ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After what amounted to but a snapshot’s worth of work in the preseason opener in San Francisco, the Broncos regulars should be far busier tonight in Seattle.
The starters on both sides of the ball are expected to play most, or all, of the first half.
Some things to look for:
The first real appearance of the offense: Peyton Manning and most of the first-team skill guys were on the field for just seven snaps against the 49ers, just long enough to go all of 22 yards before Britton Colquitt trotted on to punt. Manning lobbied head coach John Fox a bit for a little more action after being removed from the game, but tonight’s outing will give them multiple drives to show how the summer has gone so far.
The men in the middle: The Broncos consistently, from the first-team offense to the third, allowed too much pressure on their quarterbacks in the middle of the field against the 49ers. They certainly like backup quarterback Brock Osweiler's ability to throw on the move but saw a little too much of it in the Bay Area. Center Manny Ramirez has worked with the starting offense through the week and is expected to get the start against the Seahawks. The Broncos have worked Ryan Lilja with the second-team offense, but Manning did take some snaps from Lilja in some individual drills this past week. How this shakes out for the regular season will be about choices because neither player really gives the Broncos everything they want. Ramirez is a powerful blocker in the man-on-man run game, but he struggles to get to the spot in the run game if he has to move out left or right to get his man -- he had a holding penalty among his 12 plays against the 49ers when he didn’t beat the defender to the spot. Ramirez also has some difficulty pivoting in pass protection at times to pick up a player to his left or right if somebody comes free after he initially blocks on the defensive tackle in front of him. Lilja is not as powerful straight ahead and can get moved off the spot by some of the bigger nose tackles. He moves better in the zone run game and makes some quicker decisions in pass protection. He was also signed out of retirement, however, after knee and toe surgeries in the offseason, and his durability over the long haul is still in question.
A little defensive moxie: Granted, it was the first preseason game, but the Broncos surrendered 5, 5, 6 and 9 yards on the 49ers' first four run plays of the game last weekend -- all to LaMichael James. When James went to the sideline after the 9-yarder, the Broncos locked in a little better, but it is a group that will be tested in the run game early in most games. Opposing coaches aren’t going to want to hand the ball over to Manning and the Denver offense more than they have to, so as long as the scoreboard cooperates, opposing offensive coordinators figure to try to grind it out against the Broncos in their first-half possessions. Most telling in the brief outing is that the 49ers worked both sides of the formation, as well as the middle, in those four runs, and all four came against the Broncos' base defense as well.
Julius Thomas: The Broncos tight end, vexed by an ankle injury for virtually all of his first two seasons in the league, has certainly flashed potential on the practice field before. But this past week, with Jacob Tamme still coming back from a thigh injury and Joel Dreessen expected to miss the preseason after arthroscopic surgery on his knee, Thomas got plenty of premium snaps with the starters. And it’s clear, after that work, Manning trusts him in the scoring zone, and the sight of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Thomas running away from defensive backs has to intrigue offensive coordinator Adam Gase. An underappreciated part of Thomas' development is that he was one of the only young players who went to the workouts Manning had with some of the team's receivers at a Denver-area high school just after Manning signed with the Broncos in March of 2011. Those things matter to Manning, and as Thomas' health has improved this offseason, he has shown a comfort level with Manning that has aided his playing-time cause in the offense.
Von Miller: Miller spent Thursday in Washington, D.C. with NFL Players Association officials regarding, at least in part, his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. His appeal hearing has been rescheduled for Tuesday. He was also arrested this past Sunday on an outstanding warrant stemming from three traffic violations he was cited for last October. Former Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil said last season Miller is a young player whose on-field play can be affected by what’s going on off the field. Miller is expected to play in Seattle, and it will bear watching how he handles the latest bumps in what has been a bumpy summer.
Position battles: The Broncos don’t have many, but the rotation at running back and how things go at wide receiver after Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker hit the sideline. At wideout, Andre Caldwell has gotten plenty of work as the No. 4 and offers plenty of speed. But rookie Tavarres King continues to show his game is ready for the league and is a willing blocker in the run game. Caldwell has flashed in practice/offseason workouts before, only to slowly fade into the background once the regular season begins. He was a game-day inactive eight times last season and finished the season with just one catch after an offseason in which he looked to have built the quickest chemistry with Manning after Manning had signed with the Broncos. King has more on his special teams docket, and that could tip the scales when the 46-player game-day roster is chosen in the regular season. At running back, expect Lance Ball to get his best opportunity to show the Broncos why they should keep him. He was getting buried on the depth chart, but then Knowshon Moreno suffered a bruised right knee and rookie C.J. Anderson suffered a severely sprained knee. With Jeremiah Johnson sporting a sore knee as well, that puts Ball in line for plenty of second-half work Saturday.
Muscle up: In a preseason that looks scripted to test their physical side, the Broncos opened with the 49ers, get the Seahawks tonight and will face the Rams next week. All three NFC West teams play with power leanings on both sides of the ball and feature defensive fronts that make things tough up front. And nowhere have the Broncos had more questions in this preseason thus far than on the offensive front. So, the Seahawks will present yet another gauge of where things stand.