The Denver Broncos preseason opener kicks off this evening at 8:00 p.m. MT on NFL Network and 9News. With Russell Wilson and other starters expected to play against the Arizona Cardinals, which players should Broncos fans keep their eyes on?

Denver Broncos starters to watch for vs. Cardinals

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton indicated earlier this week that starters would play an estimated 15-18 snaps against the Arizona Cardinals.

Payton wants to see progress carry over from what the team has done well throughout training camp on Friday night.

Russell Wilson’s first look in Sean Payton’s offense

The one player who will have the most eyes on him this evening is Russell Wilson. After 2022’s down year, the expectations surrounding Wilson this year are filled with pressure.

While it’s just the preseason, Broncos fans and Payton want to see Wilson and the starters do well against the Cardinals in their limited snaps.

“Same thing I’m hoping to see from the rest of the starters,” Payton said on Wednesday. “You want to get in there, and you want to see clean execution and timing. Most importantly for the quarterback is that you’re moving the ball and giving yourself a chance to score. I think that will be important for everyone, not just him.”

That’s the key phrase, not just him. Overall the Broncos’ offense has gotten into a rhythm over the course of the last five practices after starting off training camp a little sluggish as Payton and the team continued to install the early foundational aspects of his offense.

The main thing to watch for with Wilson revolves around his command of the offense, getting in and out of the huddle, and getting the snap off with the 15-10 second range on the play clock that Payton wants. More importantly, moving the ball downfield without any glaring mistakes.

It’s the preseason. Perfection should not be expected; wins and losses during these exhibition games don’t matter. What matters is whether the offense looks better from an operations standpoint.

Denver Broncos set to get first glimpse of Randy Gregory, Frank Clark pass rush duo

When the Denver Broncos defense takes the field for the first time, Broncos fans will get their first look at Randy Gregory and Frank Clark coming off the edge.

Whether Colt McCoy or Clayton Tune get the start this evening, Gregory and Clark should see ample opportunity to get a few pass rush reps against the Cardinals offense.

Last season, Gregory had success generating consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks when he was fully healthy. After suffering a knee injury that held him out of action most of last season, a healthy Gregory is a good thing for the Broncos’ defense.

Clark’s pedigree as a Super Bowl champion and experienced pass rusher will also be something to watch for. In practice, he’s consistently pressured quarterbacks, but more importantly, helping set the edge and keep contain on the outside.

Seeing how they fare in tonight’s game will be one of the things to watch for.

Denver Broncos position battles to watch for

Throughout training camp and the preseason, various players will compete in practice and games to solidify themselves a spot on the active roster in September.

Tonight’s game is the first step of the real evaluation process.

How does Broncos RB3 competition kick off?

Let it be no secret; the Denver Broncos have locked up two spots on the depth chart at the running back position. Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine will be the mainstays in the room come Week 1.

However, considering the violent nature of the position itself, the Broncos will likely rely on three total backs on the active roster this season.

Tonight’s preseason game against the Cardinals is the perfect opportunity for Jaleel McLaughlin, Tyler Badie, and Tony Jones Jr. to make their first claims for the position.

McLaughlin has broken an explosive run in practice since the first day of training camp. His patience after hitting the hole, willingness to follow his blockers, vision, and speed provide the Broncos’ offense with something they don’t currently have.

While the undrafted rookie has turned heads all throughout camp, he’ll have to carry that over into preseason play against another opponent.

Badie has some regular-season NFL experience despite his sample size being limited. His first career touch last season went for a touchdown in the Broncos’ 31-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 18.

Badie’s size and physicality have been noticeable throughout training camp. He runs violently and hits the hole constantly, getting north/south.

Jones Jr.’s familiarity, having played for Sean Payton previously, benefits him from an experience standpoint. However, Payton has made it clear as day; it’s not about how players got to the Broncos but what they do with the opportunity.

While he isn’t the most explosive rusher in the room, he’s protected the football during camp and has caught several passes out of the backfield from various quarterbacks.

Most of these backs will get plenty of chances to touch the ball tonight, and who does the most with those snaps will be under the microscope.

P.J. Locke looking to secure third safety spot on the Broncos defense

The Denver Broncos safety depth is the best it’s ever been on paper in several years. With Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns anticipating to start in Week 1 of the regular season, the third spot behind them is wide open.

Veteran Kareem Jackson started every game for the Broncos last season and played 100% of the team’s defensive snaps. After re-signing a one-year deal late in the offseason, Jackson can close out his career on a high note as he enters Year 14.

Despite Jackson’s previous experience playing for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, Broncos head coach Sean Payton hasn’t shied away from saying the best players will play and make up their final roster.

Jackson can still play at a high level, but he’ll face stiff competition from P.J. Locke, who has emerged as the Broncos’ best special teams player and has ascended year over year as a safety.

With Justin Simmons nursing a groin injury, Locke and Jackson could get the start on Friday night against the Cardinals, which will help begin the true evaluation process for how the positional depth will play out.

How does Broncos kicking battle start off in game action?

Brett Maher and Elliott Fry have been ‘even Steven’ all throughout training camp regarding the kicking competition. Friday’s preseason opener will help special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica gather the first insight into how both players perform during game-like conditions.

“The good thing is that both guys have done a tremendous job,” Kotwica told us this week. “Both [K] Brett [Maher] and [K] Elliott [Fry] have been really good. In the charted kicks, both are over 90 percent. We hit the two-minute ones the other day. I think that will work itself out as we move down. As I shared with the guys the other day, these guys are so good you could put them on the sticks on the side and they could knock them all. There’s going to be key kicks coming up here, whether it’s in a team period, or in a two-minute, or on Friday against Arizona. There will definitely be—kind of like the ‘Moneyball’ in the 3-point contest, there are going to be some key kicks here as we go down the stretch.”

It will be interesting to see who gets to kick the first extra point, field goal, and who handles the kickoffs.

Who emerges in Broncos wide receiver competition?

After Tim Patrick suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, Brandon Johnson appeared to take firm control of the team’s third wide receiver role inside Payton’s offense.

With Johnson expected to miss a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, it opens up the door for other players to throw their names into the hat for that specific role he was playing.

Marquez Callaway, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Marvin Mims, and Kendall Hinton are four players that Broncos fans should watch during Friday’s game.

Callaway’s made hay with Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham, and Ben DiNucci throughout training camp, which amplifies his ability to make the roster.

Humphrey’s size has certainly been noticeable during camp, leveraging it to box out against smaller defenders or position himself into making contested catches.

Mims and Hinton are two wildcard options. With Mims recently coming off of a hamstring ailment, he’s looked impressive since being incorporated into the offense with each unit. Earlier in the week, he caught a 30-yard pass from Russell Wilson during the team’s two-minute drill that set up a scoring drive.

Hinton came off the PUP list shortly after training camp began and has begun slowly working his way back into the mix, doing a lot of the finesse work he brought to the table last season.

Both players are considered in the mix for the team’s return job alongside Montrell Washington.