DENVER — Who says preseason games don’t mean anything?
For the Denver Broncos, Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks will offer the team a chance to take a small step on what it hopes will be a road to redemption in 2014.
Lest we forget, in addition to the infamous 43-8 beat down the Seahawks gave the Broncos in the 2013 Super Bowl, they also thumped the Broncos 40-10 in the 2013 preseason.
That preseason loss irked team president and former Super Bowl champion John Elway.
“If you want to win a world championship, you don’t go anywhere and lose 40-10,” Elway said. “To me, it seemed like some people thought it was OK. … I didn’t think it was OK.”
In addition to a win Thursday night, the Broncos will also be seeking to make strides in the following five areas.
Here’s what you should watch for Thursday night:
1. The battle for third running back
With Montee Ball’s nice camp suspended by an emergency appendectomy this week, the running backs vying for the third (and likely final) spot in the Broncos backfield will get plenty of looks Thursday night. Most expect that C.J. Anderson, who looked promising during periods as an undrafted rookie last season, to retain that spot. And he likely will do just that with another solid preseason. But the 220-pound Juwan Thompson, who could offer the Broncos a bruising force they lack at running back, Brennan Clay, a rookie out of Oklahoma, and local favorite Kapri Bibbs, a rookie from CSU, should give Anderson a push.
2. Brock Osweiler
For all his talent, Brock Osweiler has continued to look like an enigma this training camp, now his third with the Broncos. One play, he’ll flaunt his big arm, the next, he’ll use it to toss a perplexing interception. But the one thing that sets Osweiler apart from Peyton Manning — even more than his arm strength — is his athleticism. That’s hard to measure in training camp when he’s wearing a non-contact jersey and mostly forbidden from leaving the pocket. Watch for the plays in which Osweiler is able to create or extend the action with his feet Thursday.
3. Cohesion level among new members of defense
We likely won’t see much more than a series or two from fragile new defenders Aqib Talib and Demarcus Ware. We may see a bit more of T.J. Ward, and he may be the one to watch. Communication is paramount in the secondary, and Ward is the group’s new field general. Are corners in safeties in the right position to make the play Thursday night? Will they get rattled if they start to rack up penalties per the NFL’s new rules regarding defensive contact? Positives or negatives on both fronts could have a lot to do with Ward.
4. Depth at linebacker
Danny Trevathan has carved out a spot for himself in the linebacking crew as a coverage guy, and Von Miller will return this season as a pass rush specialist. But when it comes to a traditional linebacker who can play both the run and the pass, the Broncos don’t have a lot of proven talents. Though the team has raved about him, Nate Irving is yet to prove he’s the answer at middle linebacker, and despite solid training camp performances thus far, Lerentee McCray, Brandon Marshall, Steven Johnson and rookie Lamin Barrow still have a lot to prove. Those final four will begin a fight to make the Broncos roster in earnest Thursday night.
5. The rookies
Everyone has been raving about rookie second-round pick Cody Latimer all training camp. Considering there’s a good chance new wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be held out or limited in Thursday’s night game after suffering a quad strain this week, we may see a lot of Latimer against what’s likely the best secondary in football. We’ll also probably see a lot of first-round draft pick Bradley Roby on the other side of the ball. Considering Roby has had some issues in training camp, he’ll likely be looking to use his physicality to get back on track at his cornerback position Thursday.