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Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers: What To Watch For

The 2016 Broncos will debut at home tonight in their second preseason game of the season. Chad Jensen details what to watch for as the Broncos take on the Niners.

Yes, there was a parade earlier this year. It was quite the affair, attended by a million joyous Denver Broncos fans. 

That was a different team. For the first time since the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, the fans will get to watch their team in action, battling against NFL competition. Although there are many familiar threads, the complexion of this year's squad is different than the 2015 World Champion version. Peyton Manning is gone, as are a handful of other impact players. 

Just because it's different doesn't mean it's worse. This Broncos squad might be even more talented and deeper than their 2015 counterpart. 

The only real question is at quarterback. And that's where we begin what to watch for Saturday night vs. the San Francisco 49ers

Siemian's Big Shot

If you were to ask John Elway or Gary Kubiak about the expectations they had for Trevor Siemian when they drafted him him in the seventh round last year, they'd likely tell you that in no way did they envision him being in a position to win the starting job heading into just his second season. 

Siemian was drafted as a developmental project. He didn't have a large body of work at Northwestern and he entered the NFL recovering from a torn ACL. And yet, not only did he force Denver's hand in carrying him on the active roster as a rookie, but he's pushed the coaches to give him a start in an actual game. 

Yes, it's only preseason. But the stakes are high. This Broncos team is built to dominate the AFC yet again. But they can only go so far without stability at quarterback. Paxton Lynch might be the future, but he's far from ready to start. 

This QB competition will come down to Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez. Sanchez started the opening preseason game, and it could be argued that he was clearly the most effective signal-caller, notwithstanding the interception he threw. And that he deserves to start again. 

But Siemian has refused to go away. He will start Saturday night vs the Niners and play with the ones. He'll get the benefit of playing behind Russell Okung and Matt Paradis, with three Pro Bowlers at the skill positions—C.J. AndersonDemaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders

This is Siemian's shot to prove he can be trusted with the keys to the kingdom. I've been telling you since OTAs not to sleep on the Northwestern kid. Let's see what he can do with the cream of the crop. 

More Rushing Opportunities 

The Broncos were pretty balanced in their offensive attack in preseason Game One. 32 pass attempts to 28 rushes. The coaches wanted to see what the top-two QBs could do with increased passing opportunities. 

But in so doing, we didn't get much of a look at any of the running backs besides Kapri Bibbs. This time around, look for the Broncos to more evenly distribute the carries between Bibbs and Devontae Booker

Ronnie Hillman will get a few carries but Gary Kubiak already knows what to expect from the fifth-year back. The question marks are hanging over Bibbs' and Booker's heads. 

In his first home game as a Bronco, expect Booker to get a healthy dose of carries. It will be fun to see what he can do with his opportunities. 

How the carries are distributed will also give us an insight into how the coaches currently view Juwan Thompson. Does he fit in with this year's squad? We'll know soon enough. 

Who Can Repeat?

Several guys came out of the woodwork to have a productive game vs. the Chicago Bears. Some of the biggest beneficiaries were undrafted rookie linebacker Vontarrius Dora, rookie safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, second-year cornerback Lorenzo Doss, third-year receiver Cody Latimer and free agent veteran pickup Dekoda Watson

Each of them turned in an impressive performance, respectively, but the NFL is all about the 'what have you done for me lately?' mentality. Every year we see flash-in-the-pan performances in the preseason that never materialize into regular season playing time, or even a roster spot. 

It's important—especially for the unproven guys with no Denver pedigree—to show consistency. Beyond that, guys who flashed in Game One need to step up and build on their initial performance, like rookie defensive end Adam Gotsis, first-year linebacker Zaire Anderson and Kapri Bibbs. 

Which O-linemen Can Separate? 

The Broncos O-line is formidable—at least on paper. But when you see the list of injured players, or guys recovering from injury, it very much changes the perception of the O-line. Veteran free agent pickup Russell Okung is expected to start at left tackle. on Saturday 

It will be our first look at Okung in live action as a Bronco. Hopefully, he can bring some stability to the first-string unit. Max Garcia has left guard sown up, as does Matt Paradis at center and Donald Stephenson at right tackle. 

But there are still question marks at right guard. Last week, the journeyman Darrion Weems started at right guard, with Ty Sambrailo out with his elbow injury. Weems was solid but the guy to get excited about is the rookie Connor McGovern, who looked excellent in his opportunities at RG. 

Michael Schofield started at left tackle last week and frankly, held down the fort just fine. He's going to be the swing tackle this year. James Ferentz is easily the front-runner to be Paradis' backup at center. But the Broncos need to figure out who's gonna be the starting RG, because it isn't going to be Sambrailo. 

The sooner the team figures out the RG starter, the sooner the first-string unit can build chemistry and cohesion, which will trickle down and impact the rest of the offense. My hope is that McGovern will be that guy. 

There were a handful of young O-linemen who didn't even see the field last week. I'd like to see what Kyle Roberts looks like in year two with the Broncos, and what the team has on their hands in the 6-foot-8 Lars Hanson

Defensive Line Rotation

The Broncos lost starting right defensive end Vance Walker for the season with a torn ACL. Jared Crick will step into his role as the starter. I don't think the Broncos defense will miss a beat there. Crick was excellent in his first game action as a Bronco, coming away with a couple of QB hits, a sack and and showing strength at the point of attack in the run game. 

But the rotation behind Crick and Derek Wolfe is cause for concern. Adam Gotsis displayed his freakish ability. But he's young and inexperienced. When he finally puts it all together, the Broncos will have another Derek Wolfe on their hands. 

That might be expecting too much too soon from the rookie. Other rotational guys lower on the depth chart now have an opportunity to create a role with the team. Specifically, I'm focusing on second-year Darius Kilgo, undrafted rookie Kyle Peko and the recent veteran pickup Billy Winn.

It will be interesting to see how this group performs behind Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, and Crick. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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