Football is back. Say it with me everyone: football is back. The summer always stretches on as we wait for the new season, but it’s here and we have game action to talk about–even if more than a few of the big name players enjoyed a night off. Even without everyone, we still had the opportunity to catch the first in-game action of quarterback Drew Lock and tight end Noah Fant for Denver along with rookie running back Qadree Ollison for Atlanta. Plenty of guys were fighting for roster spots. Some made a case for earning a roster spot (quarterback Kurt Benkert and running back Brian Hill of Atlanta, running back Khalfani Muhammad of Denver) while others may have quite literally fumbled them away. The outcome may not ultimately matter much to either team, but the plays made–or missed–could decide the next 6 months for plenty of roster hopefuls. Let’s start by taking a look at the Broncos, who won the game 14-10
- Kevin Hogan: 5/8, 37 yards
- Drew Lock: 7/11, 34 yards, 2 sacks
- Brett Rypien: 5/10, 41 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 sack
The Broncos had a rough day passing the ball, totaling less than 100 net passing yards between their three quarterbacks. Hogan did a decent job as the starter (Joe Flacco was sat for tonight’s game), completing 5 of 8 passes after his first series including a drop by Noah Fant (more on that later). He was in the game for three drives before being replaced by rookie Drew Lock. Lock had a rough night but still completed 7 of 11 passes. He overthrew a pair of deep balls in the second quarter including a potential touchdown to a wide-open Steven Dunbar Jr. Lock clearly has the arm strength necessary but he needs to work on his deep accuracy. He would benefit from putting some air under the ball and letting his receivers go get it.
- Khalfani Muhammad: 7 carries, 50 yards, 1 touchdown
- Devontae Jackson: 12 carries, 26 yards
- David Williams: 5 carries, 9 yards
Like at the quarterback position, Denver’s top running backs (Philip Lindsay and Royce Freeman) enjoyed the night off. We were left with the Khalfani Muhammad show and I’m glad I bought a ticket. He was heavily involved in the offense tonight, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards. He also had a kick return and should have a decent shot to make the team in at least a special teams capacity. I was impressed with his play even if it was against second-string Falcons’ defenders.
Wide Receiver/ Tight End
- Khalfani Muhammad: 4 receptions, 24 yards
- Nick Williams: 2 receptions, 18 yards
- Steven Dunbar Jr.: 3 receptions, 14 yards
- Noah Fant: 1 reception, 7 yards
- Juwann Winfree: 1 reception, 15 yards, 1 touchdown
With Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, and DaeSean Hamilton sitting out, it was a chance for the other Broncos receivers to earn a roster spot. Nothing much really materialized here, though, as the whole pass attack was stymied. Still, there are a few takeaways. Juwann Winfree caught a game-winning touchdown after a Broncos interception. The ball was thrown to the corner of the endzone it deflected off his hands, and he stayed with it for the grab. Noah Fant seemed to have some jitters early on, dropping an easy pass that would have resulted in a first down. He recovered, however, and caught his next pass for a first down. He later broke free on a deep route, but Drew Lock missed him. I like seeing Fant used this way, and it gives me faith that he’ll be involved in the passing game this year. Steven Dunbar Jr. also had a good night, despite his meager box score. Like Fant, he broke free on a deep route but was missed by Lock. Had the pass been on target, it could have been a big score, and Dunbar’s name would be on everyone’s mind. If only…
- Kurt Benkert: 19/34, 185 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 sacks
- Matt Schaub: 4/14, 10 yards, 1 interception
Matt Ryan was given the evening off, so veteran backup Matt Schaub was given the start. He faced a hungry Denver defense and started 3 for 7 as a result. I don’t blame Schaub, because the Atlanta O-line couldn’t give him time or space from the Broncos’ pass rush. Once Schaub went out, Kurt Benkert took over. He put the Falcons in field goal range on their first drive, though a missed kick thwarted the scoring opportunity. Benkert was on target for most of the night and he seemed to have a good rapport with his receivers, including a touchdown pass to RB Brian Hill. His night ended early, however, when he landed awkwardly while being tackled and hurt his foot. He is fighting for a backup role on the team, and I’ll be rooting for him.
- Brian Hill: 11 carries, 57 yards, 1 receiving touchdown
- Ito Smith: 3 carries, 6 yards
- Qadree Ollison: 6 carries, 2 yards
- Kenjon Barner: 2 carries, 1 yard
Besides Devonta Freeman sitting, everyone was active in the Atlanta backfield. It wasn’t all pretty though. Ito Smith had 3 carries for 6 yards, and this tells me he is safe. The team knows what they have in him and they are saving him. It’s often best for position players when they see little or no time in the early games. Qadree Ollison, a camp standout, had a hard time finding space and will need to show more in the coming weeks. His stat line was all too reminiscent of what we saw from Ronald Jones last season. The big winner here was Brian Hill. He looked dynamic and powerful, grabbing those hard yards when needed. I think Hill has a chance to battle Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison for significant playing time this year if he keeps it up. Outside of Freeman starting here, nothing is safe.
Wide Receiver/ Tight End
- Christian Blake: 5 receptions, 46 yards
- Shawn Bane: 3 receptions, 39 yards
- Olamide Zaccheaus: 2 receptions, 31 yards
- Jaeden Graham: 2 receptions, 22 yards
Big shocker, but Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Austin Hooper were given tonight off. Moving beyond that, Christian Blake led the team in receptions tonight and was regularly involved from start to finish. The player I was most interested in, however, was Olamide Zaccheaus. He found open space multiple times on the night, and he seemed to have a knack for the position. He is more of a longshot to make the roster, but he could find a home on special team. We will learn a lot more once some of these receivers have a chance to work with the first team.