Later tonight, our Denver Broncos take the field for their preseason opener vs. the Arizona Cardinals. After having a disappointing and embarrassing 2022 season, the Broncos hired Sean Payton to correct almost everything with this team and get this team back in the postseason hunt. This will be our first look at the Broncos under Payton and there are a lot of things to watch in this preseason opener.
So let us take a look at the five things to watch during the Broncos preseason opener vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
1. How will the starters look?
Last year, we did not see any of the Broncos starters until week one of the regular season vs. the Seattle Seahawks. Former head coach Nathaniel Hackett did not allow his starters to play a single snap in the preseason, but that is changing this year under new head coach Sean Payton.
Earlier in the week, we learned that the starters would get about 15 to 18 snaps before getting benched for the second team offense and defense. So, this should give the starters at least a series or two against the Cardinals.
For the offense, we need to see them move the ball and ideally, score a touchdown. This Cardinals team is viewed as a team that will be in the running for the first overall pick, so the Broncos offense and defense should have some success. If the offense struggles, it will be disappointing to see, especially after a week of them looking great in practice. Hopefully, they build off their positive momentum in practice and continue it into the preseason.
As for the defense, they should play well. We have heard all camp about how good the Broncos pass rush is and how good their secondary is. The Cardinals offense on paper does not look great, so hopefully, we see our starting defense play very well in this one.
It is just the preseason, but with Sean Payton running this team and the Broncos playing a team that will likely be among the worst teams in the league, they should do well. A strong performance from both units will create some excitement amongst the fan base while a struggling performance will have many concerned or hitting the panic button.
2. Pass Rush
Entering training camp, the Broncos pass rush was viewed as a concern. However, after nearly weeks of camp in the books, it appears to be a strength of the Broncos defense. The pass rush has been dominate throughout camp and now, will it continue into the preseason?
Vance Joseph said the Broncos’ pass rush room is the best he’s had in quite some time.— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) August 8, 2023
Veteran edge rushers Frank Clark and Randy Grergory appear to be your starters, but it is unclear if either will play in the preseason opener. Even if they do, it will likely only be a limited amount of snaps. The two edge rushers I am most excited to see are Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto. Cooper is coming off a strong offseason and has continued that into training camp. As for Bonitto, he added weight/muscle and is having himself a breakout camp. I am hopeful that he can continue that strong play into this game and take advantage of the Cardinals poor offensive line. I have high expectations for both of these players in this game.
After those four, you have the pass rushers who are looking to make a name for themselves. UDFA’s Thomas Incoom and Marcus Haynes are both fighting for a roster spot while Christopher Allen is looking to show people why he was a hyped up UDFA signing last year.
3. Special Teams/Kicker competition
The Broncos do not have a ton of position battles to watch throughout the preseason, but their main one is their kicking battle. Elliott Fry and Brett Maher are competing for the Broncos starting kicking job. Both have looked solid throughout camp, so there does not appear to be an obvious winner right now. So, the battle will likely play out for us during the preseason.
Brett Maher is the more accomplished kicker of the two and has a booming leg to his advantage. Last season. he was one of the better kickers in the league before a complete meltdown during the Cowboys wildcard game. I would imagine he is the favorite for the job, but if the same issues he had in the wildcard game happen during the preseason, he may lose his chance at winning this job.
As for Elliott Fry, he has been a journeyman kicker throughout his career and only has six regular season field goal attempts. He is fairly unproven, but if he can prove to be consistent and earn the trust of the Broncos coaches, he might be the man for the job.
We will see how the kicking battle plays out tonight and if we see any separation between these two during the preseason opener.
4. Breakout stars
One of my favorite parts of the preseason is the second or third string players that become breakout stars in the preseason. Each year you have a handful of players who impress or take advantage of playing against lesser competition and dominate. This year should be no different for the Broncos who have multiple young players who could be breakout stars during their preseason opener.
WR Marvin Mims Jr.
The second round rookie had a slow start to camp but recently found himself making plays with the first-team offense. If he is healthy enough to play in this one, I expect him to see a lot of action in this one and hopefully making a lot of plays. He has great speed and have proven to be a deep ball threat in college. So, I would not be surprised to see him go deep a few times in this one.
EDGE Nik Bonitto
Bonitto is coming off a down rookie year, but is looking to have second-year surge. He has reportedly added weight and strength during the offseason and is looking like a completely different player this year. He is explosive off the edge and could have multiple sacks in this one if he is given a long run in this game.
RB Jaleel McLaughlin
The undrafted rookie has showcased his speed and explosiveness throughout camp and has a chance to shine in the second half of this preseason game. He does not have the size to be a consistent between the tackles runner, but if he can find the open field, watch out. I am excited to see him out there and anxious to see how he plays against NFL-caliber defenders.
CB Ja’Quan McMillian
Coming out of college, McMillian was an undersized ball-hawking corner who went undrafted. He played in the Broncos regular season finale and flashed his talent. He is having a solid camp and should see plenty of snaps tonight. I think we could see him get an interception tonight while also getting a few pass deflections.
WR Taylor Grimes
He is coming from a small FCS school and lacks ideal athleticism, but Taylor Grimes has already made a name for himself in camp. He has flashed in one-on-one drills and has the potential to be a playmaker in the slot for the Broncos in the preseason. He will likely play with the third team offense so he will be playing against lesser defensive backs, so he has a chance to shine. Sean Payton recently praised his ability to separate and his high football IQ, so let us see if he shows up tonight.
5. Offensive line depth
The Broncos depth along the offensive line is a concern and it will be tested tonight against the Cardinals. Reserve tackles Cam Fleming and Isaiah Prince have already played some first-team reps in camp, but the interior guys is where I am concerned.
Players like Quinn Bailey, Luke Wattenberg, and Kyle Fuller need to prove they can be good enough blockers if needed during the season. Then you have rookies like Alex Forsyth, Henry Byrd, Demontrey Jacobs, and Alex Palczewski who need to prove they can play against NFL caliber players as well. It’s a young and inexperienced group who could struggle tonight. I am anxious to see how they do in this one and if they’re able to protect the quarterback and open up running lanes.