ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard at Candlestick Park on Thursday night, the Broncos tallied their first game in the win column for the 2013 preseason.* *
But the takeaways from the Broncos' 10-6 win over the 49ers perhaps had as much to do with the team's health and the sound performances by a contingent of young players as they did with the game's final outcome.
Head Coach John Fox noted in his postgame press conference that there were no injuries to report for the Broncos. There were, however, some strong showings from some of the team's less-experienced players.
"I think like any first game, there's things that you need to work on and we have plenty of those things. But for the guys that played, I thought they fought hard and found a way to try to win there at the end," Fox said. "We had some young guys that I thought showed pretty well. C.J. (Anderson), Brock Osweiler, Duke Ihenacho."
Quarterback Peyton Manning – who only one series of action – agreed with Fox's assessment, pointing out that young players played a key role in helping force four 49ers turnovers.
"Different guys, some young players – Nate Irving making a huge play and (Shaun) Phillips running it back for a touchdown," Manning said. "(Kayvon) Webster making some nice plays. As an offense, you always like to see your defense out there creating turnovers because usually that's going to mean really good field position."
The rookie cornerback Webster hauled in a third quarter interception, while the third-year linebacker Irving and the second-year safety Ihenacho both forced crucial fumbles with rugged tackles in the second quarter.
That defensive trio, however, constituted just a handful of the young players who shined for the Broncos on Thursday night.
ANDERSON ANCHORS RUN GAME
Rookie C.J. Anderson didn't see much action until the second half of his first NFL game.
Once he finally touched the ball, he didn't wait long to leave a first impression.
The undrafted free agent from Cal led all players with 69 yards on 15 carries – all of which came in the second half.
After the game, Anderson reflected on his performance as a quality learning experience on both the offensive and special teams sides of the ball.
"As far as running the ball, I did well," Anderson said. "There's still some things on special teams that are kind of new to me, though, because I didn't really play special teams in college. The special-teams level up here is very intense. That's what I think I can improve on. And I can always improve running the ball."
Anderson was particularly effective on perhaps the Broncos' best drive of the game midway through third quarter, contributing 45 rushing yards on a 14-play, 91-yard march down the field – including scampers of 17 and 13 yards.
And although the drive concluded with Anderson being stopped short on fourth-and-1 from the 49ers 7-yard line, Osweiler credited the rookie running back with helping the offense get back on track.
"We were struggling for a little while there, and we got that drive going because of C.J.'s big running," Osweiler said.
THOMAS TURNS UP
Tight end Julius Thomas' offensive contributions in practice have garnered attention throughout training camp.
On Thursday night, Thomas' play translated from the practice field to the real thing.
The third-year pro - who has seen an increased workload in practice as a result of injuries to Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen - was a steady target against the 49ers, leading the team with four catches for 35 yards.
"Julius was a stud tonight," Osweiler said. "He blocked his tail off on the line. He caught balls. He hustled downfield. He did everything for us. Julius had a great game."
Thomas said after the game that he'll look to improve upon his initial offering of 2013.
"I'm kind of indifferent about my game tonight," Thomas said. "There are some things that I've got to improve. But it's good that people have expectations of what I can do out there. I'm going to do my best to try and exceed those.
His performance was sound enough to catch the eye of Manning, however.
"He continues to make plays in practice and made some nice catches tonight," Manning said. "I know he just wants to get more comfortable in the entire offense – the run blocking, the pass blocking and certainly in the pass receiving. Everyone has seen what he's been able to do."
"I just think he'll continue to improve and I think he can be a big part of this offense this year."
WILLIAMS MAKES DEBUT
Rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had been anticipating his first game ever since the Broncos selected him in the first round of the NFL Draft in April.
Now that his first game is in the books, Williams is already looking forward to getting back on the field.
"I'm just glad I got my first game out of the way so now I can just focus," Williams said. "I know what they expect next week. It's kind of hard when you're going against your own teammates to get a feel for the game so now I know what to expect come next week."
While Williams didn't register any tackles, he played a number of meaningful snaps – enough to whet his appetite for next week's trip to Seattle.
"It was great, I just look forward to getting out there next week and getting better during the week and getting back on the field next Saturday," Williams said.