By Chad Jensen
(247 SPORTS) - If you were hoping the Denver Broncos would flex and show out in the "dress rehearsal" -- the most important of all the preseason games — you were rewarded on Friday night. The Broncos first-team units absolutely put it on the Washington Redskins in Game 3's 29-17 preseason win.
As the first road game of the year, I was curious to see how the Broncos would look in a hostile environment but this team seemed more than equal to their opportunity. It was a 29-17 victory for the Broncos, but the game was nowhere near as close as the final box score would lead you to believe.
What did we learn from Denver's win over Washington, besides the observation that Brandon McManus looks confident again (5-for-5 on field goal tries)?
Get excited about Keenum
I've been cautiously optimistic of Case Keenum since the Broncos signed him to a two-year, $36 million deal in March. His rusty start in the preseason opener put some people on edge but his performance over the last two games should silence any of the Keenum doubters.
The sixth-year veteran signal-caller was mostly on point against the Redskins, leading three different scoring drives. He was sacked only once, moving the Broncos offense up and down the field.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 29, Redskins 17
He converted well on third down, took his shots downfield when opportunity knocked and put the Broncos in the right calls. Keenum finished 12-of-18 for 148 yards, with a rating of 91.9.
That's all we need to see from Keenum until September 9 when the Seattle Seahawks come to town for the regular season opener.
No shortage of aerial weapons
Keenum had himself a nice corps of weapons last year in Minnesota, but the 2018 Broncos squad could be even more dangerous. Emmanuel Sanders looks reborn, finishing with four receptions for 61 yards and 27 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
While Demaryius Thomas was relatively quiet on the night, Courtland Sutton tallied three catches, one of which was a big 27-yarder down the right sideline where he skied over Redskins cornerback Josh Norman to haul in the reception.
Tight end duo Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt looked good in limited action on Friday night. Butt officially broke the ice, hauling in his first NFL reception. Both are poised for a productive season, if they can stay healthy.
The Broncos have a full arsenal, punctuated by the guy we'll talk about next. Keenum could have a more prolific season statistically than last year, but it remains to be seen whether that will result in a similar team success.
Freeman leaves no doubt
Time to end the debate, if one even existed behind closed doors at Broncos HQ. Royce Freeman deserves to be Denver's starting running back, hands down.
The rookie third-rounder out of Oregon found pay-dirt for the third consecutive preseason game, this time rumbling in from 24 yards out. Freeman finished the night with 26 yards rushing on five carries and a touchdown.
His play-making ability is impressive and gives Keenum and the Broncos offense a dangerous dimension that Devontae Booker can't come close to matching. If Freeman can stay healthy, he's in for a big year, especially because of the big boys we'll talk about next.
This ain't the O-line of yore
Broncos fans have PTSD when it comes to the offensive line. Denver's trenches have been so woeful for the last three years that some fans had given up hope that they'd ever see a starting five they could again be proud of in the Orange and Blue.
I'm here to tell you that those days are over. So much depends on staving off the injury bug, but this Broncos O-line has proved through three games that it has the potential to be very good.
It's too soon to say "great". But Keenum had plenty of time to throw on Friday night and were it not for RG Connor McGovern getting beaten on a single solitary pass set, and a couple of whiffs by the swing LG Max Garcia, the starters would have pitched a perfect (half) game. Remember, that'll be Ronald Leary at left guard when September rolls around.
On top of their pass protection, the Broncos O-line was nasty up front, blasting open holes for Freeman, Booker and the undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos big uglies were mean, physical and they set the right precedent at FedEx field.
When Case Keenum was sacked for a nine-yard loss late in the second quarter, the Redskins D-lineman responsible for the takedown lingered a little too long on the signal-caller's back, which prompted LT Garett Bolles to rush in and push him off. Bolles was flagged for an "unnecessary roughness" penalty, but it was ticky-tack. In-season, I doubt that laundry would have flown.
But it sent the right message to the Redskins, even if it was on the first-team's final possession. This Broncos O-line is not a unit to be trifled with in 2018.
A depth safety emerges
Tip your cap to second-year safety Dymonte Thomas, who had himself one helluva game. With Su'a Cravens yet to suit up as a Bronco, Will Parks banged up and Jamal Carter on injured reserve, the Broncos needed another safety to throw his hat in the ring and rise to the occasion.
Thomas did just that on Friday night. The former undrafted rookie out of Michigan was a force in the first half, running with the first-team defense. Thomas received a few snaps as Denver's 'dime-backer' and looked like he was made for the role.
We saw Thomas stop Vernon Davis on a fourth down play, tackling his opponent shy of the sticks. Later, Thomas picked up another big stop on third down, getting the Broncos defense off the field.
On one play, he made an excellent read, showing great discipline to stop an Alex Smith read-option keeper off the right tackle. And Thomas also broke up a pass to Vernon Davis. The kid was all over the field.
We'll see how the roster math adds up, but Dymonte Thomas might have earned himself a spot on the 53-man roster out of camp, especially with no end in sight to Cravens' lengthy stay on the sideline.
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