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Broncos-Vikings: What to watch

DENVER -- After seven months and 10 days, it's finally game day once again for the Broncos.

What are some areas to watch tonight?

1. The quarterbacks

It seems impossible that a preseason game could possibly live up to the rich potential storylines presented by the quarterbacks.

First-team passers Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins were the top targets at their position in free agency. Keenum led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game last January but was replaced by Cousins, whose time with Minnesota will solely be judged by whether he can take the team farther in the postseason than Keenum did.

The second-teamers, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian, spent last summer dueling to be the Broncos' starter in 2017. Siemian held off Lynch, but then lost his hold on the job, first because of turnovers, and then because of a left shoulder injury suffered at Indianapolis in Week 15.

Finally, when the third-teamers take the field, Broncos fans will have a chance to see where last summer's preseason flash, Kyle Sloter, has built off his season as a Vikings reserve. He landed there after the Broncos waived him at the cut to 53 players, leaving the No. 3 position for Chad Kelly, who is fighting for a roster spot after spending last year recovering from wrist and knee injuries.

They're not competing against each other, of course; they'll face two of the league's deepest defensive corps. Each unit is filled with pass rushers who will cause problems.

2. How the Broncos can create pressure

Bradley Chubb is listed as a starting strong-side linebacker, but his potential use is far more varied than that position description. During practice, he's often lined up with his hand in the grass, creating pressure from the inside. Chubb's versatility gives the Broncos opportunities to use three or even four of their outside linebackers at the same time.

Second-year defensive end DeMarcus Walker has also shown flashes of brilliance during training camp; like Chubb, he can cause problems from an inside pass-rushing alignment.

Chubb and Walker's skill sets and the Broncos' ample depth at outside linebacker give them myriad options, and with Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis and Shelby Harris among the regular defensive lineman who can capably rush the passer, the Broncos appear to have more possibilities with which to attack the quarterback than they did last year.

3. Different coverage looks

Although man-to-man coverage will remain the defense's bread-and-butter, expect to see the Broncos throw some different tactics at Minnesota from time to time as they expand.

"We're running different things," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "Obviously, we're still going to be us -- what we've done since 2015, but we sprinkled in some different packages.

"I think the biggest difference is we're more well-rounded. We're versatile because we could do different things. We could run different coverages and we could be sound in all of them. I think what we do now, we're more well-rounded than we were in the past."

The coverages are also "geared to what our opponents do," Marshall added. He noted that the tweaks were in part designed to help defuse the explosive potential of running backs and tight ends in the passing game, which has been an issue for the defense in recent years.

"I think that's just where the game is going," Marshall said. "Everybody needs to have a good third-down back and some good pass-catching tight ends to create mismatches."

4. How the running backs will be used

Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman sit atop the depth chart, but the Broncos continued their heavy rotation of their running-back quintet during this week's practices.

Expect to see plenty of work for De'Angelo Henderson, Phillip Lindsay and Dave Williams. For all five running backs, simply carrying the ball will not be enough; versatility and the ability to help in pass protection could be factors that make a difference in determining which backs make the 53-man roster.

5. Who jumps out on special teams?

While the competition for the kickoff and punt returner slots will grab the bulk of the attention, back-of-the-roster spots could be determined by which Broncos succeed on coverage and protection units. 

The departures of Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer also ensured that the Broncos must solidify the "gunner" roles on punt coverage, and Saturday provides the first game-time repetitions to find out which players could step forward.

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