1: The Quarterbacks
This will be a big game for all three of the Denver Broncos quarterbacks. The starting job remains wide open with veteran Mark Sanchez still splitting reps with second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian. Neither has really separated from each other after almost two weeks of Training Camp practices, so how each performs in this game could help determine who comes out the starter after the game.
Broncos will start Mark Sanchez in preseason opener with Trevor Siemian scheduled to play 2nd quarter and Paxton Lynch 2nd half.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 9, 2016
Behind those two is the Broncos first-round pick Paxton Lynch. He’s currently the third-string quarterback, but a strong showing could get him in the starting quarterback conversation.
Sanchez will get the "start" tonight against the Bears and will have the first chance at impressing Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak. He will play the entire first quarter(or so) of tonight’s game.
One benefit Sanchez will have is starting the game with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the field with him for a series or two at most. The other two quarterbacks will be working with the second and third team receivers.
What Sanchez needs to do is look like the veteran quarterback he is, command the huddle, and move the ball down the field. Anything less will continue to plant doubts in the Broncos coaches and fan base’s mind. Sanchez will also have to be mistake free during his quarter of action. He already has three pick 6’s during Camp(2 to Bradley Roby and 1 to Lorenzo Doss). These mistakes will continue to hurt Sanchez’s chances of winning the job, so he needs to have a productive and mistake free game.
Siemian will get action with the Broncos second team and will need to show the Broncos coaches that he is worthy of being the Broncos week one starter. He is expected to play the entire second quarter.
He has been splitting reps with Mark Sanchez with the first team so how he performs will affect his status on the depth chart.
Kubiak said earlier in the week that Siemian is "very confident" and has been doing a good job this offseason/camp.
"He’s very confident. He knows exactly what we are doing. He’s really a first year player in a lot of ways. You see him getting better. He had a really good practice today. Trevor is just a confident kid. He carries himself confidently and he’s pretty quiet. The more he continues to play, the better he is going to be. It’s a good opportunity for him to compete and become a better player. He’s doing a good job."
Much like Sanchez, Siemian will need to show he can control the huddle, attack down field, not hang on to the ball for too long and not make any costly mistakes. With the competition being as close as it is, one bad performance by either of them could be costly.
While Sanchez and Siemian are only getting a quarter each, rookie Paxton Lynch is getting the entire second half to play.
Kubiak said after Tuesday’s practice that "The more I can play Lynch, the more I can find out about him".
"It’s just where we are right now. I think this is the game to look at all of those young players. The more I can play him, the more I can find out about him. If the game is rhythmic, like we hope, then hopefully he plays the whole half. We’ve been practicing that way, too. He practices a lot at the end of practice. We’ll keep that same rhythm."
If Lynch wants to enter the starting quarterback conversation he will need to have himself a mistake free, productive half against the Bears third-strings/bottom of their roster players.
If so, he may start pushing the other two for the starting job. If he struggles, he will prove he needs more time before he hits the field.
2: Offensive line concerns
All three quarterbacks will likely be feeling the pass rush tonight.
Sitting out tonight’s game will be starting left tackle Russell Okung and starting guard Ty Sambrailo.
Darrion Weems will start at RG Thursday at Chicago. Michael Schofield will start at LT for Russell Okung. #Broncos— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 9, 2016
This means backup tackle Michael Schofield will get the start at left tackle and reserve guard Darrion Weems will get the start at right guard.
Schofield had plenty of struggles last season at right tackle for the Broncos, now he will be protecting Sanchez and Siemian’s blindside tonight. Weems played tackle for the Cowboys, but will try to make the Broncos as a guard.
Kubiak said Weems has been making progress and that he is a "big physical guy".
"Hopefully you see the progress Weems has been making. He’s worked his way into the starting lineup because of some nicks and things. He’s going to get a start this week because Michael Schofield will play left tackle for Russell. We’ll see, hopefully he keeps coming. He really likes to play. He’s a big physical guy. We’ll see how he does."
The Bears will be showcasing their two early round draft picks tonight. First round pick Leonard Floyd will likely see plenty of time at edge rusher and third round pick Jonathan Bullard will also see plenty of playing time at DT/DE. So Schofield and Weems figures to be tested by the Bears rookies.
3: The running back battle
This battle will be a fun one to watch tonight. I do not think we will see a whole lot of C.J. Anderson tonight, so that means a heavy dose of Devontae Booker, Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs, and some Andy Janovich as well.
On the Broncos depth chart, they listed rookie Devontae Booker and veteran Ronnie Hillman as co-number two running backs so it will be interesting to see how the pecking order goes there.
Behind those two is running back Kapri Bibbs. He has been having a pretty solid camp according to people present, and Gary Kubiak has gushed about Bibbs whenever he had a chance too. One the first day of Training Camp, Kubiak said: "Kapri is a different player than I had last year."
We’ll also see rookie fullback Andy Janovich and running back/fullback Juwan Thompson get a significant amount of snaps as well.
The pecking order at running back should become more clear after tonight’s game. Who will step up? Will it be Booker or 2015 leading rusher Ronnie Hillman? How about the underdog and local favorite Kapri Bibbs?
4: All eyes on the wide receivers
One position that has suddenly became one of the deeper spots on the entire roster is the Broncos wide receiver position.
The two starters are already set for the Broncos. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will be those two, but spots three through six are currently wide open.
The receivers battling for those roster spots are Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Jordan Taylor, Jordan Norwood, Kalif Raymond, DeVier Posey, Mose Frazier, and Durron Neal.
So nine guys battling for four spots. Obviously, the competition will be fierce.
It appears that Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer’s spots are just about locked in after having an impressive Training Camp.
Kubiak praised both Latimer and Fowler after practice this past week.
"You really find out what they are capable of at wide out. You guys are watching Bennie Fowler become a really good player. Be watching him every day, because he goes against good people. Cody Latimer is night and day right now."
So we will likely see both players tonight and hopefully, they both perform very well.
After those two is Jordan "Sunshine" Taylor. He is another big play threat and figures to see plenty of time in this game. I wouldn’t be shocked if he and rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch connected on a couple deep throws tonight. Taylor will need a consistent showing tonight on offense and special teams if he wants to make the roster.
After those three, the battle for the final spot comes down to special teams. We already know what we have in veteran Jordan Norwood, but guys like Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison have so much to gain and everything to lose tonight.
Kubiak will be watching Raymond and Addison tonight.
"My expectations are to look at Kalif extensively. Probably, if you saw anybody other than Kalif, you will probably see our young kid from Oregon (Bralon Addison). I want to look at Kalif. He’s looked really good in practice. I want to see him handle the ball, so that’s what I plan on doing."
DeVier Posey, Mose Frazier, and Durron Neal are likely long shots to crack the 53 man roster, but a solid performance tonight could earn them a spot on another team's roster or the Broncos 10-man practice squad.
5. Surprise stars
During most preseasons someone who is being overlooked by the media and fans jumps out during the preseason and makes a name for themselves.
Last year it was Shaquil Barrett who was basically unblockable at times. A few years back it was Juwan Thompson who had a breakout performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
Who will it be this year?
The Broncos 2016 rookie class is an obvious choice for a potential breakout star. I’m not talking the Paxton Lynch, Devontae Booker, or Justin Simmons. These are guys we’re already anxious to see.
How about 6th round safety Will Parks? There was a lot of buzz about him after the draft, so let’s see if he can push for a roster spot tonight
Yes, Adam Gotsis is a second-round pick, but injuries have put him on the backburner for the most part. Now he’s close to 100% and will be playing against some second and third string offensive lineman, so he has a great shot at having a breakout performance.
What about Andy Janovich? This fan base is just itching to love the new and awesome fullback. A big block, catch, or run on offense could do that. He’s a special teamer so a big hit or two will be all he needs to win the hearts of Broncos Country.
The Broncos fifth-round pick in 2015 will likely see a significant amount of reps tonight after Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby play a series or two. He was a ball hawk in college and already has a 102-yard pick 6 in camp this year so let’s see if he can do it again during game action
Inside linebackers Zaire Anderson and Kyle Kragen:
With the roster spots behind Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis wide open, guys like Anderson and Kragen have a shot to make a name for themselves.
I’m already a big fan of Anderson’s game. He’s a tackling machine in the open field and has good athleticism to stick with tight ends and running backs. We’ll likely see a good amount of snaps from him tonight so hopefully he takes advantage of them.
Kyle Kragen just stripped Juwan Thonpson for the second time today.— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) August 6, 2016
Coach on the sideline: "You just keep making plays, Kragen!"
Kragen started out as an outside linebacker, but has moved inside after a few practices and has been looking pretty good. He stripped running back/fullback Juwan Thompson twice in practice last week and drew praise from his coaches.
He’s on the outside looking in when it comes to making the team but a solid showing could earn him a spot on the Practice Squad.