ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --On Saturday, NFL on FOX's No. 1 broadcast crew of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver watched practice at Dove Valley in preparation for the Broncos-49ers preseason tilt.
The game, scheduled for a 2 p.m. MDT Sunday kickoff, will be nationally televised on FOX. In advance of the game, Buck and Aikman took time to talk with DenverBroncos.com about their thoughts on Denver's preseason, what they'll be looking for on Sunday and how they believe the Broncos will fare in 2012.
It's often said that the third preseason game is as close as it gets to the regular season for players. Is it the same for the broadcast crew?
Buck: "For us, it's by far the best game to do, if you're going to do a preseason game, because it is semi-normal. We've done some where you're doing the second week and by the second quarter you have no idea who you're talking about. It's a good time to get a game in, then we've got a week off, then we go to work. I guess it is kind of about reps and getting back into the flow. I'm looking forward to that."
Since you typically work NFC games, you likely know more about the San Francisco 49ers than some Broncos fans. What should fans know about the 49ers entering Sunday's game?
Buck:"They're good. When I got my boards ready for this game, you realize how deep they are. They've got a lot of talent. (49ers Head Coach Jim) Harbaugh stepped right in and he's kind of made it a college-type feel around that NFL team. They rally around each other. They've got a good defense, they've got a quarterback that doesn't turn the ball over, they've got more weapons on the outside -- we'll see how (wide receiver) Randy Moss plays -- and they've got good running backs. But I don't know how much of that we're going to see this week. They're the team I picked to win it all. Everybody always wants a pick. That's who I've been saying, so that means they won't win."
Aikman:"They should know it's a preseason game, first and foremost. San Francisco is really talented. They've got a lot of depth. They've brought in a lot of skill players to try to improve their arsenal offensively. Right now, as opposed to a year ago with some of the changes and they hadn't been playing really good football, now they're a team that went to the NFC Championship game. So they're talented and playing with a lot of confidence and have high expectations. So they're a good club. For a third preseason game for the Broncos to be facing them is probably good. We'll have a better idea as to where Denver is right now."
What will you be looking for in Sunday's game?
Buck:"I think the main reason why we're even here is because of (quarterback) Peyton Manning. I'm anxious to watch him play in person. I've only done a few games of his, because, as you said, we cover the NFC more. Just watching him run an offense is fun. Watching him run a practice is fun. The league is better with him in it. I'm glad he landed on his feet in Denver, and it seems like a great spot to be in. This was a playoff team a year ago, so it should be bigger and brighter this year."
Aikman:"The crispness of the execution. Teams want to come out and look good, offenses and defenses. But you hold some things back that you don't want to show going into the regular season. I think the biggest thing for these coaches is they want to be crisp, they want to look good in their execution and then most importantly they just don't want anybody to get hurt."
What are your thoughts on the Broncos' preseason with Manning so far?
Buck:"I've just watched on tape, I watched the Chicago game and I saw enough from Seattle that you see he's still Peyton Manning. It's different, I think, when you see it in person. Now to watch practice, you get a better feel. That's kind of what these days are for, instead of being on videotape to see it in front of your eyes. I'm looking forward to it."
Aikman:"I think it's been kind of a mixed bag. I don't think anything to really concern me about the team. Offensively they've done some nice things. They've moved the ball. They've had some struggles sometimes down in the red area. But I think that's just all part of playing in the preseason and some of the things that happen. I like Denver. What Peyton brings to this squad with some of the other additions they've brought in, it's going to be a great race in the AFC West."
What do you think Manning is going through in a new city with a new team, new coaches and new teammates?
Aikman:"I think there's some excitement that comes with that. You get so used to doing things a certain way, seeing the same people -- there is a certain amount of freshness that comes with changing teams. I didn't go through that, but I know from visiting with Peyton when he was going through that process, I think that he was looking forward to it. For a guy with as much as he's accomplished, when you're with that same team, everyone in the building knows what you're about and what you do. I think when you go to a new team you want to prove to that organization that you are as good as advertised. He's always been a competitive guy, but I would imagine that got ratcheted up a little bit when he came here to Denver."
You mentioned that San Francisco is a deep team. Which positions on the Broncos will you be keeping an eye on?
Buck:"I think the secondary. I think that's probably where the big battles will happen, at the safety position. At corner, Champ Bailey is still one of the best, which is remarkable considering the guy he was traded for just retired -- (running back) Clinton Portis. That, and then I'm anxious to see (defensive lineman Derek) Wolfe play. I know it was a big loss when they lost (defensive end Jason) Hunter."
What did you take from your meeting with Coach Fox?
Buck:"That he's confident and he's excited about having Peyton Manning. I think he's thrilled to have (Defensive Coordinator) Jack Del Rio back -- they were together in Carolina. It's a great staff. John's always been one of our favorites, because he's legitimately funny, fun to talk to and very honest and open."
Aikman:"I think (he's confident), but he always has been even when he was at Carolina and we had him. But he should be. I think everyone's gotten really excited and optimistic about this season. Knowing what it takes to win in this league, and (Executive Vice President of Football Operations John) Elway knows that better than anybody, and then to have some of those pieces in place that give them a chance when you look at how this team has been put together -- it's pretty encouraging."
What are your expectations for the Broncos in 2012?
Buck:"I think the division is wide-open, and I think they're the best team in it, in my mind, going in. That's because of Peyton Manning, and the running back situation is good. The offensive line, I know they're going to miss (guard Chris) Kuper here at the beginning, but it's a good group that opened up a ton of holes last year in the No. 1-rated rushing offense. So they know how to run the ball. They've got that group back, and now you add Peyton to it. I'm sure (wide receiver) Eric Decker is thrilled and (wide receiver) Demaryius Thomas that they've got (Manning)."
Aikman:"I expect them to have a good year. I just think the AFC West is wide open. I like San Diego, I've liked them for a few years -- they've been relatively inconsistent. I think Oakland is going to be better than they were and I think Denver, certainly, is better. Denver's just got to worry about their division and not worry about too much of the big picture. I expect them to be competing within that division and if they're able to pull that off, then anything can happen."