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Saturday's game against Texans to be 'a good test' for Broncos

Facing another strong defense, Coach Gary Kubiak and his No. 1 quarterback Peyton Manning see this game for what it is - an opportunity for everyone to improve.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

Training Camp 2015 has come to an end, and the Broncos are getting ready to face J.J. Watt Saturday night when they take on the Houston Texans.

Yeah, I've heard a rumor that 21 other players will line up during the game too, but no one is talking about them, so apparently we are playing one guy.

And it's actually questionable whether the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year last year is even going to be in - or at least, in for very long.

The superstar defensive end played just two snaps in one preseason game in 2013 and logged only 15 snaps in two games last preseason.

You can't just label [J.J. Watt] a defensive lineman. You put him in that defensive player category, like a Junior Seau or Bruce Smith. I think he deserves that kind of attention.  -Peyton Manning

But for Peyton Manning - and every Bronco lining up on offense - Watt is still the heart and soul of the Texans and must be accounted for.

As Manning points out, Watt is one of the most versatile defensive players he's gone up against, and a guy you need to always know where he is.

"You can't just label him just as a defensive lineman. You put him in that defensive player category - kind like a Junior Seau or a Bruce Smith. I think he deserves that type of attention," Manning said Thursday. "He's just active. It's a great test for our guys up front on Saturday. I don't think he's a guy that you want to hold the ball for a real long time against."

Although Manning has one of the quickest releases in the NFL, you can bet he'll be reminding his young offensive linemen as well as running backs to know their blocking assignments.

It's something Gary Kubiak, the coach who drafted Watt, no doubt has already emphasized, saying earlier this week that "keeping Manning upright" will be a major goal.

"They'll probably have some wide eyes when they walk out of the huddle," Kubiak said of his linemen. "But J.J. is a pretty good player. He plays everywhere, too, so when you game plan in the regular season, there is no way you know exactly where he is going to play. He's very disruptive, but that's good for them. That'll help you get up to speed real quick."

The quicker, the better from Manning's point of view, but if the 18-year starting QB is worried about his line, he's not letting on. Instead, he's praising the work ethic and improvement over the past three weeks of camp.

"Those guys have worked hard. That's all you can ask of the guy playing next to you. Is he working as hard as he possibly can to be the best player he can be?" Manning said. "I appreciate all those guys and how hard they've worked, trying to learn, trying to get better every day. We're all learning. We're all trying to get better."

Kubiak added that playing against guys like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware every day has gone a long way in helping that line get better. And Ware pointed out that rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo has really shown growth in the past couple of months - particularly in the details of blocking at the NFL level, where athleticism only cannot mask poor technique.

"He's that athletic tackle that you need, but you have to get that technical work, the small crafty things you do with your hands and little things that you know when the line is going to slide your way so you can over-set me, knowing that you're going to have help inside. He's seeing all of those things," Ware said. "From the first time when he came out here until now, he's a totally different guy. You can see he played really well in the Seattle game against a good rusher."

With another excellent defense across the line, Manning sees the Texans game as a prime opportunity to improve and get ready for the games that will count.

"This will be a good test for us on Saturday," he said.

A test for sure, and this time many of the ones will be suiting up to take it. In addition to Manning, veteran tight end Owen Daniels will start on offense, while second-year receiver Cody Latimer will start in place of Emmanuel Sanders who is out with a hamstring injury. And if Manning has any say in it, Demaryius Thomas could see his first preseason action as well.

"I thought he's had a really good week," Manning said, noting that there's a difference between being in good physical shape and being in football shape. Watching the last clip in this Instagram video will give you a sense of how good of "football shape" both Thomas and Manning appear to be in.

The long bomb from #Manning to @demaryiust is just a thing of beauty. #Repost from @broncos.

A video posted by Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv51) on

Thomas sat out of all the offseason workouts while getting his contract in order but kept in touch with teammates about the playbook changes. It seemed to pay off this week.

"It's taken him some time, but he's really kind of turned it on this past week," Manning added. "He's caught a lot of balls, and [he is] finishing after the catch. To me, he looks like D.T. I'm looking forward to getting out there with him on Saturday night."

How long Manning and the other ones and/or veterans will play is unknown, but the quarterback is anxious to be on the field.

The one thing I've always thought about Manning, is he a micro-manager? Yes. But he takes coaching. The rest is good for him. It may not make him better in September, but it will make him fresher later. -SI's Peter King while visiting Broncos' Training Camp.

"I think you always want to be out there and you want to play as long as you possibly can," Manning said, noting that the goal is to get ready to play a four-quarter game and see some of the typical game situations you face in regular season - third-down conversions, red zone drives to a score, goal-line yardage. "That's kind of your mental approach. You never know how the game's going to go, but it'd be nice to get some of those situations."

One situation not likely to come up this weekend - fortunately ... or unfortunately - is a repeat taunting penalty from Manning. In last year's preseason contest against the Texans, Manning got an unprecedented flag for a rather stern "talking to" of safety D.J. Swearinger. Though Swearinger is now a safety for the Bucs, many Broncos probably remember the intensity of that game and will enjoy the rematch.

"We practiced against this team last year, so we had a good test against them last year," Manning pointed out. "It's a good team to play against because you get some good work against obviously some really good players, along with some different schemes. [I am] looking forward to getting out there."

Ware and Brandon Marshall are also excited "get out there" Saturday. Ware sat out with other veterans last week, while Marshall was still being eased in because of his foot injury rehab over the past five months. Both are ready to suit up.

Although Marshall will be without his ILB compadre, Danny Trevathan, the linebacker is ready to test himself in a game situation.

"I'm excited. I've been feeling good for a little bit, for a couple of weeks at least," Marshall said. "So I'm glad to be up, honestly."

For Ware, playing the game is a nice break from camp.

"We're ready to go out there and play," he said. "We're ready to really just get the job done and get the season started. That is what we've been waiting for and to get that bad taste out of our mouths from last year."

What he said.

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