As Jamal Carter walked off the practice field at Broncos headquarters this week, the math followed closely behind him.
The undrafted rookie safety from Miami knew it.
Carter was nearing the Broncos’ final preseason game against Arizona, to be held Thursday night, which could be his final chance to make a case for one of the precious few remaining roster spots available on the team’s soon-to-be-announced 53-man roster.
“I think I put myself in an all right position,” Carter said. “Not a position I’m comfortable in. I’ll never get comfortable. I think I’m all right, but I know that’s not confirmed. So I’ve got to keep pushing.”
These are nervous days for players like Carter, one of more than a dozen players on the Broncos’ 90-man training camp roster who are vying for what are just a handful of remaining spots. There will be more than two dozen Broncos players who won’t step on the field Thursday night. That group already has an eye turned toward the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Carter, who is trying to become the 16th college free agent in 14 seasons to make the Broncos out of training camp, isn’t looking any further than his final 60-minute audition.
“You know it’s a big opportunity,” said Carter, who made a splash in the Broncos’ preseason opener by recovering a fumble and registering a game-high six tackles. “You don’t make it too big. You stay calm and do your technique, study, go over the plays, watch film and go out there and do what you do.”
There are multiple roster spots on the line that still have to be determined following Thursday’s game, including decisions about the offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line and cornerback. NFL teams must cut down to 53 by Saturday afternoon.
“One game can make a difference for the young guys,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “We have a lot of battles that are really, really close. If a guy makes a great play, that can turn a coach. That can turn (general manager) John (Elway). Obviously, a guy making plays for (special teams coach) Brock (Olivo), that could definitely turn myself or John. That game is going to be big for the young guys. Obviously, for the roster, but also for the 10-man practice squad. That’s a big deal for these young guys.”
Chris Lewis-Harris is one of several players, including third-year player Lorenzo Doss and rookie Brendan Langley, who are battling for what could be one or two cornerback positions behind Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. The sixth-year player is familiar with the stakes in the preseason. After earning a spot on the practice squad of the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Lewis-Harris played 33 games over five seasons with the team.
He often bounced between the practice squad and the active roster, but he has always viewed the preseason as his chance to make an impression. Lewis-Harris has done that in his first training camp in Denver. He made several big plays in the preseason opener against Chicago and had an impressive interception the following week at San Francisco.
“I’ve played in a lot of preseason games, and I know that’s the time you show you know the defense and put things on film,” Lewis-Harris said. “That’s how you show you know how to play in the scheme. It’s pretty much my goal to go out and do that every game.”
Carter often stands at practice with his eyes scanning the field, closely studying the movements of veterans at his position like T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart. Nothing was guaranteed after the Broncos signed him as a college free agent. So no time can be wasted in an attempt to find a leg up.
“I try to take a lot of mental reps and then just run,” Carter said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, just have great effort.”
Carter won’t be doing much watching Thursday night. He and the rest of the Broncos who are scratching and clawing for a coveted roster spot will be in the spotlight.