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Broncos-Seahawks: Three Questions

Posted Aug 7, 2014

As the preseason opener arrives, Andrew Mason examines three questions that will be answered, to some degree, against Seattle.

DENVER -- In soccer, the rough equivalent to a preseason game is a "friendly." Between the Broncos and Seahawks, it would seem to be anything but, given that their last meeting was in Super Bowl XLVIII -- and that their preseason meeting a year ago was an intense, if lopsided, affair.

During that August 2013 meeting in Seattle, the starters remained in the game long enough to set a tone on both sides, since it was the second preseason game for both teams. It was not what the Broncos hoped in what became a 40-10 loss, and the effort led Executive Vice President and General Manager John Elway to speak to the entire Broncos team after their return to Denver.

Much of Thursday's preseason opener will belong to players who played, at most, bit parts in the Super Bowl or last year's preseason -- or weren't even part of the teams at all. But what you want to see from the Broncos is intensity from all corners of the roster, and all layers of the depth chart. The starters might not have enough time to establish a tenor for the game, but every Bronco in uniform will have a chance to help create a collective tone.

Beyond that, a few questions lurk. After the game, I'll revisit them to analyze how they were resolved -- or if they were resolved at all.

1. Which backup running back -- or running backs -- will step up?

Montee Ball's appendectomy was unfortunate -- although it's better that this issue struck now rather than in the regular season, for obvious reasons. As Ball convalesces, every other running back moves up one slot. Given the liberal rotation of running backs, that likely means a handful of first-team repetitions for C.J. Anderson, with expected Thursday starter Ronnie Hillman handling the balance of the work with the first team.

All the intrigue here is at the spots behind Hillman and Anderson on the depth chart. Based on the depth chart, Duke's Juwan Thompson leads the collection of undrafted runners, who are joined by first-year back Jerodis Williams. Thompson is currently listed on the fourth team and has perhaps the most balanced skill set of this quartet, which also includes Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay. But a terrific performance by one of this group could re-shuffle the deck. Assuming good health for the Broncos' runners heading into Week 1, this quartet could be scrambling for one spot as the No. 4 back. This could be the most heated competition of the summer, even though it is down the depth chart.

2. How will the reserve quarterbacks fare?

Brock Osweiler has pointed to this preseason as crucial for his development. He has shown improvement in practice over the last few months. In his third training camp, Osweiler has better touch on the football on shorter routes, is effective when he makes quick decisions inside the pocket -- or deciding to escape it altogether -- and trusts himself more to get the football into narrow windows, knowing that the speed and proficiency of NFL defenders keeps receivers from having much separation. But all that has come against a defense with which he is familiar. Seattle, and the pressure it offers, is a different challenge.

Zac Dysert has been scattershot in practice compared with Osweiler. But the second-year quarterback had arguably his best day of practice in last week's game-condition Summer Scrimmage. He was quick on his feet, decisive, and had some moments of brilliance during last year's preseason, although a late-game fade against Arizona in the August finale depressed his numbers. If he's going to push for more than the No. 3 role, he needs to be effective Thursday.

3. Which rising young defenders will carry their training-camp performance into the game?

And this leads to multiple questions. Will linebacker Lamin Barrow continue filling gaps and making plays against the run, allowing him to push Nate Irving for the starting job at middle linebacker? Will linebackers Brandon Marshall and Lerentee McCray be as disruptive as they have been, particularly when sprinting up the A-gap against the No. 2 offense? Will rookie Kenny Anunike and 2013 draft pick Quanterus Smith be as effective working around Seattle's offensive tackles as they have been in training camp? Or will others stand out?

And one more …

Will there be any crazy stuff?

I don't expect it.

On the one hand, you wouldn't expect either team to even give the slightest hint of tipping their hand. Their meeting in the regular season is too close at hand, and their Super Bowl duel is too fresh. But the argument in favor of trickery (and not "trickeration," which is not a word, no matter how many television announcers try to insist that it is) is that it could force the opposing coaching staff to bleed valuable time studying something that is unlikely to be used on Sept. 21 at CenturyLink Field.

I don't foresee a re-run of the Broncos' 1992 preseason home opener, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran two plays that were suggested by restaurant patrons. One of them was a classic gadget play, beginning when quarterback Vinny Testaverde walked to the sideline as though there was a communication problem. The ball was snapped directly to running back Gary Anderson, who ran 14 yards through a confused defense.

It'd be fun to see plays like that. Unlikely and wholly unexpected, but fun nonetheless. But the proximity of this game to a regular-season contest likely precludes that.

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