The wait for live-action Denver Broncos football is almost over. Tomorrow night, the Broncos will host the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. A lot has changed for the Broncos since that fateful night of February 2nd.
The Broncos aren't missing a whopping 6 starters anymore, although I'd be surprised if we see Von Miller, Chris Harris, Jr, or Kevin Vickerson tomorrow night. These 3 players are still recovering from their respective injuries and have been limited in training camp, and will continue to be limited throughout the preseason, but they'll be good to go by Week 1 of the regular season.
There's been some roster turnover since February. Gone is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. In is Aqib Talib. Gone is Shaun Phillips. In is DeMarcus Ware. Gone is Mike Adams. In is T.J. Ward. Gone is Eric Decker. In is Emmanuel Sanders. Without question, the Broncos have become more explosive.
From the Broncos' rookie class, there are many new faces too. Bradley Roby, Cody Latimer and Lamin Barrow should all see significant time tomorrow night, along with a nice peppering of all the team's rookies.
There are a few story lines to keep an eye on. And although it's only a preseason game, we all know that the Broncos aren't approaching this like a typical preseason primer. Here are a few things to watch for tomorrow night:
- What level of intensity will the Broncos' first team units, especially the offense, display? The offense came out flat as a pancake in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks haven't shut up about it, going so far as to claim that the team was "scared'' and "timid".
- Don't be surprised if T.J. Ward knocks somebody out, or at the very least, perpetrates a huge hit. Time to let the world know, especially the Seahawks, that there's a new sheriff in town and that the days of "finesse'' defense are gone in Denver.
- Will Peyton Manning go deep? Although it's unlikely that we'll see anything more than vanilla schemes in a preseason game, I'm still interested to see if all of the talk about Manning going deep more often will hold true. Seattle plays zone coverage better than anyone and were excellent at taking away the Broncos' short passing lanes. Going vertical is one way to soften that zone up. The other is...
- Run the ball with authority. We know that starting running back, Montee Ball, will be out tomorrow night, due to his appendicitis, but I really want to see if Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson can establish the run and keep the Seattle first team defense on their toes.
- How will the revamped offensive line hold up? This goes hand in hand with the running backs. Ryan Clady is back. Orlando Franklin has moved inside to left guard. Between Franklin, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez, the Broncos have a very beefy interior and it should not only bear fruit in the running game, but also in keeping guys out of Manning's grill.
- Will we see Emmanuel Sanders "all over the formation"? Again, I doubt the Broncos will want to tip their hand much in preseason play, but it'll be interesting to see how Sanders gets deployed. Adam Gase is chomping at the bit to utilize the speed of his new weapon.
- Will Cody Latimer see any first-team reps? A few weeks ago, I would have doubted we'd already be seeing Latimer running with the first team, but his dominant play in training camp has already thrust him into the offensive forefront. It'll be interesting to see if it plays out that way in game action.
- How many snaps will Marvin Austin see with the first team defense? Similar to Latimer, a few weeks ago, I'd have said none. But Austin has already earned reps with the 1s. Regardless, expect to see a lot of the former 2nd round pick of the New York Giants.
- Can Lerentee McCray pressure the quarterback? With Von Miller out, McCray has already cemented himself as the backup SAM linebacker. He'll be counted on to rush the QB and make plays in the running game. I don't doubt that McCray can do the latter, but I'm praying he can execute the former.
- Will Bradley Roby be targeted early and often? Veteran NFL QBs will zero in on the most inexperienced defensive back and try to exploit them. It'll be interesting to see if Russell Wilson, in limited action, will follow suit, and whether or not Roby is up to the challenge.
- Has Kayvon Webster really turned the corner? If the answer to this question is yes, then the Broncos defense is going to be a nightmare for opposing offenses this year. Webster has the size, physicality and tough-nosed penchant for laying the wood. He actually has a similar skill-set as Aqib Talib. He held up pretty good in coverage last year, until he injured his hand. I'll be watching to see if the 2nd-year pro truly has improved over the offseason.
- Can Nate Irving effectively stack and shed? This will be key if he's going to be the answer at MIKE linebacker for the Broncos. I think the answer is yes, but I'll be watching closely tomorrow.
- Will Mitch Unrein go quietly into the night? Unrein is on the roster bubble. Right now, there's no getting around it. He feels like he's already shown the coaching staff enough, over the years, to earn a spot on the 53, but the coaches obviously beg to differ. The next few weeks will be key for Unrein.
- How will the Broncos deploy their nickel and dime sub-packages? Again, they might not tip their hands this early, but it'll be interesting to see how they run their sub-packages. Will they move T.J. Ward down into the box as a LB? If so, who comes in at safety? Quinton Carter? Duke Ihenacho? John Boyett? Remains to be seen.
- Which UDFA running back(s) will emerge? Right now, all of the momentum is with Juwan Thompson. But until the big lights go on, you never really know how a young, inexperience runner is going to react. Kapri Bibbs, Brennan Clay and Jerodis Williams, will all get a chance to ply their wares tomorrow. Only one will earn the last running back spot on the 53, behind Ball, Hillman and Anderson.
- Has Brock Osweiler's ability to read a defense improved? This has been my knock on Oz. He's too slow to make a decision. Often times, he's been Tebow-esque in holding onto the ball too long. I'm hoping his development has improved in this area and that he can orchestrate several TD drives, because arm-strength and athleticism has never been an issue with Oz.
- Has Zac Dysert improved his accuracy? Dysert has an ability, when the chips are down and the lights are on, to make plays. And he has a heck of an arm. But it's no secret that he's struggled with accuracy issues, also to a Tebow-esque level. If he's improved this area of his game, Bryn Renner won't stand a chance.
- How will Mike Schofield and Matt Paradis hold up against NFL competition? Schofield was a head-scratcher in the 3rd round, but there's no denying he has talent. Paradis is a no-nonsense, scrappy interior lineman. It'll be interesting to see them compete against some of the best athletes in the world.
- Which TE will run with the 2nd team? Gerrell Robinson, or Jameson Konz? Konz is higher on the team's first depth chart, but Robinson ran with the 2s at the scrimmage last Saturday. If the Broncos plan on carrying 4 TEs this year, the last spot will come down to one of these two players.
- Who will separate themselves from the competition? Kenny Anunike or Shaq Barrett? Technically, these guys play different positions. One is a defensive end and one's an outside linebacker. But the one thing they have in common is an ability to rush the passer. It'll be interesting to see which one rises above.
That's it for now. As always, let's hope for a healthy outing for our Denver Broncos tomorrow. PO will have plenty of analysis on the Broncos' first preseason game, so keep coming back!