ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Close your eyes briefly at halftime of the Broncos' preseason home opener against the Rams on Saturday night and you might mistakenly believe you're watching a regular-season contest when your eyes open to starters trotting back out on the field for the second half.
And with the Broncos' highly anticipated regular-season opener against the Ravens just two weeks away, there's good reason for the starting units to get plenty of reps -- the 2013 NFL Kickoff Game is indeed drawing nearer on the horizon.
Broncos Head Coach John Fox said after Thursday's practice that he anticipates his starters will see their most extended action of the preseason, with some likely playing into the third quarter.
"I think the majority of them, yeah. Just get them used to coming out after a halftime break," Fox said regarding his starters seeing the field in the second half. "This is kind of the second-to-the last opportunity for our guys before we start the regular season, so that's the plan at this point."
Fox noted that while there is no definite plan for when the starters will be pulled, he hopes to have the players get used to the regular-season drill of coming back out onto the field after halftime.
"I hate committing to it because every game is different and we may decide to do something different," Fox said of an exact point the starters will leave the game. "The basic plan is to get them used to coming out playing a series or so after halftime."
Quarterback Peyton Manning noted earlier this week that the starters' prolonged playing time will give the team ample opportunities to apply concepts that they've practiced in a real game scenario – something that can't be simulated on the practice field.
"It is an important game. The third preseason game is always important and you certainly want to see progress," Manning said. "Just from an offensive standpoint we've worked on things in training camp and you want to see guys taking it from the practice field to the playing field."
After only playing one series in the preseason opener at San Francisco on Aug. 8, Manning saw significantly more action in last Saturday's game in Seattle, completing 11 of 16 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown in just under two quarters of work.
On Saturday, Manning will likely see his most playing time until the regular season opener on Sept. 5 – and he noted that the Rams should pose a good, competitive challenge.
"(We're) playing a good team (and) it's a good test, it's a good opponent and hopefully we can find a lot of positives out of this game," Manning said.
Fox didn't specify whether wide receiver Wes Welker would be back in action against the Rams after suffering an ankle injury last Saturday in Seattle. He made it clear, however, that Welker would be ready to play if the Broncos were actually playing the Ravens on Saturday.
"He's alright. If we had a (regular-season) game tomorrow he'd be out there," Fox said. "This is preseason, we're trying to get ready for our regular season and yet still hone our skills to get ready for that. He's gotten practice time."