The wait is finally over. Tonight, the Denver Broncos will once again take the field of battle to take on the Seattle Seahawks. It's the first week of the preseason and although the games don’t ‘count’, it’s still must-watch television. Here’s why.
This will be the first opportunity for us to see new head coach Gary Kubiak's product on the field vs. outside competition. The games might not count in the box score, but they certainly do for the players fighting to make the final roster.
Here are a some storylines to keep an eye on tonight.
Brock Osweiler's Quantum Leap
In case you missed it, Peyton Manning will not play tonight in Seattle. Osweiler will get the start. We'll likely see him play through the first half and into the third quarter. It's a huge opportunity for the fourth-year gunslinger.
It's no secret that Osweiler has been inconsistent at training camp, although he seems to have leveled out of late and is playing better. But just like Manning, Osweiler is learning a new system. After three years of playing mostly out of the shotgun, he is learning how to command an offense from under center.
Footwork, dropback technique—these are obstacles that will take time for Osweiler to master. He has the arm and mobility to be a weapon in Kubiak's version of the West Coast/Zone-Blocking offense. Tonight, the Seahawks will be without Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas in the secondary. It will be incumbent upon Osweiler to make his reads and decisions quickly and not hold onto the ball too long.
Seattle's front seven are as good as they come. With second round pick Frank Clark added to an already explosive defensive line, Osweiler will have to get rid of the ball quickly. Last August, we saw Osweiler take a huge step forward in his development. Hopefully we'll see him steer that trajectory even higher tonight.
Onus On The O-Line
As the depth chart is currently constituted, if the Broncos made no changes, they would have the youngest offensive line in football come Week 1. Considering that their primary brief is to protect their 39-year-old quarterback, it's an alarming thought. However, the Broncos are committed to being young in the trenches.
Tonight, the onus will be on Ty Sambrailo, Max Garcia, Matt Paradis, Louis Vasquez and Ryan Harris to perform. They must hold up at the point of attack and keep Seattle's pass rushers out of the pocket. Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will keep them on their toes with misdirection and play-action, but tonight is where the rubber meets the road.
It will be interesting to see how this young O-line executes in the running game. Can they open some holes on the full zone stretch? We'll find out tonight.
First Look At The Running Game
It will be interesting to see how the Broncos stable of young running backs perform tonight. A lot hinges on how the big boys up front play, but we are going to get a look at C.J. Anderson in this offense. The Broncos are stacked at running back, with Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs and Jeremy Stewart, and they're all likely to get some reps tonight.
The rushing tradition in Denver is proud and replete with prolific production. For the first time in six years, we'll get to see that familiar zone running system on the field. As good as these young runners are, they are dependent on the O-line. They'll have to form a symbiotic relationship early if the Broncos rushing attack is going to return to dominance.
Young Weapons At Wide Receiver
Just like the running back position, the Broncos are stacked at wide receiver. We might not see much from Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders tonight, but we'll get plenty of long looks at Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood, Solomon Patton, Jordan Taylor and Bennie Fowler. Andre Caldwell is currently ahead of every one of these guys on the depth chart, but if someone is going to leapfrog him, it has to start tonight.
Latimer might 'officially' be behind Caldwell on the depth chart, but he's in line to be much more involved in the offense. Norwood, Taylor, Patton and Fowler are all jostling to earn a place at the table. They'll have to outshine the savvy veteran Caldwell to get one. The Broncos have two WR spots open and preseason games are where they get won or lost.
Log-Jam At Inside Linebacker
In a perfect world, where everyone is healthy, the Broncos would have an embarrassment of riches at inside linebacker. However, with Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan still recovering from offseason surgeries, a complete return to form is not guaranteed. Todd Davis and Steven Johnson have played very well in their place with the first-team defense, but behind them, it's a log-jam.
Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow, two 2014 John Elway draft picks, will get the first opportunity to succeed, but they'll have to fend off Zaire Anderson, who has quietly had an excellent camp. Marshall and Trevathan will not play tonight, which will give plenty of reps to the guys down the depth chart.
It will be interesting to see which players set themselves apart. Depending on the progress of Marshall and Trevathan, the Broncos might choose to go light at another position group, like cornerback or even wide receiver, to make room short-term for extra inside linebackers on the final roster. The iron is hot. But these young 'backers have to strike.
Who Will Rise Above At Cornerback?
Since May, it's been expected that Lorenzo Doss and/or Taurean Nixon would finally edge Tony Carter out of a job. So far, that hasn't happened. Carter is still well ahead of both rookies on the depth chart and just behind third-year pro Kayvon Webster. Again, preseason games are where the bottom of the depth chart gets settled and if Doss or Nixon are going to move on Carter's position, it has to start tonight.
Here's how you can watch the Broncos take on the Seahawks tonight.
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