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Virgil Green key to Broncos' early offensive success

DENVER – Eighty-six yards and more than five minutes after the opening drive began, the Denver Broncos crossed the goal line at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the first time in the 2016 season.

A 19-yard run by C.J. Anderson capped the 10-play drive, which naturally drew attention. And then there was quarterback Trevor Siemian, who went 5-of-6 for 55 yards on the first drive of his first start of his NFL career.

Both players grabbed the spotlight as the Broncos scored a touchdown on the opening drive for the second consecutive week. But another Broncos player was just as responsible as No. 13 and No. 22 for those seven points.

Sixth-year tight end Virgil Green, who caught 12 passes for 173 yards in 2015, is making a strong case that 2016 may be his breakout season. Saturday night's opening drive was a prime example of Green's potential in the Broncos' passing game.

On consecutive plays on that first drive, Green caught short passes from Siemian and stretched the catches into double-digit gains. He pushed the Broncos forward 28 yards with those two catches as Denver went from its own 25-yard line to the Niners' 47-yard line.

"It was a play-action the first play," Green said. "Wide-open [and] Trevor [Siemian] threw me a nice ball. Caught it, tried to do what I could after the catch. Then, the screen, they rushed a guy, dropped a lot of guys. There was one guy sitting on the sideline. [I] ran past him."

A look at the Broncos' preseason home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

Green said he feels like he's played with Siemian "for years," and that showed on Saturday night. Siemian connected with Green on both targets and said afterward that Saturday's starter at tight end did "a great job."

"He has done a good job all camp," Siemian said. "We've had a few guys get nicked and he's been a workhorse for us. He is one of the guys in the locker room that guys follow and look up to."

Jeff Heuerman missed Saturday's game with a hamstring injury and is having "a hard time staying healthy," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. Green has been consistently available since recovering from a finger injury that kept him out of OTAs in the spring.

"Virgil's been a warrior," Kubiak said. "He's stayed in there. He's been battling. This is an opportunity in Virgil's career to become a starter and he's obviously taking advantage of it."

Green recorded four catches, averaged 14.3 yards per catch and led the Broncos on Saturday with 57 receiving yards. Through two preseason games, Green has notched seven catches for 83 yards.

Should Green maintain this standing as a receiving threat in addition to his blocking capability, he'll be the two-way tight end that Anderson hopes the offense finds.

"I think it helps us a lot in the run game," Anderson said, "and I think it helps the receivers on the outside. You've got that safety that has to keep [his] eye on [Virgil] now and can't double [Demaryius Thomas] or can't double Emmanuel [Sanders]. We've got playmakers all over the field and he's just emerging as a playmaker and adds more tools to our toolbox."

After Saturday's game, though, Green was the main proponent of slowing the hype that accompanies that flashes he has shown through the first two weeks. He repeatedly mentioned that his production thus far doesn't guarantee anything for the rest of the preseason and beyond.

At this point, Green isn't ready to say for sure that 2016 will be his breakout season.

But there's at least a chance.

"You never know," Green said. "It's a long season. But if I keep doing things the way I'm supposed to do [them], it could very well be it."