The Denver Broncos will reconvene at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Saturday night for the first time since their embarrassing 2015 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. A lot has changed since then. New coaches, a new roster and new schemes will be on display when they take on the San Francisco 49ers but three players who need to show improvement will be very familiar to the fans.
Danny Trevathan will be making his preseason debut at inside linebacker, Omar Bolden will once again try to separate himself as a return specialist and Cody Latimer needs to prove to himself and the coaches that he can be relied on as the third starting wide receivers. All three will start the game and Bolden and Latimer may play up to three quarters of football. The Broncos have high expectations for all of them.
1. Danny Trevathan
Trevathan has had a long road to recovery the past year. Over a year ago in training camp he was flying around and in peak physical shape, ready to build on what was a spectacular 2013-14 season but it was not meant to be. On August 12 of last year Trevathan went down at practice, suffering a medial tibial impaction fracture just below his left knee. It was huge blow and shortly after he returned to the team he endured a crack above the same knee in week two against the New York Jets. Finally, in December he dislocated his patella (kneecap). He only played in three games and totaled 11 tackles on the season but all that is behind him now.
Trevathan has been slowly gaining repetitions in individual drills and in the past two weeks he has started to play in full team drills, in full pads. Thursday he was grinning from ear to ear when he was asked about suiting up and returning to the field in Saturday’s preseason game.
“The emotions are going to show on game day. Right now, I’m just preparing my mind. I’ve been doing this going on four years. I know what it takes and I know the mindset that you need to go out there and play at this level that we’re trying to compete at. Its one thing to say it and it’s another thing to go out and do it. That’s why I don’t really talk too much. I’m really one of those “shower” guys. Come game time, I’m going to be ready.”
Trevathan will be playing alongside Brandon Marshall, who also had a serious injury last season. Marshall returned to action last week and looked impressive. The combination of the two players could be dynamic in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’s defense. Trevathan is hoping that all his hard work has paid off.
Kubiak stated Trevathan will play in about 20 snaps before being pulled. It will be vital to see if Trevathan’s patented speed and strength is where it should be as the regular season approaches. Colin Kaepernick and the 49er’s offense has averaged 128.5 rushing yards in their two preseason games while only passing for an average of 73.5. It will be interesting to see if Trevathan can play at full speed and stop running backs like Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and newcomer Jarryd Hayne.
2. Cody Latimer
Second-year wide receiver Latimer has garnered a lot of attention in the offseason and into training camp for good reason. He made spectacular plays in camp as a rookie but failed to impact the team last season. With the departures of Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Jacob Tamme it is now on Latimer to be the third play-making receiver in this offense. It is a task he claims to be ready for. Saturday is a big test for him and he will see extended playing time for likely the last time before the regular season. He understands that this is his last chance to get ready for the pressure that comes with starting in the NFL.
“Our offense will be out there way more this game so I just want to keep earning the trust of my quarterback, teammates, and coaches. I just have to make sure I’m focused like it was game one against the Ravens.”
Latimer has been the most targeted receiver at training camp and only has five catches for 57 yards through two games of preseason. While he hasn’t seen very many snaps, he also has not made the big plays that he and the coaching staff know he is capable of. That is something Kubiak will be hoping to see Saturday.
“You just want to see him making plays,” Kubiak said Thursday. “He’s in the right place, but it’s time for him to start making plays on the ball, coming up with big plays. The good news with him is he has worked as basically a starter from OTAs through camp and everything. Everything’s in place for Cody to grow up and have a big year”
Latimer admitted in the offseason that former offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s playbook was too much for him as a rookie. He is playing this season with more confidence already and has a good grasp of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s system. Saturday he will be on the field will Demaryius Thomas while Emmanuel Sanders will be out with a strained hamstring. Peyton Manning will be looking Latimer’s way often and it will be a big opportunity to gain more of the trust he spoke about Thursday.
3. Omar Bolden
Bolden has spent the offseason transitioning from a cornerback to a safety and by watching his repetitions and his place on the depth chart as the second-string free safety it is safe to say he has done well. Where he may have the biggest impact on this team is as a return specialist. He has gained confidence each of his three previous seasons and he entered camp ready to prove himself to the new staff.
“My body is feeling the best it has ever felt. Mentally, I feel like I have arrived. It is my fourth season and I know how to practice and how to be a pro and I am just waiting for my opportunities all over the field,” he said August 4.
Bolden is listed as the top returner for both kick returns and punt returns. He was sidelined for the first game with an injury but returned two punts last week in Houston. The returns were less than impressive gaining only one yard but special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was happy with his hands saying, “He caught the ball well.”
The team needs to figure out how many returners to keep on the roster and with cuts looming next week, Bolden’s performance could impact multiple people. Solomon Patton, Isaiah Burse and Jordan Norwood are looking to get on the roster however they can but if Bolden excels, two or all of them could be looking for jobs elsewhere. Bolden will be making the roster as a safety but if he can handle the all of the return duties it could create valuable space on the roster for the coaching staff.
The 49ers have allowed an average of 21.6 yards on kick returns and 12.1 yards on punt returns so it appears that Bolden will have many chances Saturday to win the job. Patton, Burse and Norwood may get one or two opportunities but they may have to wait for the fourth game of the preseason to prove they deserve a roster spot. When asked about the return game and how big it would be for Bolden to step up DeCamillis was blunt.
“It would be big. It’s big time for anybody to have a big game. That’s what we want out of everybody. I hope he does and we’ll see how it goes.”
The third preseason game against the 49ers is an opportunity for the starters and immediate back-ups to show that they are ready for the regular season. Trevathan needs to re-adapt to the speed of game day while Latimer needs to simple make the big plays required to stay in the starting lineup and Bolden must finally take command of the job he is in line for. The Broncos could rest much easier if these three take command of their roles Saturday night at Mile High.
Saturday’s preseason contest will be the 37th preseason meeting between the two stories franchises with the Broncos claiming the edge with a 20-16 record.
The Broncos enter the game with 12 sacks in the preseason by 11 different players and the 49ers have allowed seven sacks in their first two games.
The 49ers boast a 66.7% red zone touchdown percentage to the Broncos anemic 25%.
Former rugby star Hayne is averaging 21.6 yards per punt return in five attempts in the team’s two preseason games. He also has one kick return for 33 yards.