ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - The Denver Broncos first preseason game of the summer is also a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII. The game that Broncos fans and players would love to have erased from the football archives.
So just how big is Thursday night's game? Is it an opportunity for revenge, or is it just another preseason game?
Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson and Brock Osweiler among other Broncos players that I spoke with on Tuesday said that last year is behind them. Thursday night is what it is, a preseason game. An opportunity for players to prepare for the upcoming season with live game action against a team other than their own.
Head Coach John Fox said the starters are expected to play no more than the first quarter. So why should Broncos fans tune in to watch a game full of backups?
Here are my five suggestions of what to watch for from the Broncos that should make the preseason opener a bit more interesting.
RUNNING BACK COMPETITION
I know this is kind of a no brainer. Running back has been a position of interest all training camp long. But there is a new wrinkle to the competition for quality playing time.
After an emergency appendectomy Montee Ball will be out for a minimum of two weeks meaning he will not play in each of the first two preseason games and there is a chance he will not see action in any preseason game. Although Ronnie Hillman is listed second on the depth chart and C.J. Anderson is third on the depth chart the two will likely receive equal carries against Seattle.
Hillman has fell out of the good graces of the Broncos coaching staff in past seasons because of his inability to secure the football, while Anderson soared from an undrafted free agent rookie to the 53-man roster last season.
While Ball is expected to resume his spot on top of the depth chart when he returns the competiton for the second running back is still wide open. I like Hillman's speed and quickness and still hold out hope that he can be a reliable contributor in the NFL, but as of right now I give the edge to Anderson.
We'll just have to wait, watch and learn how it all plays out on Thursday night.
ROSTER, OR RELEASED
There are multiple positions that will be highly competitive for one of the final few roster spots when the Broncos cut the squad down to 53. But on Thursday night, I will not only be watching the battle between Hillman and Anderson, but also the one between running backs Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs.
It is not likely that the Broncos keep more than three running backs on the final 53-man roster. Ball, Hillman and Anderson are the clear front runners for those spots. However, it is also likely that the Broncos keep at least one more running back on the practice squad. And the battle for that spot is heating up between Thompson and Bibbs.
Thompson, the former Duke Blue Devil, is listed ahead of Bibbs on the Broncos first depth chart of the summer. Thompson received reps with the second team during the annual Summer Scrimmage at Sports Authority Field.
Bibbs, a fan favorite from Colorado State, took handoffs from Zac Dysert on the third team.
The player that stands out in the eyes of the coaches will likely land on the practice squad with the other being left looking for a job elsewhere in the NFL.
ANON... A NEW... NICKY... NIKE... WHATEVER! HE'S GOOD!
Take notice Broncos Country!
Rookie Defensive End Kenny Anunike (pronounced AN-un-nick-ee) is making a strong case to be the next rookie free agent to make the 53-man roster. The Broncos have signed a RFA to the opening 53-man roster in each of the past 10 seasons.
Anunike is listed third on the depth chart at right defensive end behind DeMarcus Ware and Quanterus Smith. But he is grabbing the attention of his coaches and his teammates with his style of play at Broncos Training Camp. On Tuesday he was in the middle of a couple of minor scuffles that excited his teammates and picked up a sack of quarterback Zac Dysert.
Anunike recorded 11 sacks in his senior season at Duke last fall. He has picked up several "sacks" in training camp as well, but in order for him to have a shot with the Broncos he is going to have to do that in the preseason games as well, beginning with Thursday night's contest.
Quanterus Smith, who missed last season on the injured reserve, is still thought of highly by Broncos coaches and executives. He was a fifth round pick by Denver in 2013. Keep an eye on both Smith and Anunike on Thursday night.
OSWEILER VS DYSERT
It will be hard to unseat Brock Osweiler as the backup to Peyton Manning on the Broncos roster, but Zac Dysert sure is keeping the gap between the two (if there is one) very narrow.
Remember, Osweiler is the guy Elway tabbed as the potential future of the franchise when he selected him in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Osweiler is a 2nd round pick in the draft while Dysert was taken in the 7th round in 2013. But in my eyes, Dysert has had the more impressive showing since last Preseason.
Dysert has played well enough through camp so far, and if he continues to do so in the preseason then the Broncos may have to add him to the 53-man roster as to not risk losing him on waivers before being added to the practice squad.
Osweiler said on Tuesday that he is better than he has ever been since leavine Arizona State after his junior season.
" I feel like a completely different quarterback," Osweiler said. "I feel like I’m playing at a much higher level than I did last year and especially my rookie year. I have very high goals for myself and very high expectations and I expect to play well Thursday.”
So which quarterback will take that next step in their career towards one day becoming an NFL starter? We'll see if one of them does on Thursday night.
LINING THE FIELD WITH GARLAND
One of the best football stories in the league is that of Broncos offensive guard Ben Garland.
Garland, a Colorado native, played his high school football at Grand Junction Central on the Western Slope. He then went from there to the Air Force Academy where NFL dreams were still far fetched.
Garland then spent two years with the Air Force before being able to return to football and a shot with the Broncos in the NFL. After two years on the practice squad and a position change from defensive line to offensive line, Garland is in positon to make his first ever 53-man roster.
Garland should see plenty of time on the field against the Seahawks on Thursday. He is listed second on the depth chart at Left Guard currently but he can solidify that spot with his performance in the preseason.
This is Garland's last chance to make the Broncos 53-man roster because he no longer has practice squad eligibility.
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