The first preseason game for the Denver Broncos certainly brought to light a few of the issues that the team will face as they get to the regular season and the second will only intensify the microscope.
The Broncos will play their of four preseason games tonight at Century Link Field against the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos won their preseason opener over the San Francisco 49ers 10-6. Through the course of the game, a defensive standout was discovered, an offensive line struggled to protect the quarterback and a new running back broke out.
The complete picture as to how this Broncos team will come the regular season was not cleared up, but some notable players made strong cases to be a part of the 53-man roster come Sept. 5.
More questions will be answered tonight against the Seahawks as the starting units on both sides of the ball will see more time. Fans will get a better idea of how Peyton Manning and Wes Welker will mesh on the field and they’ll figure out exactly how things are going to look without Elvis Dumervil.
But beyond simply seeing how the starters will look for a quarter-plus, there are specific things that should be paid attention to. These are all key aspects of a Broncos team that is in search of its first Super Bowl championship since John Elway retired, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
1) Will Duke Ihenacho continue to impress?
This is the most obvious question after Ihenacho’s breakout performance last week. The guy flew around on the field, finding his way into the mix on what seemed like every play. He also forced a fumble and led the team overall in tackles. The young safety received praise from his teammates and his coaches and is looking to maintain his momentum. Ihenacho should see significant time with the entire first-team defense so it will be essential to see how he gels with veterans such as Champ Bailey and Chris Harris. if Ihenacho plays well, it could solidify his sport in the starting lineup.
2) Who will fill the hole at middle linebacker?
Stewart Bradley got his chance to play with the ones last week. He was noticeably slow in pass coverage and didn’t necessarily stand out in run coverage. His biggest competition in Nate Irving forced a fumble that led to the lone Broncos touchdown against the 49ers. Typically position battles see rotations throughout the early stages of preseason in order to get comfortable with their respective units going into the regular season. Irving has been touted as the middle linebacker of the future for the Broncos and if he sees any action with the first-team offense he needs to make the most of the opportunity.
3) Who will see the bulk of the time at running back?
The stage was all set for C.J. Anderson to have another breakout performance and cement his spot on the final roster. But Anderson went down on the last day of training camp with a knee injury that will keep him out for up to six weeks. That leaves five running backs for the Broncos to use Saturday with Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno, Jacob Hester and Lance Ball. Hillman and Ball will likely see their time while the first-team offense is on the field. That leaves the other three backs to get the bulk of the action. Moreno will likely walk away with the most carries. A solid performance could help Moreno find his way into the mix as the primary ball carrier for Peyton Manning.
The Broncos are still a long way from narrowing down their final roster, but every preseason game presents an opportunity for a new player to stand out in the eyes of the coaches. For at least the first quarter the game will be all about the starters, but the second half should open a door for a player who is at risk of seeing his NFL career end in the coming weeks.