Denver Broncos football is back in full swing. Coming off a 22-20 road win in Seattle, the Broncos will now turn their attention to the Houston Texans—the team Head Coach Gary Kubiak coached for almost eight years. Last week was a fun game to watch, because we got some very extended looks at the 'elite depth' of the Broncos young roster.
This week, the Broncos will unveil their new offense with five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning at the helm. Demaryius Thomas is expected to see his first game action of the year, while Emmanuel Sanders will sit, as he continues to recover from his hamstring issue. We'll also get our first look at tight end Owen Daniels in a Broncos uniform, which is fitting, since his debut will come vs. the team who drafted him.
With training camp officially in the books, the preseason games become even more meaningful for the young players trying to make the Broncos final 53-man roster. Let's break down what to watch for on Saturday night.
Peyton In Command
For those who were apprehensive about Manning playing predominantly under center in Kubiak's West Coast/Zone-blocking system, we've seen throughout training camp that despite some minor growing pains, the 39-year-old signal caller has fully assimilated it. He's been spectacular.
Kubiak said earlier this week that Manning could play as much as the entire first half, which would be good. Kubiak and company have done a good job so far balancing Manning's playing time with the team's new mandate to rest him. He did not suit up last week. It's time for him to get some reps with live bullets.
Brock Osweiler played very well in his start last week in Seattle. It'll be interesting to see how Manning performs in Houston. The Texans feature a very talented defense, so Manning and the first-team offense will get a nice test run of the new Manning-Kubiak hybrid offense. I expect to see Manning in full command under center.
Running Back Competition Heating Up
Last week, the Broncos rushed for 113 yards on the road. Most of that came from Ronnie Hillman, who looked phenomenal in the zone blocking scheme. He ran with patience and burst. He even shucked a few tackles.
With Daniels set to see some major playing time in the first half, it will be interesting to see how the Broncos run the football early on. We could see some two-tight end sets, with Virgil Green in the game. C.J. Anderson only carried the ball three times last week, before leaving the game with a slight ankle tweak. I expect to see him get some good work in on Saturday.
The No. 2 spot on the RB depth chart is still owned by Montee Ball, but Hillman is making a case for the job. Both players are recent high-round John Elway draft picks, who, for one reason or another, have been outshined by Anderson, a former undrafted rookie. How that competition behind Anderson takes shape tomorrow night, will be interesting to watch.
Progress From The O-Line
The first-team offensive line was a bit of a mixed bag last week. They looked solid in run blocking, but there were a few times pass protection, especially off the left edge, that were cringe-worthy. A lot of pressure has been heaped on the shoulders of the rookie Ty Sambrailo, who has been asked to replace a Pro Bowler at left tackle.
So far, the job has seemed too big for him. The coaches keep saying good things about him, but the NFL is a production-based business and when your QB is 39 years old, you can't risk his health for the sake of a rookie's development.
Hopefully, Sambrailo will make this a moot point and show better consistency. If he struggles again tomorrow, especially with Manning in the game, I wouldn't be surprised to see Chris Clark get a shot at LT with the ones next week.
Max Garcia and Matt Paradis weren't perfect last week, but they were surprisingly good together. It will be interesting to see if they can carry over the momentum they've been riding for the last couple of weeks into tomorrow night's game. The veterans of the unit, Louis Vasquez and Ryan Harris, will have their hands full with J.J. Watt. Keeping Watt off Manning's back will be crucial.
Young Defense Showing Up
Last week, we got to see just how talented and deep this young Broncos defense truly is. Guys like Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray and Kenny Anunike were dominant and constantly harassing the opposing QB. Anunike will miss the next 2-3 weeks, as he recovers from a knee scope. But it will be interesting to see if Barrett can roll over his momentum to Week 2.
Lerentee McCray has been banged up with a groin injury and Barrett has absolutey taken advantage of the opportunity to back up Von Miller. Ray wasn't able to notch a sack last week, but he forced a fumble and played well overall. What I'll be watching from the second and third-team defense is how the secondary performs.
The young guys in the defensive backfield were solid but inconsitent. Someone from that group, whether it's Josh Furman, or Lorenzo Doss, or Taurean Nixon, needs to step up and make a big play. If Tevrin Brandon hopes to contend for a roster spot, he needs to make something happen, too.
At inside linebacker, the onus is on two young Elway draft picks, Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, to close the gap between the competition with Todd Davis and Steven Johnson. So far, it's not even close, but there's still a lot of football left to be played.
Consistency In The Return Game
Last week, the Broncos were a mess on special teams. They allowed more than 200 yards in kick returns and fumbled two punt returns. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillas has had a week to get the unit back on track. It will be key to see if they turn the ship around.
The guy currently atop the depth chart at returner, Omar Bolden, didn't play last week, but is expected to this week. He has proven to be explosive in returning kicks, but is untested at returning punts in a live game. Solomon Patton and Jordan Norwood have performed well returning punts in training camp, but were terrible last week in Seattle.
Both receivers are pushing for a roster spot, with Norwood clearly in the lead. If one of them can prove to be dependable in the return game, it will give them the over-the-top momentum to seal a roster spot.
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