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Five Questions: Broncos vs. Cardinals

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason looks at five questions that will be answered in tonight's preseason finale.

DENVER -- Why should one watch the preseason finale? I can sum it up with one name that probably all but the hardest of die-hard Broncos fans have forgotten: Ola Kimrin. 

If anyone tells you that the longest field goal hit in an NFL game was from 63 yards, they're wrong -- unless they add the qualifier "regular season." It's 65 yards, and it belongs to Kimrin. That the game was a preseason finale doesn't change the fact that the football flew over the crossbar after being launched from 195 feet away.

It's the hope of a unique bit of history like the one Kimrin authored 11 years ago to the day that perks up a game that matters for depth-chart construction, but to many fans is forgotten as soon as the final gun fires.

The humble, then-30-year-old Swede eventually had a brief regular-season stint in Washington two years later, hitting six of 10 field-goal attempts before he was released. Those were his last regular-season kicks in the NFL; by 2006, Kimrin had quietly retired, ending a decade-long American football odyssey that began with a scholarship offer from Texas-El Paso. 

There were other names to remember on the stat sheet from that 31-0 Broncos win -- a former Super Bowl MVP (Seattle quarterback Mark Rypien, who never threw another pass in an NFL game after that night), a future NFL MVP (Seattle running back Shaun Alexander) and a future All-Pro who came just 77 yards short of 10,000 rushing yards for his career (Clinton Portis). 

But although those names were the most prominent, Kimrin and his kick will be what I remember. Perhaps there will be something unique like it tonight. And if not, there'll be a few questions that get answered.

1. How will the interior offensive line look?

This will be one of the most difficult cuts, as Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase noted this week, and the decisions could come down to Thursday, not only based on performance, but health. Will Chris Kuper see any playing time? Will Ryan Lilja handle snaps for the first time since Aug. 17 at Seattle? How much action will recent acquisition John Moffitt see, and will it be enough for him to snag a backup role? The distribution of playing time, and the performance of the interior linemen, will bear watching.

2. What does this game mean for Brock Osweiler?

It's another chance for him to play a clean, mistake-free game, something that has eluded him the past two weeks, when he's played the equivalent of just over a full game and thrown two interceptions and lost two fumbles. While his interception last week was attributed by Gase to both Osweiler and receiver Trindon Holliday, the fumbled snap to set up a Rams touchdown rankled Gase more.

"The fumbles, that cannot happen in that situation," Gase said. "It was two situations for us. It was a four-minute situation and a backed-up situation."

Osweiler showed promise in driving the first team to a touchdown last week; that efficient, 79-yard march on 11 plays offered evidence that if Peyton Manning is injured at some point, the offense can remain effective (and he didn't have the luxury of Wes Welker working from the slot, who would be an inexperienced quarterback's best friend). 

But errors can undo all of that, and that's what Osweiler must avoid.

3. Who will take the snaps at running back?

This might offer a clue as to the direction in which the Broncos intend to go against Baltimore in Week 1. If Head Coach John Fox opts to play his first-teamers, it will mark the first time he's done that in the preseason finale since 2009. But no matter who the Broncos start with, expect heavy doses of Lance Ball and, if he's healthy enough to play, Jeremiah Johnson. Both appear to be long shots for the 53-man roster based on their depth-chart standing, but Ball's versatility and Johnson's explosiveness could keep them in the league somewhere -- especially if they back up their resumes with solid work Thursday.

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

The Broncos have invested mid-round picks in Kayvon Webster and Omar Bolden the last two years. Bolden hurt his ankle last week, but was back at practice heading into tonight's game. Webster has become steadier as the preseason has progressed. The decision between the two isn't necessarily for a spot on the 53-man roster, but for a chance to be active at game time; once the Broncos' cornerbacks are healthy, there's probably only room for five cornerbacks, at most, among the active 46 players. That could leave Webster or Bolden without a jersey once Champ Bailey returns; Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris and Tony Carter represent a difficult quartet to crack.

5. What could this game do for Zac Dysert?

That depends on how much he plays and how he fares. Gase has emphasized the need for Osweiler to get as many repetitions as possible in the preseason, which has so far limited Dysert to just one quarter of play. His practice-field progress has been steady after a skittish start to training camp; a solid performance Thursday would provide confidence for both himself and the Broncos' faith in the seventh-round pick.