CHICAGO --Thursday night's preseason opener against the Bears will mark Vance Joseph's first game as a head coach, but with so many questions circling around the Broncos as the preseason opens, the sense of occasion is well down the priority list. There are plenty of goals for the first game, starting with these five:
- Get some clarity on the quarterbacks**
The battle between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will not be decided Thursday night. At this point, all that is certain is that Siemian will start against the Bears and Lynch will start against San Francisco on Aug. 19.
But with each quarterback set to play anywhere from a quarter to a quarter and a half apiece, each should have time to settle down and find their form. Their success equation could be different. For Siemian, it might involve quicker drops; for Lynch, it could involve scrambles. But for both, consistency and good decision-making are the paramount priorities.
- Find an offensive rhythm**
Much of that can come from the quarterbacks, but it also must stem from the reshuffled offensive line, its ability to create holes for the running backs and the runners' ability to shoot through the gaps, just as they have for one solid gain after another during practice.
Preseason success is no guarantee of regular-season performance, but last year, signs of the inefficiency to come were evident in August. A better start will offer a glimpse that this year's offense will provide the consistency that the 2016 attack lacked.
- Learn about the run D**
Inside linebacker Todd Davis will not play; Corey Nelson will start in his place. But Joseph regards Nelson as a starter and expects no drop-off as he joins the rest of the five-man core of the interior run defense that includes fellow ILB Brandon Marshall and defensive linemen Derek Wolfe, Domata Peko and Jared Crick.
Denver's first- and second-team defense excelled at stopping the run during last week's scrimmage. If it has similar success against the Bears, there will be reason to believe that the Broncos should have drastic improvement from last year's 28th-ranked run defense.
- Test the rookies' potential**
What can left tackle Garett Bolles handle in his first start? How will DeMarcus Walker handle the various aspects of his new workload at outside linebacker -- particularly in pass coverage, a discipline for which he said he sought the advice of All-Pro cornerback Aqib Talib? Is Brendan Langley ready to be the No. 4 cornerback, putting him in a role that would leave him just one injury away from extensive playing time in sub packages? How will Isaiah McKenzie handle punt returns? Can De'Angelo Henderson run with the same kind of authority in game conditions as he has in practice? These represent just some of the questions that Denver's rookies will be asked to answer starting Thursday night.
The Broncos could rely heavily on their rookie class this year. The extent to which they can lean on their draft picks could be determined by their preseason performance.
5. Avoid injuries
Obviously, this one is largely beyond the Broncos' control, but this is also the top priority. You can live with coming up short in all of the other areas if all of the core players who are key to the team's 2017 hopes emerge from this game none the worse for the wear.