CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The games don't count. But they matter. Three preseason games illuminate roster choices, and provide clarity moving forward. Don't focus movement of players with the progress. That must be proven over the regular-season meat grinder. Yet, the last month was critical, forming the cast for the Broncos' "Great Reboot" flick.
My look at the Top 7 things learned:
1) Siemian it is
Trevor Siemian won the quarterback job. He beat out Paxton Lynch, leaving coach Vance Joseph to send a clear message to the team that the best players will play. Siemian brings intelligence, leadership and poise. He needs more production. It starts with making plays with his feet, keeping his eyes downfield, and the 10 players improving around him. The key to Siemian's development? How about Jamaal Charles as a third weapon -- aside from Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thoams -- on third down?
2) T.J. Ward's exit
I covered baseball for 15 seasons. When clubs say teams are calling about a player, they are motivated to make a move. Ward's time with the Broncos is coming to a close. Over the past three seasons, he provided energy and intensity, helping mold a once-finesse defense in his hard-hitting image. The Broncos, according to industry sources, are looking to secure a mid-round conditional draft pick for Ward. None of his $4.5 million salary this season is guaranteed, but the Broncos would absorb a $1.25 million cap hit.
Ward is bracing for his exit. He talked exclusively with Denver7 on Wednesday.
"I am trying not to think about it," Ward said. "I know I going to find a way to make it work out."
Teammate Von Miller shook his head when asked about Ward possibly being traded or released.
"I thought it was fake news. It's serious like that? It can't be that serious. T.J. has been a great player for us. ... You always get blindsided by stuff. But T.J.'s been great for us," Miller said. "I don't see any reason to -- you know, Mr. Elway and the guys upstairs, they push this organization in a great direction and they're going to continue to make championship moves for us. But it's gotta be fake news."
Why break up the No Fly Zone voluntarily, a move that will not go over well in the locker room? Ward is 30 with a right hamstring injury that has prevented him from playing in the preseason. And he has a second-year player in Justin Simmons playing well enough to accelerate the transition. If Ward departs, as expected, Simmons would likely fill more of a free safety role with Darian Stewart, a vicious tackler, shifting into a strong safety spot. I know how dangerous it is for the front office to fall in love with older players. It can doom a franchise. Still, I believe Ward makes the Broncos better this season, and I would be willing to roll that dice and lose him for a compensatory pick when signing elsewhere as a free agent.
3) The Oline edge
The offensive line should be better. I know you have heard it before. It is definitely deeper. And the group is more physical than last season. There will be three, possibly four new starters with left tackle Garrett Bolles, left guard Allen Barbre, right guard Ron Leary and right tackle Menelik Watson. Center Matt Paradis represents the lone holdover. The importance of this group cannot be overstated. The line must dramatically reduce the number of sacks and hits on Siemian. And running the ball remains critical to the Broncos' offensive rebirth. The Broncos boast more talent this summer. I see nine to 10 making it with reserves Donald Stephenson, Max Garcia (who could share time with Barbre), Connor McGovern, Ty Sambrailo and possibly Billy Turner. (which means Michael Schofield won't make the cut).
4) Von Miller is better
It makes no sense. Yet, it is true. Von Miller is better. He is stronger with improved cardio. He will be on the field for more plays and contend for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Twenty sacks remains realistic. Miller is perfectly designed for pass rushing with his balance, bend and ferocity. The only thing preventing him from a career season is the health of the opposite pass rusher. Miller needs Shaquil Barrett, perhaps for the season opener, and Shane Ray, he might be out the first month, to draw attention to prevent constant double and triple-teams.
5) Charles in charge
When Jamaal Charles juked a defender last Saturday, it created gasps. It was a wicked move, but it also appeared his knee buckled. Turns out he was fine. He is merely continuing to rebuild strength in his leg. His presence is intriguing. Charles receiving 10 touches a game provides the Broncos a catalyst. Remember, Charles is solid in pass protection, and outside linebackers must respect him in routes, preventing them from racing upfield for the quarterback.
6) The pressure on Mike McCoy is real
I like McCoy's offense. It is genius in route trees and motion concepts. However, I wonder if the Broncos are expecting him to work miracles. The tight end position remains a ghost in this offense. That doesn't work in McCoy's scheme. Jake Butt could change it, but he won't be ready for months. A third option must emerge: Is that Virgil Green, who I thought would have to take a paycut to avoid being cut earlier this month but now no longer appears the case? Or is it Bennie Fowler or Jordan Taylor? Taylor has terrific chemistry with Siemian. Having a checkdown weapon at tight end or with Charles would significantly help Siemian.
7) McManus is nails
The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 with an historically great defense and terrific special teams. They would have never made it without Brandon McManus. He continues to be automatic this summer. I would look to secure him on a multi-year deal. He's that good.