyton Manning can fit into coach Gary Kubiak's run-heavy Broncos offense, we're about to get our first look when Denver meets Houston on Saturday night.
"I've said many times I believe I can play almost any offense and do what is required," Manning said Monday, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. "Maybe not Tubby Raymond's (Delaware Wing T), but I can make good decisions, make good throws, get us in good plays, and as long as we can score points, move the ball and win games, that's important. My job is to execute the plays that are called, and I'm all-in on what we're doing."
Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian argued this month that Manning would thrive in Kubiak's attack. Strip away some of the bootleg action, and Polian pointed out that Denver's new playbook "is really conceptionally no different" than the scheme Manning made sing with the Colts and Broncos.
"He'll be great at it," Polian said. "He's a great ball-handler, he has a great ability to carry out fakes. He has no peer when it comes to selling a fake and then coming and focusing on the defense, so he'll be wonderful."
The real question surrounds Manning's durability and arm strength, and he showed some signs of slowing down at the end of last year because of an injury. But Manning still finished fourth among fantasy QBs last year. His ADP slips a bit this year and it looks like you can take him in about the fifth round of drafts. But, he comes with some risks as the Broncos may put more of an effort on the run, slowing down the offense.
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