After two weeks of training camp and hitting nothing other than the same colored jersey, the Denver Broncos are looking forward to their opening preseason game Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers. “I think all the players are looking forward to going up against a different colored jersey,” Peyton Manning said after practice Tuesday. “There’s good familiarity between the Broncos’ offense and the Broncos’ defense. To go up against a good team like the 49ers, it’ll be a good test for us.”
Ah yes, live football is back and the Broncos can’t wait to play, but they will go into Thursday’s match-up a little banged up. Tackle Orlando Franklin (hip), tight end Jacob Tamme (quadriceps), safety Quinton Carter (knee) and wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring) all took the field without pads, watching, but not participating. Most, if not all, are not expected to play. Add these injuries to the already sidelined J.D Walton (ankle), Dan Koppen (knee), and Dominique-Rogers Cromartie (ankle) and the Broncos may be a little thin.
With Franklin out of practice, coach John Fox and his staff shuffled offensive linemen. Fox said:
“You need flexibility to go through a whole season. Even though on game day we typically only activate seven guys, the more reps we can get at different positions the better.”
Preseason is usually for the non-starters anyway, especially the first and last games, so this may not matter much to Denver. You can expect the Broncos starters to play maybe one or two drives on offense, maybe a little more on defense and that will be it.
Brock Osweiler should play in excess of two quarters with the number two offense but may get a few snaps in with the number one team. Osweiler has grown leaps and bounds in his sophomore season, and Denver is very curious to see how this translates on the field. Rookies Zac Dysert and Ryan Katz will play in the fourth quarter.
THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
The fight for the starting running back position begins. Ronnie Hillman was listed as the starter when Denver released their first depth chart, so expect him to get the start. But there will be plenty of carries for rookie Montee Ball, incumbent Knowshon Moreno, and Jeremiah Johnson, who has had a great week of practice.
The offensive line is in shambles, and Coach Fox has had to do some maneuvering but they should be fine. Neither starting tackle — Ryan Clady nor Franklin — are expected to play, so look for Chris Clark to start at left tackle with rookie Vinston Painter starting on the right. Both Clark and Painter could play more than a half as the Broncos lack bodies. Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez should be the starters on the interior. Ryan Lilja will get snaps at center as the Broncos look for a replacement until Walton returns mid-season.
Tavarres King has turned heads during camp and look for Osweiler to make him a big part of the offense. King has the goods to start on many teams immediately, but with Denver’s loaded receiving corps, King will have to play second string.
Can the Broncos replace Elvis? Thursday will be the first opportunity for Robert Ayers to finally start living up to his draft status as a former first-round selection. Ayers will start opposite Derek Wolfe at defensive end for Denver, and with it comes first crack at replacing Elvis Dumervil whom the Broncos lost to free-agency. Malik Jackson, Jeremy Beal (whom the Broncos were really high on a year ago before suffering a season ending injury), Shaun Philips and rookie Quanterus Smith will all get opportunities to rush the quarterback.
The middle linebacker job is up for grabs. Nate Irving is listed as the starter but Denver will give snaps to Stewart Bradley and Stevie Johnson as well.
The secondary is set. Champ Bailey and Cromartie are the corners. Chris Harris is the nickel back. Cromartie will not play until the final preseason game at the earliest so Harris will start outside with Tony Carter taking over at the nickel spot. Carter was also banged up, so maybe draft choice Kayvon Webster gets some looks. At safety Denver will use many combinations as Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, Duke Ihenacho, David Bruton and Quentin Jammer are all fighting for the starting spots.
Denver looks to get out of this one healthy first and foremost.