Broncos Vs 49ers: Five Position Battles To Watch

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Finally the games are about to begin. This Thursday night our Denver Broncos head to San Francisco to take on the reigning NFC Champions The San Francisco 49ers. This will be the Broncos first preseason game this year, so that means many position battles are still up for grabs. I will give you five position battles to watch for. Also the current favorite for the job, A player to watch, who might be on the roster bubble and a dark horse for the job.

1. Safety Positions:

SS Mike Adams Duke Ihenacho Quinton Carter Ross Rasner
FS Rahim Moore David Bruton Quentin Jammer


Favorite:

Rahim Moore

Rahim Moore is the best safety on the roster, and has a lock on the Free Safety spot. Outside of one terrible terrible play in the playoffs Moore enjoyed a breakout year for the Broncos. He was very solid for them, and hopes to improve on that season.

Moore is having a solid camp so far. He's been making plays against the number one offense, and has come away with a few interceptions of Peyton Manning. I think it would be safe to write Moore down as your week one starter at Free Safety

A Player To Watch:

Duke Ihenacho:

Duke Ihenacho or "Nacho" has come out of nowhere to have a breakout camp so far. Ihenacho spent the 2012 year on the Broncos Practice Squad, and has worked his way to getting reps with the starting defense, and making impact plays. Nacho has come up with two interceptions and multiple run stops at or behind the line of scrimmage in camp.

It will be interesting to see if he starts the game with the 1's or not. From the reports i have read he's been getting the majority of reps with the first team defense, but is listed behind veteran Mike Adams. If I had to guess, Adams will start and Nacho will come in with the 2's and get more reps. Excited to watch him though.

On The Roster Bubble:

Mike Adams, Quentin Jammer and Ross Rasner

The two veterans are on the bubble for me. Yes it's early, but the emergence of Ihenacho has put Adams job in jeopardy. Behind Adams would be Quinton Carter, and if healthy one would think they would choose their young safety over the veteran.

It seems like many thought Jammer was a roster lock, but I did not. I viewed him as veteran insurance in case the other safeties disappointed. Heading into camp the safety position was pretty uncertain, and that is why they brought in a proven vet to compete. Now Jammer will need a strong showing to make the squad. I believe Jammer and Adams are fighting for the fifth and final safety spot, well if the Broncos keep 5 safeties.

Ross Rasner was brought in a Undrafted Free Agent this past April. Rasner probably will not make the final roster, but if he plays well enough, and shows well on special teams the Broncos may decide to keep him on the Practice Squad.

A Dark Horse To Watch:

Quinton Carter

Carter was my favorite safety in the 2011 draft, and was excited they drafted him. Carter continued to have a solid rookie year, and played well in the playoffs. Unfortunately Carter missed all of the 2012 season, and still isn't 100% just yet. If he can get healthy I think he could pass Mike Adams on the depth chart, and potentially challenge Ihenacho for the starting job.

Carter probably will not play Thursday night, and needs to get healthy first to compete. If he does not get healthy, he might be on the bubble unfortunately.


2. Running Back

RB Ronnie Hillman Montee Ball Knowshon Moreno

Jacob Hester
Jeremiah Johnson
C.J. Anderson
Lance Ball

Favorite:

Ronnie Hillman

Hillman was given the starting job after the release of Willis McGahee, and he has yet to disappoint. Hillman added muscle and weight over the offseason and looks more confident, more aggressive, stronger and fast. One thing that kept Hillman off the field last year was his pass blocking skills. Hillman added weight and muscle to get better at that, and has shown in camp that he can hold is own out there.

Hillman will start Thursday night, and i'm excited to see what he can do. He should get a decent number of carries Thursday, and will be facing a talented and deep 49ers defense. A good showing will only help him keep his job and build confidence

A Player To Watch:

Montee Ball

The Broncos second round pick Montee Ball might go down as one of the best College running backs off all time, but has struggled so far in his brief NFL career. Out of all the running backs, Ball has the most to gain, and most to lose. If he performs well he might start ahead of Hillman. If he disappoints, veteran Knowshon Moreno who has been solid so far probably will surpass him on the depth chart.

Ball will figure to get a good number of carries this week though. I'm excited to see what he can do. I think he'll show better during games then he would in practice. I have no real facts to back this up, just what my gut is telling me.

On The Roster Bubble

Lance Ball

Many of you guys have been calling for his release the last two years, and this year you might get your wish. As you can see on the depth chart above, Lance Ball is listed last on the depth chart. Personally I do find that surprising. I would have figured he would be listed ahead of Johnson and the rookie Anderson.

What might be most damaging to Ball is Jacob Hesters presence. Hester can do everything Ball can do but better. Hester can be the Broncos 4th running back, their fullback, a tight end and he can also play special teams. His versatility will probably end up knocking Lance Ball off the roster.

A Dark Horse To Watch:

C.J Anderson

I love un-drafted rookie running backs. Every year there's a handful that make an impact on a team, and sometimes some turn out to be stars. Anderson has the makings of a bowling ball type running back. Smaller guy at 5'8 but pushing 230lbs.

We'll probably see Anderson in the 3rd or 4th quarter Thursday night. Barring injury, I don't see him making the final roster, but could be a practice squad addition.

3. Tight End

TE Joel Dreessen Jacob Tamme Julius Thomas

Virgil Green
Jake O'Connell

Favorite:

Julius Thomas

Probably the player i'm most excited to watch is Julius Thomas, Thomas had a lot of expectation early his rookie year, but fell completely off the map until this past spring when he was getting 1st team reps during OTA's. He then started getting 1st team reps during training camp and has looked impressive.

I'm excited to see Thomas in this offense for the first time. I will be holding my breath though. Thomas has a history of injuries, and I would hate to see him get hurt in a preseason game.

I would have put Joel Dreessen here, but he recently had a set back with his injury and will be out for 3 to 4 weeks. This will give Thomas even more chances to earn the starting nod for the Broncos.

A Player to Watch:

I wanted to put Julius Thomas here, but his recent success booted him up to favorite. Next in line is Virgil Green.

Green was a stand out at the combine in 2011, but fell to the Broncos in the seventh round. He's athletically gifted, and showed potential last year. He showed he's a solid blocker last season, i'm hoping he can improve or be just as good at it as he was last season. What I want to see from Green is more from him as a receiver. With Dreessen and Tamme both injured, it's a prime opportunity for him to earn a roster spot.

With only four healthy Tight Ends on the roster, we should figure to see a lot of him.

On The Roster Bubble

Jacob Tamme

I might be totally off base here, but I do not see a spot of Tamme on this roster. The emergence of Julius Thomas and the signing of Wes Welker has really hurt Tamme. The only real case for Tamme that can be made is that Thomas has been injury prone throughout his career and Tamme can be kept for insurance.

J-Thomas, Dreessen and Green make it. Thomas as the receiver and Dreessen and Green make it for their blocking skills. Do the Broncos keep Tamme as the 4th TE? Put him on the Trade Block? Cut him? I don't know.


4. Center

C Manny Ramirez C.J. Davis Steve Vallos Ryan Lilja
J.D. Walton

Favorite:

Manny Ramirez

Calling Manny the "Favorite" is a bit of a stretch. Yes he's been starting since OTA's but his spot is far from safe. The Broncos recently talked Ryan Lilja out of retirement and signed him to a one year contract. You don't sign a guy out of retirement if you don't view him as a starter. So as of now Manny is the "Favorite" but Lilja probably wins the job.

A Player To Watch

Ryan Lilja/Steve Vallos/C.J Davis

I don't expect Lilja to play, so Vallos and Davis will get the opportunity to show they deserve a shot to start or just to make the team. Vallos and Davis haven't had good camps from the reports i have read, so a good showing in games would be nice.

Overall i'm not too high on this group of players. I'm hoping they prove me wrong though

On The Bubble:

Steve Vallos and C.J Davis:

Not much else to say here then what I have already said. These guys really need to step up to show they deserve to make the squad. A solid showing in the preseason could help them a lot, a bad one could give them their walking papers.

A Dark Horse To Watch:

Phillip Blake

Blake does have experience at Center. Last years 4th round pick has been a "Bust" so far in his career. While he's not listed as a center on the Depth Chart, the Broncos could give him some center snaps if Vallos and Davis do not perform well. A solid preseason performance would be good for Blake, and the Broncos who are very thin at interior Offensive Line depth,

5. 4th and 5th Receiver

WR Demaryius Thomas Andre Caldwell Greg Orton

Gerell Robinson

WR Eric Decker Tavarres King Trindon Holliday Lamaar Thomas
Kemonte' Bateman
WR Wes Welker Quincy McDuffie

Favorite:

Andre Caldwell and Tavarres King

Caldwell gets the early nod for being the veteran. He did put together a few solid days at camp the last few practices which is good to see. He is coming off a very disappointing 2012 season though. I wouldn't say his spot is a lock by any means. A solid showing in the preseason would solidify his spot though.

King the Broncos second 5th round selection has enjoyed a good camp. Being a rookie usually locks yourself into a roster spot, and i'm willing to bet come week one that King is on the roster.

A Player To Watch

Trindon Holliday

We all know what we can do as a Kick/Punt returner, but what can he do as a receiver? If the little guy plays well at receiver it could make things even more interesting here. I have been thinking that the Broncos will keep 5 receivers and Holliday, but if he shows well at receiver, do they keep him as the 5th receiver? Will be interesting to watch.

On the Bubble:

Andre Caldwell

Yes he's the current favorite to make the team, but he's also on the bubble. He's competing against a lot of young guys who can have solid preseasons, and if he slips up can surpass him on the roster. Also his disappointing 2012 season might make the coaches think twice about keeping him.

As I said earlier, Caldwell has recently been showing well in camp. It will be interesting to see if he carries that over to the games.

A Dark Horse To Watch:

Kemonte' Bateman and Gerrell Robinson

I was going to put Greg Orton and Quincy McDuffie here, but both figure to miss this game with injuries. This gives Bateman a chance to shine. Bateman figures to get plenty of playing time. DT, Decker and Welker wont be on the field for too long. I really don't know much about Bateman, so he's a guy i'm going to keep a close eye on.

Gerrell Robinson also figures to see a lot of playing time Thursday night with Orton and McDuffie out. Robinson and Osweiler know each other very well, so I wouldn't be surprised if Oz connects with him a few times.

With the 4th and 5th receiver spots being pretty fluid, this could be a big opportunity for these young guys.

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