The Denver Broncos play their second preseason game this afternoon when they take on the San Francisco 49ers in their new stadium. Head coach John Fox gave no indication of how long the starters would play, but an educated guess would be just over a quarter.
There are three specific players that I will be keeping my eye on in this game, starting with first round pick Bradley Roby.
Roby is expected to start and get extended playing time at cornerback. Chris Harris Jr. is not quite game ready and Kavon Webster suffered a mild ankle sprain in practice on Friday. Webster is not expected to miss much time and if this was a regular season game, he might be playing.
Roby had a slow start in training camp and often looked lost. However, the rookie has been much better lately and had a solid outing in the Broncos win over the Seattle Seahawks last week.
The 49ers will be a different test for Roby as he will be facing the first team offense, and playing with the starters on defense. Here are a couple of things to watch when Roby is on the field.
- Can he cover: Obviously this is the biggest question with any young cornerback. Roby must stop guessing and just play the receiver in front of him. Roby got away with mistakes in college because of his athletic ability, but everyone has that ability at this level. The Broncos are counting on him to contribute this season, and today will be a big test.
- Can he support the run: Roby’s best play last week was when he made a stop and forced a fumble on a running play. Defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio expects his corners to tackle and Roby must continue to prove he can do that. Roby will be a under a spotlight today but there are others to watch.
The talk of training camp has focused on the defensive line; both the talent and the depth. The one guy no one is talking about, though, is Malik Jackson and he graded out better than anyone versus the Seahawks.
Jackson, like Derek Wolfe, can play both defensive end and defensive tackle. That flexibility gives Del Rio so many options. Jackson could very well move inside on passing downs, giving the Broncos four elite pass rushers on the defensive line. Jackson does not get the press of his counterparts but keep any eye on him versus the 49ers, he’s about to become a household name.
The last guy I will be watching is the same one everyone else wants to see, running back Juwan Thompson. It will be interesting to see if Thompson gets some time with the first team. If he does, how will he handle it? Can he run with the same authority versus a very good defense? Does he know and execute his blocking assignments and is he comfortable playing alongside Peyton Manning?
Contrary to what some fans want to believe, Thompson is not going to be the opening night starter versus the Indianapolis Colts. However if he shows well again today, then he has a shot to make the team and contribute in 2014.
As for a couple of team goals; I would like to see the offense move the ball versus a good 49er defense and eliminate the mistakes.
Defensively, I just want to see more of what we saw versus the Seahawks. A consistent pass rush and guys flying around in the secondary. As with the offense, fewer penalties would be nice as well.
Mostly I just want to see everyone get up after every play, that would be the best thing that can happen today.