The Denver Broncos are about to hold their scrimmage-style practice at Empower Field at Mile High. The team will make it as game-like as possible and the proceedings will be broadcast by 9NEWS on Saturday evening.
If this stadium session is anything like Friday's training camp practice at UC Health Training Center, it could see the continued shuffling of two new faces on the first-team offensive line. Rookie third-rounder Lloyd Cushenberry III, after starting off on the second-team, seems to have laid a stranglehold on the center job with the ones, as he's been the guy the last three practices.
Austin Schlottmann and Patrick Morris were initially receiving snaps there but Cushenberry was drafted to be the Broncos' future at center. It was always a matter of when — not if — that would become a reality. It's good that the coaches seem to have made that decision (though nothing is official yet), because Cushenberry needs as much time as he can get to gel with QB Drew Lock and his brethren on the starting five.
Speaking of the starting five, there's also been some movement at right tackle. Although Elijah Wilkinson remains the coaches' favorite to win the starting job, the Broncos have begun to rotate in newcomer Demar Dotson with Lock and the ones.
After seeing what Wilkinson offered in his 12 starts last year, which saw him surrender 10 sacks and be penalized six times, Broncos fans have been clamoring for the recently acquired Dotson to supplant him in the starting lineup, especially with how bad the incumbent's pass blocking has been through the early stages of camp.
However, before fans start high-fiving over Dotson, understand that Wilkinson still has every opportunity to "lose the job" as head coach Vic Fangio put it. In other words, it's still Wilkinson's job to lose but the 11th-year Dotson is working his way up the depth chart. As Coach Fangio said, Dotson has the license to win the gig.
“He does, but it’s up to Elijah to lose it too," Fangio said following Friday's practice. "As long as Elijah is playing the way we think he’s capable of playing, he’ll be the right tackle. If he’s struggling, then we have Demar there to replace him with.”
The question is, will the Broncos wait to see how Wilkinson performs in a regular-season game before making that decision? Or does Dotson genuinely have a chance to win the right tackle job during training camp?
For now, they're unanswerable questions. At least, from the outside looking in. Fangio and offensive line coach Mike Munchak know the answers but my suspicion is that the Broncos will wait until live game action before making any further change at right tackle.
But as an eight-year starting right tackle in the league, Dotson has experience in spades, which Wilkinson does not. Although Dotson isn't an elite right tackle by any stretch of the imagination, he does have that veteran competency and experience that coaches crave and seems to have quicker foot-speed and more athleticism even at 34 years old.
At the same time, Wilkinson got a raise this year, playing on a restricted free-agent tender that'll pay him $3.259 million in 2020. Meanwhile, Dotson could earn up to $3M in 2020 if he hits every escalator in his contract, while bringing home a guarantee of $400K.
The Broncos want their money's worth, which is why Wilkinson will be given every chance to lock down the job. However, if Dotson continues to play steadily and proves to hold up on the edge against the likes of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb better than Wilkinson has, the team might have no choice but to make a decision before September 14.
Saturday's stadium scrimmage will offer some insight into how the coaches currently view this competition. We'll have an even better understanding of it when the Broncos release their first depth chart of the season, which will come no later than the mandated deadline of September 4. Stay tuned.