CHICAGO — It looks like rain in the Windy City.
According to the Chicago Weather Center, the Broncos and Bears can expect to see scattered thunderstorms when their game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. MST in the friendly confines of Soldier Field.
Those confines might be looking a little friendlier to Peyton Manning and the Broncos first team offense — no matter how brief their appearance may be — based on the absence of Bears middle linebacker Brian Ulacher, who will be held out due to personal reasons.
That won’t stop many from worrying about Manning’s well-being in his first start in 579 days. Those worries are being compounded by reports that offensive guard Chris Kuper will be held out (Manny Ramierz will get the start in his place). What’s more, starting right tackle Orlando Franklin may also be held out due to a concussion.
Amidst the anxiety and anticipation came a Tweet from NFL Network writer Ian R. Rapoport: “Broncos wouldn’t mind if Peyton Manning got hit tonight. Problem? It rarely happens.”
In the Tweet, Rapoport cited a story he wrote for the Boston Herald back in 2009 when he realized Manning had been sacked less than 10 times through 16 games. In an effort to explain the phenomenon, Rapoport sought out David Cutcliffe, the quarterback guru who tutored Manning in college and hosted him at Duke when he was working out for teams this offseason.
One of the points Cutcliffe stressed to Rapoport was Manning’s ability to “move defenders.”
Cutcliffe said that Manning’s knowledge of route concepts and his ability to read a defense before the snap allows him to look at a completely different side of the field for the majority of the time he holds the ball — not typically more than three seconds — before turning it and throwing somewhere else entirely.
“I know what is going on over here, so I can completely look at a different spot on the field, and then come back on time to the other throw.” Cutcliffe said, mimicking what goes through Manning’s head before the ball leaves his hand.
“Peyton Manning is the best in the world at that,” he continued.
That process of moving defenders keeps defenses off balance and makes defensive coordinators wary of blitzing Manning, Cutliffe said. All of that leads to fewer opportunities to get to Manning, let alone sack him.
Will Ronnie Hillman play tonight? The national and local media appear to be at odds on this point. Not only does ESPN’s Bill Williamson think Hilliman will play, he called the rookie running back one of three Broncos to watch in tonight’s game.
“The third round pick will likely get a lot of time Thursday,” Williamson wrote. “This is a player who has a chance to be instant contributor. The Broncos will use him in the running and passing game.”
Williamson’s former employer, the Denver Post, thinks differently, saying Hillman “may be sidelined” for tonight’s preseason opener after suffering a hamstring injury on Aug. 1.
Though Hillman returned from that injury at Tuesday’s practice, his participation has been limited this week. He is currently listed third on the team’s depth chart behind Willis McGahee and Lance Ball. Knowshon Moreno, who is recovering from an ACL injury, is listed as the team’s fourth-string back.
Will Jason Hunter really play with the first team? That’s where the journeyman defensive end is currently listed on the team’s depth chart — ahead of the Robert Ayers. Hunter has never been a starter over his six years split between the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Broncos.
While the old coaching staff under Josh McDaniels once hailed Ayers the future for the Broncos at defensive end, spending a first round pick on him, new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has said relatively little about the fourth-year player.
He has, on the other hand, gushed about Hunter.
“Jason is a rugged defensive lineman. That’s what we’re looking for with our defensive line,” Del Rio said. “Every day he brings it with passion. I haven’t seen him yet not be ramped up and ready to play hard and tough. So that’s why he’s running with the ones right now. He’s kind of played his way into that spot.”