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Broncos-Rams a 'dress rehearsal' for season opener in two weeks

Saturday night's game will feature the starters for much more of the game and will be an important night for guys trying to find their spot on the depth chart or just stay on the roster because as Kubiak said, there are "a lot of questions to answer" right now.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

This weekend's matchup with the #7-9 Rams will be "a dress rehearsal" for the Broncos' Super Bowl rematch opener, which happens in just 13 days.

That's 13 days until meaningful football is played and the Broncos quarterback situation is settled. At least for one week.

It's a grind right now. I've got a lot of things going on. I'm trying to get this team to opening day and we've got a lot of questions to answer.   -Gary Kubiak

In the meantime, Saturday's game will be an important one for guys on the bubble of making the roster as well as for the head coach to make some big decisions about major positions before the first cut deadline on Sept.1.

"We have two games to play, and I think 14 players to let go. There are just so many things going on," coach Gary Kubiak said, noting several players out with injuries. "It is a grind right now. ...I've got a lot of things going on. I'm trying to get this team to opening day here in two weeks. We have a lot of questions to answer and things to get done."

The Quarterback question

One of those is deciding the backup quarterback to go up against the Rams. Trevor Siemian got the nod for starter despite a sore shoulder, but Kubiak said he is still unsure about who is going next. And while there appears to be a lot of public momentum for rookie Paxton Lynch over veteran Mark Sanchez (who coughed up the ball two times in last week's loss to the 49ers), Kubiak acknowledges he is still evaluating and mistakes aren't necessarily the deciding factor.

"No," Kubiak said point blank about No. 2 and 3. "I know who's going first. I haven't made a decision. I'm telling the truth."

And Kubiak insists previous NFL experience is not part of the equation.

"Zero. I'm looking at what's taken place the last six months," he said. "How they've handled themselves, how they've handled the team and how they respond to things. That's what I'm looking at."

But as expected, the coach only had good things to say about each quarterback this week.

"I'm very excited about the progress Paxton has made," Kubiak noted Thursday. "We knew we had ground to make up and we knew he had a ton of talent, but he's really adapted to playing under center. He's making the calls. ...He really had a good week of practice. I think he's very confident in what he's doing .... He's going to be a fine young player."

Although Sanchez has gone from presumed starter to neck-and-neck with Siemian to possibly falling behind third stringer Lynch on Saturday, the coach says his veteran continues to be the same hard worker he's always been.

"He hasn't been different the last couple of days. He's been the same guy since he's been here," the coach said. "He works hard, prepares hard and is doing the same thing this week."

Kubiak had said he wanted to wait until the end of the week to name his second and third QB for Saturday, partly to see how they handle the mental aspects of the situation and the prep.

"Playing quarterback in the NFL, there's pressure. It's part of the business," Kubiak said. "I want them to go out there, cut it loose and play. You also have to own mistakes and correct mistakes as all players. I think they've all done a good job."

And should Sanchez wind up third on the depth chart, he always has street musician for a fallback career.

Dress rehearsal for the defense

While Kubiak is fretting over his quarterback depth chart, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is really looking forward to a game where his starters will finally see significant playing time, and the coach can run more of the looks he'll put out in the season.

"There's more game planning involved. It's really getting the whole team used to what we do on a regular game basis," Phillips said. "We won't do everything we do during the regular season, but a lot of things we do. It's the dress rehearsal game. ...I want to see our first group get out there and get after it."

It's the dress rehearsal game. I want to see our first group get out there and get after it.   -Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator

That first group is going to include Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware for the first time this preseason, which will be a huge boost to the already stout defense. And of course it will mean more Von Miller too, who should see quite a bit more playing time in just his second preseason game.

"Talib looks good. He's moving well. He's making plays. He's a smart player anyway, but his movement looks good," Phillips said.

Ware, who will likely be on a play count this season, said he feels better than last year, which he guestimated to be about 70 percent at the end of the season.

"At the end of the year, he was DeMarcus Ware, Hall of Famer," Phillips pointed out. "If he was [70 percent] and he goes to 100 [percent], then watch out."

And the coach isn't the least bit worried about talent on his defense being able to pick up the slack when Ware is not in the game.

"We have some experience with an outside backer on first and second downs," Phillips said (haha, ya think?). "We have some guys that can play. We want to get the most out of DeMarcus as we can. Putting him in the game is a real force."

Despite the Rams having a rather anemic offense in recent years, Phillips is not taking for granted the skills of its various quarterbacks Case Keenum and their version of Paxton lynch, running back, Todd Gurley.

"He's a great young back," Phillips said. "He had big yardage last year coming out. He was a high pick and proved himself in the league already. He's a challenge near the goal line, too. A big, strong, fast runner that really came through last year. He'll be a challenge for our run defense."

The D-line's run defense will definitely get tested Saturday night against Gurley, and newly acquired defensive lineman Henry Melton will get a chance to test his defensive chops with the Broncos playbook.

"He's very athletic," Kubiak said of Melton, adding that players who come in halfway through training camp look so much fresher than their new teammates. "He's played well in this league before. He just had some injuries. He'll get a chance here. He'll get to play a lot of football in the next five, six days."

Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats. The dress rehearsal is about to start.

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