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Bridgewater makes case for top job in start vs. Seahawks

Seattle figures to play some defensive starters vs. Broncos
Broncos Football
Posted at 10:01 AM, Aug 21, 2021

SEATTLE -- The approach this preseason remains varied, if not confusing. Some teams play their best players. Some play none. And the snaps vary from quarters to blinks of time.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio plans to employ many of his first stringers on both sides of the ball Saturday night against the Seahawks. His team needs reps, requires the calisthenics of the preseason more than most as it aims to end the franchise's eight-game September losing streak, seven under Fangio.

So we expect to see starters on the offensive line -- left tackle Garett Bolles and left guard Dalton Risner will make their debuts -- but maybe not receiver Courtland Sutton. And the top defense figures to get in a series or so, meaning it will be the revamped secondary of Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons against Seattle's Russell Wilson.

Bradley Chubb is trending toward playing, but Von Miller might not, preferring to log his only preseason snaps on natural grass against the Rams next Saturday.

But who are we kidding? All eyes will remain affixed on the quarterbacks. And that's where my Denver7 Things to Watch For starts:

Can Teddy fly vs Hawks?
I had Bridgewater slightly ahead in the derby until the Minnesota game. Lock (153.3) posted the highest QBR of anyone in the week. Bridgewater ranked second at 144.8, but lacked the splash plays. Both performed well. But knowing he was starting at Seattle, I expected Bridgewater to find his stride in practice this week. He lacked consistency and had one bad turnover. He was better than Lock on Wednesday -- the former second-round pick finished with five straight incompletions -- but not appreciably.

Can Teddy turn the tide tonight with a strong outing that makes a difficult decision even harder? A 7-for-10 night with a touchdown drive on the road could put him right back in the mix, conjuring images of the player he was for New Orleans two years ago and Carolina in the first half of last season. If he struggles, I don't know how he can make up ground. For him to win the job after a poor performance would require Fangio to deliver a nuanced explanation of how these two were evaluated behind the scenes because the optics would not match.

Steady Drew
Lock threw a haymaker in his start. The competition was not great, but that's not his fault. If he holds serve tonight against backups and avoids a turnover, he would be in good position to win the job he has held since the final five games of the 2019 season. Lock has improved, and if the Broncos use him in play-action that could work. The reality is that Bridgewater has had more turnovers than Lock in camp. If Bridgewater isn't the safer bet -- though maybe the coaching staff still believes he is based on real games in his career -- then Lock could get the nod because of his upside.

Jerry's Jazzed Up
Jerry Jeudy has been the Broncos' best offensive player this offseason. He was not against the Vikings, missing a block and holding on another that negated a touchdown. Teddy and Jeudy have a connection. I could see Bridgewater leaning heavily on the former Alabama star for YAC yards on Saturday. If there's one disappointing thing about Lock's camp is that he has yet to sync up with Jeudy, which was a gnawing problem last season. That could easily change with more reps together, but tonight Bridgewater could/should look Jeudy's way early and often.

Oline Time
The offensive line needs a big season. And this should be the first time we see the five in a game -- Bolles, Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow and Bobby Massie. Bolles has been a little inconsistent in camp. But offensive linemen are always quick to remind me that the defense lines up offsides and cheats the script in training camp. Tonight will be a better judge of where Bolles is right now.

Massie and Anderson are battling for the right tackle spot. I give Massie the slight edge, but he needs to finish strong. The offensive line is why I believe the Broncos absolutely need to make a QB decision after this game. The cadence is so important to the group upfront. It is a life hack once they get in rhythm. That is impossible to achieve with the quarterbacks rotating. The cadence has been an issue at times in camp. So I'd make a choice after this game, and let that QB get the majority of the first team reps in preparation for the season opener at the Giants.

Running with a Dream
Melvin Gordon might play as he recovers from a slight groin injury. I would give him a couple of series if healthy. The more Javonte Williams plays, the more likely he carves out a bigger role earlier in the season. I will keep driving this point home. Stop looking for the QB to win this team games. If the QB can provide functional play, this team can claim 9-to-10 games with a run-first identity and gnarly defense.

Line it up
Picking on the Broncos defense is like focusing on Cindy Crawford's mole. But there is a position that continues to cause hand-wringing -- inside linebacker. Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson both stuff the run, but neither is excellent in pass coverage. Jewell will play vs. Seattle after missing the opener with a groin injury. Can Justin Strnad find a niche in subpackages, like the nickel as a cover guy or blitzer? Will Pat Surtain II be used as a dime linebacker inside? Watch for that. Also, Baron Browning, the third round pick, should make his debut in the next two weeks. He could be in the mix inside or even provide situational pass rush.

Special Occasion
The last roster spots rely on dimensional players. One-skill guys don't survive the final cut. So keep your eyes peeled on players like receiver Trinity Benson, cornerback Nate Hairston and Kary Vincent Jr. and linebackers Derrek Tuszka and Jonathon Cooper to see where they line up on special teams. That could be the difference as they fight to stay on the 53-man roster the next two weeks.