Posted Thu Sep 3rd by Monty
Tonight the Arizona Cardinals come to town to face the Denver Broncos in the fourth and final preseason game of the season. The dress rehearsals for the Bronco have been so-so thus far, but that’s not what tonight’s about. Tonight is about the 22 players (23 after adding Brandon Marshall) who are going to be cut by Saturday, and the 75 who get to make one last impression to ensure they’re not among them.
But one player in particular will be under extra scrutiny. We’ve got your “five things to watch” right here: Tom Brandstater, Tom Brandstater, Tom Brandstater, Tom Brandstater, and Tom Brandstater.
Why? This NFL rookie – this third string quarterback who didn’t even warrant a single snap during the team’s first preseason game – this sixth round draft pick who looked completely lost in Seattle, made a few plays against Chicago, but still has a preseason passer rating of 57.0 – might very well be the Broncos’ opening day starter at Cincinnati in 11 days.
Kyle Orton is reeling from what sounds like the most painful finger injury imaginable (it’s like it was RIPPED OUT). Chris Simms might be ready after the high ankle sprain he suffered in Seattle two weeks ago, but no one is sure, and ankle sprains of the high variety are always extremely tough to get over.
Is tonight Tom Brandstater’s dress rehearsal for the real show September 13th? Whether Orton and/or Simms are ready or not, the team has to be prepared, and so Head Coach Josh McDaniels has to test the rookie.
Brandstater didn’t see any time in San Francisco and only dropped back eight times in Seattle. He was sacked four of those times, giving us all of four throws on which to grade Brandstater through two weeks of the preseason.
It was a brutal night for Brandstater – he looked like a fish out of water during his first NFL action, gaining only one yard. Think about that – he had four times the number of sacks as the number of yards. Even against NFL backups, Brandstater was stuck in first gear while the rest of the field was in fifth.
Against Chicago, Brandstater made strides with several big plays. The first came on 3rd and 11 in the Chicago red zone, after the Broncos had yet to mount a touchdown drive and were trailing the Bears 17-3. Brandstater took the snap out of the shotgun, took three steps back, and launched a pass to Brandon Lloyd that was technically a 16-yard gain but really traveled 24 yards in the air after the dropback. The ball was spotted at the one, and Peyton Hillis ran in the touchdown two plays later.
On Brandstater’s second drive, I was impressed by his confidence out of the pocket when the pressure was on. On a play action rollout, Brandstater was eying Eddie Royal on the right sideline as Bears rookie DT Jarron Gilbert was charging toward him. The QB didn’t flinch – he kept his eyes downfield, stepped into his throw despite the charging white-jerseyed behemoth heading toward him, and delivered a fairly accurate throw. Royal’s foot just grazed the out-of-bounds line, so the throw was ruled incomplete, but I was impressed by Brandstater’s ability to step up and not panic under pressure.
Finally, the coup de grace, and probably the most impressive throw made by a Denver quarterback this preseason. Under center, Brandstater took a seven step drop. His footwork was clean. As Bears DE Ervin Baldwin put a move and got past LT Tyler Polumbus, Brandstater dodged the pressure with a few steps forward, maintained his composure, kept his eyes downfield, and delivered a gorgeous ball to WR Kenny McKinley. McKinley took it all the way to the 13-yard line on a drive that ended with a touchdown a few plays later.
Was Brandstater consistent? Absolutely not. He threw knuckleballs. He threw an interception. He fumbled on a handoff to Darius Walker. But he showed flashes, and that’s usually the best you can ask for from a rookie QB in this league.
Unfortunately, the Broncos have to ask for more. The Broncos have to ask Brandstater to be ready two Sundays from now in case Orton and Simms can’t go. So tonight, the rookie will be given a taste of the pressures of a starting NFL quarterback.
I’ll be watching closely.