ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --For the last three weeks, the Broncos practiced while basking in the adulation of fans who hadn't seen them up close since the victory parade two days after Super Bowl 50.
But that work was in front of just a few thousand people at a time.
At just before 7 p.m. MDT on Saturday night, the Broncos will gallop through the southwest tunnel at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and hear the roar from a sellout crowd of more than 70,000 that has waited six and a half months to see its team in action in person once again.
That team isn't quite complete. DeMarcus Ware remains off the active roster, although Head Coach Gary Kubiak is optimistic he can return by next week. Aqib Talib, Ty Sambrailo and Bennie Fowler are among the other key players who will not play gainst the San Francisco 49ers.
But the Broncos' new left tackle and their Super Bowl MVP will.
Neither Russell Okung nor Von Miller will play as much as their fellow starters; their workload should resemble that of Brandon Marshall in the second preseason game last year, when he played through the end of the first quarter in his first game back from foot surgery.
"I just want to go out there and play football," Miller said. "There's not too much you can accomplish in one game. It's a combination of things. I want to go out there and play full speed."
And even if is workload isn't extensive, it should be enough to set him up to be ready for Week 1.
What are some other key areas to watch Saturday night?
- THE ONGOING QUARTERBACK COMPETITION**
It's Trevor Siemian's turn to start, and even though it's only Aug. 20, the stakes couldn't be higher for Siemian in regards to his individual development. If he struggles and Mark Sanchez fares well, Sanchez could get the separation that he hasn't had in the quarterback race, which has been neck-and-neck between the two since OTAs.
But if Siemian flourishes, he has a solid start to go alongside Sanchez's starting work against the Bears last week, in which he led the offense to its only touchdown in a 22-0 win that was marred only by an interception on the second possession.
Kubiak said that he would like to name a starter for Week 1 after this game, but acknowledged that it might not happen. If both do well, he'll have the problem that he'd prefer to have: two good choices among his current co-No. 1 QBs.
- DEFENSIVE LINE**
Derek Wolfe could play despite rolling his ankle on Wednesday, but if he doesn't, the line will be forced to incorporate two new first-teamers following the placement of Vance Walker on injured reserve because of a torn ACL in his right knee.
Jared Crick will start for Walker, and the five-year veteran is a proven commodity. But if Wolfe can't play, Adam Gotsis, Darius Kilgo, Kyle Peko and Billy Winn are among those who could see more action at end as the Broncos try to evaluate their depth and shake out the defensive-line rotation in advance of Week 1.
3. SPECIAL TEAMS BATTLES CONTINUE
Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis described the work of Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison last week in Chicago as "solid," but as is the case with the punting duel between Britton Colquitt and Riley Dixon, the race remains tight -- with the extenuating factor of Jordan Norwood, an experienced veteran who can handle returns still waiting in the wings.
"I thought the both of them had shown good returning mechanics. I thought they both caught it well made good decisions," DeCamillis said. "I also thought that they both showed some juice so hopefully we can get some more holes for them Saturday night."
Saturday offers the chance for some clarity -- and perhaps some separation -- in the returning and punting competitions.