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Five Questions, Answered: Broncos vs. Cardinals

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Andrew Mason breaks down the Broncos' preseason finale and answers the top-five questions leading into the game.

DENVER -- The final score shows a fourth-quarter letdown, a 32-24 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals and a 2-2 preseason ledger that was appropriate, given the scattershot play that plagued the Broncos at time during the four dress rehearsals.

But all the questions weren't clearly answered, which leaves plenty to ponder before the cut to 53 players, which must take place before 4 p.m. MDT on Saturday.

1. How will the interior offensive line look?

Until the final quarter, when the Cardinals dialed up their blitzes in a successful attempt at rattling Zac Dysert and preventing a comeback, the interior line fared well.

Ryan Lilja started at center, and was flanked by right guard John Moffitt and left guard C.J. Davis. Steve Vallos eventually relieved Lilja, and Philip Blake was the last man off the bench, playing right guard in the fourth quarter as Moffitt shifted to the left side. Chris Kuper did not play, and the Broncos face an intriguing decision with the eight-year veteran. He's practiced the last two weeks, but his recovery from offseason ankle surgery has not progressed to the point where they can play him in games, as he sat out he entire preseason.

The situation appears hazy. Moffitt can swing between both guard slots, but didn't play center this summer. Lilja has been a guard most of his career, but worked almost exclusively at center this summer. Kuper's work at center has been limited to some snaps in practice, although his guard experience has been extensive. If versatility remains the crucial element, then Davis could fit somewhere in the mix, as he can work at center and guard and has done both this summer.

This still looks like one of the most difficult cuts on the roster.

2. What does this game mean for Brock Osweiler?

It was another chance to settle into a groove, and he started strong, completing his first seven passes. But the offense he ran wasn't the one he'd be asked to direct if Peyton Manning is injured -- not just because he worked with the backups, but because the attack was simplified and the offense worked deliberately, huddling up and showing different looks than usual.

"There wasn’t a lot of checks in the game plan tonight. Last week there were more; the week before there were more," he said.

Ten of the Broncos' first 14 plays placed Osweiler under center, and they emphasized play-fakes, I-formation and offset-I looks and an offense that overall looked more like the clock-chewing units that John Fox coached in Carolina than the light-speed attack the Broncos have crafted this summer. That Osweiler was able to direct touchdown drives at slow and fast paces the last two weeks is a promising development, and a necessary step forward after a skittish performance in Seattle 12 days earlier.

3. Who will take the snaps at running back?

The Broncos started Ronnie Hillman, but he was pulled after two carries for 14 yards, including a 12-yard burst off the left side. That was the end of his night and the beginning of work for Jeremiah Johnson, Jacob Hester and Lance Ball, who all shored flashes of brilliance. The quartet combined for 164 yards from scrimmage -- 89 yards on 27 carries and 75 yards on three receptions -- and scored twice. Sixty-nine of the yards came on Ball's catch-and-run of a Zac Dysert screen pass.

There's not enough room for all the running backs, and Johnson and Ball are clear-eyed enough to know their chances based on their depth-chart standing and lack of practice-squad eligibility. But their bursts Thursday and their work in previous years indicates that if the Broncos don't keep them, they ought to stick somewhere.

"I have no worries that if I didn't make this team, I wouldn't land anywhere else," Johnson said.

4. Which young cornerback will assume the most prominent role Thursday night and beyond?

For Thursday and the near future, it's Kayvon Webster, since second-year veteran Omar Bolden was shifted to safety, starting and playing the entire game there. Webster flourished, and his two 15-yard penalties weren't the kind that raise red flags; instead they illuminate his aggression. The first one, for a hit on Arizona wide receiver Jaron Brown, was arguably a bad call; he appeared to hit Brown in the shoulders.

"I hit him on the shoulder. I looked at it on the (video) board," Webster said.

His second penalty saw him body-slam Arizona wide receiver Charles Hawkins, and while it was a clear infraction, it also fired up the sideline -- coaches and players alike.

"I even got a handshake from Peyton (Manning) and Wes (Welker), too," Webster said.

Webster was able to rely on his instincts. Bolden had no choice but to lean on his instincts in his first game at safety, which went as well as could be expected; he didn't make many glaring errors and was active enough to finish with six tackles.

"I'm just being a football player," Bolden said. "I'm doing what I was taught, reading my keys and really just playing."

5. What could this game do for Zac Dysert?

It might make sneaking him through to the practice squad difficult, although he struggled under pressure on the Broncos' final two drives and finished his night 9-of-20 for 163 yards after hitting his first six passes for 149 yards. There was plenty of promise from Dysert, particularly on his 25-yard touchdown pass to Gerell Robinson, a perfectly placed back-shoulder throw to which Robinson adjusted perfectly. But the Broncos are squeezed by injuries around the roster that are not season-ending ones, but do affect short-term roster composition, so for Dysert and many others, it's time to wait.

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