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Broncos vs. 49ers: 5 things to watch in Preseason Week 2

We give you five things to watch during the Broncos week two of the preseason matchup vs. the 49ers.

NFL: SEP 25 49ers at Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, we saw the Denver Broncos lose their preseason opener vs. the Arizona Cardinals by the score of 18-17. They had the lead for the majority of the game but lost it in the final seconds when the Cardinals converted a two-point conversation to take the lead with two seconds left. In that game, the Broncos showed some promise in a few areas but still had some weaknesses that have you concerned heading into week two of the preseason.

This weekend, they travel to the site of Super Bowl 50 to take on Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers in a matchup in week two of the preseason. Head coach Sean Payton told reporters we should see significant snaps from the starters in this game and we will see a few notable Broncos make their preseason debut in this one.

The return of Javonte Williams

After suffering a multi-ligament knee injury during week four of the 2022 regular season, the future of Broncos running back Javonte Williams was up in the air. The timetable for a return of such a serious injury is anywhere from at least one year to 18 months usually. This put his 2023 season in doubt and had many wondering if he would ever be 100% this season. Well, as we now know, Williams laughed in the face of those projections and was back on the practice field for the start of OTA’s and has not missed a beat since.

The team held him out of the preseason opener vs. the Cardinals but today, he will make his long-awaited debut this season vs. the 49ers.

After yesterday’s practice, head coach Sean Payton told reporters that they plan on being smart with Javonte and limiting him to a handful of carries and potentially a reception in a perfect world

“I’m going to be smart. He’s not going to get 20 plays. In a perfect game, I’d like to see him get three or four carries, maybe a pass, and just get him going.”

Javonte has proven that his knee is in good shape throughout camp and has progressed through the entirety of camp without any setbacks and only had one reported rest day. However, this appears to be more about the mental side of things than the physical side. He has not been tackled since his injury and he needs to prove to himself that his knee can hold up and he can do everything he did prior. Shake that rust off with a few carries and help him build that confidence in his knee before the start of the regular season.

I just want to see Javonte show some burst, play physical and violent like we have seen in the past, and just come away unscathed from this game. If he does that. it will be great mentally for him and it will help ease some concerns that the fan base has about his recovery.

Rookie Marvin Mims Jr. makes his debut

The Denver Broncos traded up into the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft to select Oklahoma wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. with their first pick in the draft. This was a surprising selection because many did not view the wide receiving position as a weakness, but Payton and the Broncos wanted to add the explosive Mims to their offense.

He has been dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the early portions of training camp that had him miss a handful of practices and the preseason opener. However, the explosive receiver is going to make his preseason debut tonight vs. the 49ers.

Head coach Sean Payton told reporters after practice that Mims Jr. is going to make his debut tonight, that he has had a good week of practice, and that he is healthy.

“Yeah. He’s had a good week, so he’ll play. I think he’s had a really good week. He’s healthy.”

Now that he is healthy, he has a chance to lock down a starting receiving position with a good performance tonight. As we know, Tim Patrick is done for the year and Brandon Johnson, who was pushing for this starting job, is down with a sprained ankle. So, Mims has a chance to impress and potentially lock down a significant role in the offense.

Mims has the ability to be the Broncos' top deep-threat option in their offense. In college, he was known for this and displayed the ability to get open downfield and make splash plays down the field. So, I would expect the Broncos to take a few shots to Mims in this one and hopefully, he can come down with them.

Russell Wilson and the first-team offense

All week, we have heard about how good the Broncos' offense and quarterback Russell Wilson was looking during the final practices of training camp. This is coming off an up-and-down performance by the offense in the preseason opener that did end with them getting a touchdown, but it left you wanting more for them. So, all eyes will be on them during this one and we could see them on the field for nearly an entire half in this one. When Sean Payton was asked how long the starters will play in this one, he told reporters “Somewhere between 20 and 24 plays.”.

Ideally, we see a better performance from the Broncos offense in this one. They need to carry over their strong play from camp and the momentum of their final drive in Arizona to this game vs. the 49ers.

We need to see the Broncos' offense play better as a whole, lead a couple of scoring drives, do not turn the ball over, and just have everyone feeling good about this offense heading into week one. We saw flashes of that in the preseason opener, but we need to see it all come together in this one.

As for Wilson specifically, I want to see him play like he did last week, but just a little bit better. He was making good reads, throwing accurate strikes, making plays within and outside the pocket, and not turning the ball over. If he can do that and be a little more consistent, I will be happy with his performance.

If not, we continue to have questions about the Broncos offense and potentially see them play some during the preseason finale.

Offensive line improvement?

Probably the most concerning part of the Broncos' preseason opener was how bad their offensive line played. Quarterback Russell Wilson was constantly under pressure and taking fairly big hits in the pocket.

The worst part was that the entire line struggled at times last week. Left tackle Garett Bolles had a rough one and could be showing rust after coming off a season-ending injury and receiving days off during camp. We saw both guards give up pressures and they started a backup tackle at right tackle.

Despite that, head coach Sean Payton was not worried about the performance of the offensive line and said “We’ll clean that up”. Still, the offensive line struggling is concerning. We have heard about their struggles throughout camp and how the Broncos' pass rush was unstoppable at times and then seeing them struggle against the Cardinals is not what you want to see.

Now, they’re facing a defense that was top-ranked last season, so they will be tested in this one. The 49ers will not have Nick Bosa and may only play their starters for a series or two, but still, it is a talented defense.

Hopefully, we see them protect Russell Wilson better and get a better push in the run game. The Broncos spent a lot of money on the offensive line this offseason and the team needs this unit to be strong if they want success this upcoming season. So, if they continue to struggle, it might be time to start to panic about this unit as we head toward the start of the regular season.

Notable breakout players

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.

Last week, we saw a few second and third-teamers have solid performances which helped their chances of making the team. Will they repeat these performances or will we see a set of new players stand out during tonight’s game?

Jaleel McLaughlin

McLaughlin came in with the third-team offense and looked explosive and scored a touchdown. Now with Tyler Badie potentially down, I hope we see him get a chance with the second team and continue to flash his big play ability for the Broncos. I hope we see another big game from the undrafted rookie.

Jalen Virgil

The second-year wide receiver flashed in the opener and will have a chance to do it in this one as well. Payton utilized his speed in an end around and Virgil’s run blocking stood out. If he can make some big plays and impress as a blocker, he could earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

Alex Palczewski and Demontrey Jenkins

Both undrafted rookie third-string tackles had solid performances last week. The first and second string tackles struggled, but once the third string came in, they protected quarterback Ben DiNucci well and just did better than their fellow teammates.

This week, these two tackles will have a chance to do it again and potentially earn themselves more time with the second team if the starters and second team continue to struggle. The Broncos have not had young linemen who they could develop for quite a while so it would be nice if they could get two as UDFA’s who end up being good.