And while the team's starters, as well as some other players who are regular contributors, will get the evening off, coach Vance Joseph said the game could still matter "a bunch" for some players caught in some of the tighter competitions across the team's depth chart.
"Absolutely, one game can make a difference for the young guys," Joseph said. "We have a lot of battles that are really, really close. If a guy makes a great play, that can turn a coach. That can turn John [Elway]. Obviously, a guy making plays for [special-teams coordinator] Brock [Olivo], that could definitely turn myself or John. ... That's a big deal for these young guys."
With that in mind, here are some things to watch for in Thursday's Broncos-Cardinals game:
Find the roster spot -- Given Paxton Lynch showed up to the team's kickoff luncheon Wednesday with his right (throwing) arm in a sling, the Broncos will almost certainly have to carry three quarterbacks on the roster for at least the opening few weeks of the season. Joseph has said Lynch will miss at least two regular-season games. And the Broncos have spent much of their offseason planning with the idea they would keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster: Trevor Siemian and Lynch. To keep a third -- perhaps a veteran let go by another team trimming its own roster -- will cost the Broncos a spot at another position, and potentially a player they had hoped to keep. The positions to keep an eye on are likely on the offensive line and at wide receiver and linebacker.
Sort out the offensive line -- Joseph left open the possibility this week he might not actually pick a winner at the left guard spot, that Allen Barbre and Max Garcia could simply split time at the position during the regular season. However, the bigger questions remain in the second group and more specifically whether two former Broncos draft picks -- Michael Schofield and Ty Sambrailo -- can both make the roster. That's because of the addition of Barbre in a trade early in training camp and the possibility Billy Turner could make the roster as the kind of "big guard" who could play tackle in a pinch. Both Schofield and Sambrailo could each play guard or tackle if needed, but Sambrailo might actually get a look at center in Thursday's game. And if he plays OK there after a crash course this week, it could tip the scales in the decisions that get made.
On the corner -- In his tenure as the Broncos' chief football decision-maker, Elway has usually liked the team's secondary to have five cornerbacks and five safeties on the 53-player roster. To do that this season likely means deciding between a player Elway drafted in Lorenzo Doss and a player who has plenty of history with Joseph in Chris Lewis-Harris. Lewis-Harris is more experienced and slightly more versatile -- he worked both on the outside and in the slot with the Bengals when Joseph was his position coach -- but Doss is faster and has consistently been around the ball in training-camp practices. Assignment consistency could tip the scales to the more veteran Lewis-Harris, but Doss should get plenty of work against the Cardinals to make his case.
"It's his offense Thursday night” -- That's what Joseph said about undrafted rookie quarterback Kyle Sloter this week. Sloter, who started all of nine games at quarterback in his college career and had thrown all of one pass before his senior season at Northern Colorado, finds himself in position to start, and finish, the preseason finale because Lynch is hurt and the Broncos don't want to play Siemian, who is the team's regular-season starter. Sloter has found a way to play unencumbered by pressure against reserves; thus far in the preseason he has completed 16 of 20 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He has the team's longest completion in the preseason -- a 47-yard touchdown throw over busted coverage in the preseason opener in Chicago -- and his passer rating is a heady 140.2. It's rare for a quarterback with his It’s résumé to get this kind of playing time, even in an NFL preseason game, but Sloter has a quality chance to have quite the audition as a developmental prospect for the Broncos and anybody else in the league who looks at the game video.