5 things to watch in Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers preseason game

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Brock Osweiler throws during Day 5 of camp, July 30, 2012.

Sports Director Nick Griffith offers up five things to look for in tonight’s Broncos versus 49ers preseason game.

1. Is Manning still the man?

At 37, and entering his 15th season in the NFL does the twelve time pro bowler still have “It”.  He appears to be in better shape physically and in a much better place mentally than this time last year when he was making his Broncos debut.  Just as I’ve seen in camp thus far, I expect number-18 to come out with confidence and precision right from the get go.  Even though John Fox says the starters could play “as much as one quarter,” I suspect we’ll only see Peyton and company for one to maybe two series.

2. Running back distribution

Anxious to see who gets the bulk of the work and how each back is used.

Entering tonight, the depth chart currently has Ronnie Hillman perched at the top followed by Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno.  Hillman has the speed and ability but struggled last year in his ability to block and pick up blitzes.  He’s put on more size and looks like a potential stud heading into this season.

Ball has more of a true NFL body.  He runs with power and stands to be the teams best option to run between the tackles and get those ‘tough’ couple yards .  After reemerging from the practice squad last year, Moreno has proven in the past that he does his best work when everyone else is turning their back on him.   The fact that he’s list behind Hillman and Ball could motivate him and raise his productivity once again.

3. Progress of Brock

After Manning sits, a good majority of this game will be played with big Brock under center.  While Peyton stayed healthy last year, Osweiler stayed on the bench.  There’s no denying that was best for the Broncos last season and it’s obviously what’s best again.  That said, Osweiler will get his shot in the future.  His development now could be key to the Broncos’ longterm success in the distant future.  So far at camp, Osweiler has looked more poised and confident (compared to last year) in his decision making.  I’ll be looking to see if that carries over from practice to the games.

4. Building defense

For the first time in a long time, the Broncos do not enter a new season with a new defensive coordinator.  Jack Del Rio is back with the same system and mind-set that produced a top five overall defense last year. With more familiarity and understanding of the schemes the defense should continue to play loose and fast.

5. Winning Attitude

We saw it last year in flashes but I want to see it even more this season. The way the Broncos carry themselves;  with a quiet confidence, with swagger and with the humble understanding that they’re the best.  No question, this team has the physical talent to win it all but they also need to build the mental fortitude to go along with it.

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