The third preseason game is typically what most NFL teams consider to be the 'dress rehearsal' for the first-teamers. Tomorrow night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Denver Broncos will take on the San Francisco 49ers and it's shaping up to be the most interesting game of the preseason.
Here are some players and storylines to monitor closely tomorrow night. If you can't attend the game and are looking for a way to watch it, click here.
Can Peyton Manning Rebound From A Mediocre Debut?
Last week, we received our first look at Peyton Manning in live-game action. What we saw was very different than what the Broncos ran and installed during training camp. In Houston, the marriage between Manning and Gary Kubiak's offensive philosphies presented as similar to what we've seen over the last three years.
No huddle. Empty backfield. Shotgun. But as I mentioned earlier this week, it makes sense. There's no reason for the Broncos to put their new system on tape for all the league to see when the games don't even count.
But at the same time, they have to balance that reticence to open themselves up to league scrutiny with the need to apply the plays, the protections, and all that comes with a new offense, against another NFL team in live-game action.
“It’s going to be a work in progress through the year, too," Kubiak said Thursday. "We’re not going to be kicking on all cylinders. We’d like to, but it’s still going to get—we know it’s a work in progress for this offense and people are going to continue to get more and more comfortable with it, even after we start the regular season. I think the progress of where we are right now is good.”
I expect to see Manning and the Broncos open up the playbook just a smidge more on Saturday night. Last week, Manning looked out of sorts, connecting on just 57 percent of his passes. Granted, there were some drops, but he didn't look comfortable, or in a rhythm.
At home, with the fans at his back, we should see Manning move the ball down the field and put some points on the board. Earlier this week, Kubiak wouldn't commit to exactly how long the starters would play on Saturday, but I'd be shocked if they didn't play through the entire first half.
Welcome Back, Danny Trevathan
Danny Trevathan will play on Saturday night, which likely means he'll start next to Brandon Marshall at inside linebacker. Both players are coming off of offseason surgeries. In Marshall's 2015 debut last week, he was a force. In just a handful of plays, he filled up the stat sheet and made his presence felt.
It will be interesting to see if Trevathan can follow suit. The Broncos defensive fortunes hinge on the health of these two ILBs. No matter how long the coaches plan on playing the ones tomorrow, Trevathan's snap-count will be finite. Likely, just enough to get him in the flow and speed of the game.
Nevertheless, it'll be good to see No. 59 on the field in orange and blue tomorrow night.
Time Is Running Out To Make An Impact
The Broncos currently have 90 players on the roster. By 2 p.m. MST on Tuesday (9/1), they'll have to trim their roster down to 75 guys. That means that for the guys trying to hang on at the bottom of the roster, Saturday night could be their last opportunity to make an impact and earn a job.
A few players in particular I'll be keeping a close eye on are CB Tevrin Brandon, LB Zaire Anderson, WR Jordan Taylor, DL Josh Watson, OG Ben Garland, CB Curtis Marsh, OLBs Chase Vaughn and Gerald Rivers. The Broncos don't have to trim the roster down to the final 53 until Saturday, September 5th.
Who Steps Up At Running Back?
At this time, it's unclear whether the Broncos will choose to carry three or four running backs on their final roster. It'll likely be four. If that's the case, it's a four-way battle over two spots. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson's spots are secure.
Montee Ball, Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs and Jeremy Stewart are still fighting for a roster spot. Yes, the Broncos 2013 second round pick is fighting for a job. Ball has been ineffectual in preseason action and Hillman has officially taken over the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
It's make-or-break time for Montee Ball and with Thompson following up a dismal Seattle game with an impressive performance in Houston, he has the momentum. Bibbs has yet to carry the ball in preseason action, so expect to finally get some looks at him in the second half Saturday night.
Stewart has been solid, but unspectacular. Someone from this group has to step up and separate themselves from the pack. Ball has fallen far from his spot as the starting running back from this time last year. It's shocking to see that he's having to compete with a trio of former undrafted running backs, just to have a spot on the roster.
But the NFL is a production-based business. If Montee Ball hopes to stay in Denver, he'll have to produce.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.