Last week’s Hall of Fame game was the official start of the NFL pre-season. However, with little action for established starters, the game means little to zero to the casual fan. The action starts for real this weekend, with all 32 teams suiting up for the football starved masses.
Over the next four weeks of pre-season, training camp storylines are bought to life on the field. Jobs will be won and lost. New schemes will become entrenched within teams. Ultimately, the roster that will start the journey to Super Bowl 54 will be formed.
What should you be looking out for in these pre-season games? Let’s cast our eyes over the four games involving teams in the AFC West this weekend.
Denver Broncos @ Seattle Seahawks – Friday 9th August – 03:00
This will be the second opportunity to see the Denver Broncos under new head coach Vic Fangio. Despite some health concerns, Fangio took to the sideline and led his Broncos to a 14-10 win over Atlanta in the Hall of Fame game. Undrafted free agent quarterback, Brett Rypien, connected with fellow rookie Juwann Winfree for the game winning touchdown. Winfree had a mixed bag of a performance and he’ll be a player to watch on offence, as will Trinity Benson.
Rypien is a part of an intriguing quarterback group in Denver this pre-season. Joe Flacco is the undoubted starter, and we should get the first glimpse of him in game action. Drew Lock is the heir apparent but will need a better performance than against Atlanta. Lock overthrew his receivers on a number of pass attempts, and will need to show some improvement in his technique. Behind him Rypien and Kevin Hogan are battling for a potential QB3 spot. It’s a battle I expect Rypien to win, and a good showing will enhance his chances.
The Broncos will have another strong running game this year.
Philip Lindsay will lead the way, but the battle behind him got a little bit more interesting this week. Look out for how Vic Fangio utilises new arrival, Theo Riddick, and second year man, Royce Freeman. Hall of Fame game standout Khalfani Muhammad will again look to force his way up the depth chart. Another good game for him could spell the end of Devontae Booker’s Denver career.
Finally, on defence, we’ll get a first look at Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in Vic Fangio’s system. Behind the obvious excitement of the league’s premier pass rushing duo, look for Su’a Cravens and Malik Reed to build on strong games last week. Inside linebacker Joe Dineen should also see playing time as the UDFA tries to make the 53 man roster.
L.A. Chargers @ Arizona Cardinals – Friday 9th August – 03:00
All eyes will be on the Arizona Cardinals and number 1 overall pick, Kyler Murray. There’s a lot of excitement in the desert, and the L.A. Chargers will be looking to bring the birds down the earth.
Two players who won’t be helping out the Chargers defence are Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley. The top two picks from the 2019 NFL Draft won’t feature with injuries. Two players to watch out for will be linebackers Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill. White has been impressive in camp, and will be trying to push veteran Thomas Davis with a strong pre-season.
Another high profile absence from week 1 of pre-season will be Melvin Gordon. The star running back is still holding out in an attempt to secure a big money contract. The running back battle will be captivating and crucial in his absence. Austin Ekeler has the opportunity to prove to the Chargers that they can keep their big money for Gordon in their pocket. You can also expect to see plenty of Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome.
Like the Broncos, the Chargers roll in to week 1 with four QBs on the roster. There’s certainly no competition to supplant Phillip Rivers. However, there is a sense that someday soon there’ll need to be a successor. Expect to see playing time for Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones and Easton Stick. The rookie out of NDSU will look to make a name for himself, and a roster spot, and that starts this weekend.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs – Sunday 11th August – 01:00
The Chiefs off-season has been dominated by the Tyreek Hill saga. Rightly or wrongly, he’ll be back in Kansas this season. Don’t expect to see too much of the speedster against the Bengals. However, there’ll be no shortage of speedy receiver threat in the form of rookie Mecole Hardman. Expect the Georgia product to figure prominently as he looks to force a starting spot by week 1 of the regular season.
Whereas the previous two AFC West teams have interesting running back battles, they are essentially for the RB2 spot. The Chiefs have a genuine, all-out, running back competition to watch out for. If it wasn’t for some injury concerns for Damien Williams he would probably be the de-facto RB1. However, those concerns are there and the job is there for the taking. Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams and rookie Darwin Thompson should all see meaningful snaps.
Much has been made of the Kansas City Chiefs defensive changes over the off-season. I’m excited to get a first look at Steve Spagnuolo’s new scheme and how the Chiefs have adapted to it. On the new look four man defensive line, third stringers (on the initial depth chart) Emmanuel Ogbah, if healthy, and Khalen Saunders will be two to watch for.
At the back end of the defence, Mark Fields will be a name to watch. The UDFA out of Clemson has been turning heads in practice. He’ll look to use this game to start to climb his way up the cornerback depth chart.
Finally, if you haven’t been swept up by Juan Thornhill fever, you’ll see in the early hours of Sunday what the fuss is all about. He’s been sensational throughout camp and alongside Tyrann Matthieu, the Chiefs could have one of the deadliest safety combinations in the NFL.
L.A. Rams @ Oakland Raiders – Sunday 11th August – 01:00
We know what we won’t see on Saturday night/Sunday morning. That’s the Rams starters. They didn’t feature in last pre-season and its expected that the Rams will employ the same strategy this year.
We also won’t see Antonio Brown make his Raiders debut. The star wide receiver has barely featured through training camp with “sore feet”. It transpires that the former Steeler suffered frostbite after entering a cryogenic chamber with no footwear. It’s a strange move for a man known to work out in Gucci shoes.
Whilst Brown will be the undoubted WR1, and Tyrell Williams the WR2, the battle behind them is fierce. Clemson legend Hunter Renfrow appears to have pencilled his name in to the WR3 slot. Expect to see a lot of him as a safety net for whoever is throwing the ball through the four quarters. There’s also a hell of a lot of speed in the Raiders receiving depth, look for the likes of Rico Gafford and JJ Nelson flying down field.
Hometown hero, Keelan Doss could be the story of the summer in the receiver group. He already has the attention of fellow players and coaches.
The offence will only be as good as its offensive line.
Tackles Kolton Miller and Trent Brown have been impressive through camp. Watch out for their performance, in what will probably only be a brief outing for the first team offence.
All eyes will be on the Raiders rookies that will feature on defence. Although Clelin Ferrell was the top pick, look out for great things on the field from safety Johnathan Abram. He’s been making plays on the training field and impressions with the organisation off the field. He is just the player the Raiders needed to spark the defence, and his relationship with LaMarcus Joyner will be crucial to the success of the secondary in 2019.
90 men on each side will go into battle in week 1 of pre-season. In just four weeks time, those will be cut down to 53. The time to earn a job starts right now!
Photo credit: denverbroncos.com