GLENDALE, Ariz. -- I have covered plenty of games in Arizona where veterans were feigning interest and eyeing a flight rather than a fight. It was called the last week of Spring Training.
On Thursday, the Broncos face the Arizona Cardinals in their preseason finale at the spaceship known as the University of Phoenix Stadium. This game means little to starters, who won't play. They went through a rigorous pregame workout with Von Miller (throwing passes and catching touchdowns) and Chris Harris among those who wrung out calories three hours before kickoff.
This night is about rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch. And those 2-to-3 roster spots hanging in the balance. My quick Take Five of thoughts:
1) Is the kid ready?
Lynch played in a Wing-T offense in high school. He starred in a spread offense in college with the Waffle House menu of plays. He has spent the last four months getting up to speed in a pro-style attack. Can he show he's ready to be the backup? He needs to call the plays quickly, get the team out of the huddle, and avoid the sacks (he's been taken down six times). Consider tonight a baptism by blowtorch.
2) What happens with Mark Sanchez?
What gives? Will he get cut, take a pay cut, get traded? Waived and re-sign after Week 1? A lot of things remain in play. He's not expected to take a snap tonight. His $4.5 million salary and draft pick compensation complicate his situation. He wants to stay, and could have resolution as soon as Friday, according to an NFL source. Even if Sanchez is cut and rejoins the team after Week 1 at a lower salary, the Broncos would still be required to send the Eagles a draft pick. Again, odds are working against Sanchez, who could be replaced by the likes of T.J. Yates or Christian Ponder.
3) Where does the RB stable stand?
I'll say it again: Ronnie Hillman should make the team. He was on my projected 53-man roster. I believe he and Kapri Bibbs could stick, leaving Juwan Thompson on the bubble. But injuries make this hard to predict. The team might keep Thompson simply for special teams because of the ailments plaguing Bennie Fowler (elbow) and Cody Latimer (left knee, he worked out before Thursday's game). Both those guys are special teams aces. Bibbs also has practice squad eligibility. That must be taken into consideration.
4) Do they keep an extra outside linebacker?
Dekoda Watson made the team last week as far as I am concerned. But what about blossoming prospect Vontarrius Dora? Could he sneak a spot because he won't clear waivers for the practice squad? I will be keeping an eye on him tonight along with several scouts.
5) How will Riley Dixon respond to his starting role?
Want an amazing stat? The Broncos entire draft class is in line to make the team. That's a feat for a defending champion team drafting late. Dixon and rookie Andy Janovich figure to start. Dixon's path cleared with the release of Britton Colquitt, who agreed to take $1 million less, short of the $1.6 million shave the club was seeking. I have no doubt Dixon will punt fine. He needs to hold well for Brandon McManus. For a team that figures to win ugly early, the Broncos can't afford any missed kicks because of bad spots.