Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
When: Saturday, August 23, 2014 @ 7:00P.M. MDT
To fans who are anticipating this game as the one not to miss this preseason, it might be time to just get ready for the regular season. The third game of the NFL preseason is typically the game to watch as it is considered the “dress rehearsal” when teams normally play their starters into the third quarter. However, it may not be the case this year if you are a Denver Broncos fan.
The Broncos’ starters have been playing extremely well this preseason and many players look to be in regular season form already. I would not be surprised to see the stars of the team sitting on the bench in the second quarter. The likes of Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas among others have had a great preseason and really have nothing left to prove to show they are ready for the games that count. Why risk injury? Heck the all the starters, save a few may be done before halftime.
If this is disappointing news, don’t fret. Here are some areas of interest to pay attention to:
Chris Clark versus J.J. Watt
Clark is the weakest link on the offensive line and has a sizeable test in front of him in Watt. Clark will get help from Louis Vasquez as Watt will typically line up between the two, but the former Defensive Player of the Year is a disruptive handful for offensive lineman. Clark will need to be on his game to slow Watt and any blitzing outside linebacker. Clark has shown progress this off-season, but he needs a performance that proves the coaching staff right and placates fans who don’t think he is the answer at right tackle (including me). Playing well against Watt would be a big step in doing just that.
The Broncos running game
This area of interest isn’t who will make the team, but about production. The running backs making the roster are set, barring injury. Although I am not anointing him the next Terrell Davis like some have, I did predict back in early June that Juwan Thompson would earn the fourth running back spot. Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson aren’t going anywhere. Kapri Bibbs is making a push in preseason, but he will not unseat Thompson or anyone else and is likely headed to the practice squad. What is left to watch now is can the Broncos improve on the paltry 2.9 yards per carry they have had in the first two preseason games? If more balance is truly their offensive goal the running game must step up. The Texan’s defensive line is solid and will be another good test.
Pass rush by second and third teamers
Everyone knows DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller can get after the passer. It is time to see how Quanterus Smith and Kenny Anunike do against some first team offensive linemen. Are they the real deal or just feasting off players who may not have a job come the end of August.
The battle for the final two spots in the secondary
It is a tight race between Omar Bolden, Tony Carter, John Boyett, David Bruton, and Duke Ihenacho for the final two spots. Bolden has the inside track on one spot with his improved play. He will get plenty of playing time with the first team as Kayvon Webster and Chris Harris Jr. are out recovering from injuries. It is an all out battle for the safety position between the other three. Ihenacho is definitely behind the others as he can’t seem to resurrect the preseason performance of 2013 that pushed him into the starting role. Boyett has been impressing with big hits and pass defense. He is also around the ball often on special teams, which may make Bruton, a special teams ace, expendable.
An additional linebacker must step up
Since Danny Trevathan’s injury Brandon Marshall showed he can fill in admirably, but who is going to step up behind him at weakside linebacker? Will Steven Johnson slide over from the middle because of his experience? Will rookie Corey Nelson step up his game? He has more upside and athleticism than Johnson, but he is showing rust from missing significant playing time his senior year in college due to a torn pectoral muscle. A viable backup is necessary until Trevathan returns.
This game may just be the one that the coaches use to solidify the final roster (read my prediction here). It may also go a long way in erasing some lingering doubts.