Jussel: Broncos have looked good, but it’s only preseason
The Denver Broncos are undefeated.
They have been impressive in winning two games against powerful foes in Seattle and San Francisco, and the bandwagon is filled with a chortling choir.
Slow down, folks. It’s preseason, and the Broncos are still 0-0.
And keep this in mind: The Broncos open on Sept. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts, one of the teams that beat them last season. They then play AFC West rival Kansas City in Week 2, followed by the defending champion Seahawks in Week 3 in Seattle, where visitors simply never win.
Yes, the Broncos have looked awfully good so far in preseason, and, yes, there is reason to smile. But it’s not that far-fetched to think the Broncos could be 0-3 heading into their Week 4 bye.
More than likely, Denver will be 2-1 heading to the early season bye (a blessing or a curse to have a bye that early?), but this, the Third Year of Peyton, will not be easy, not as easy as 34-0 over the 49ers last week and not as easy as 21-16 over the ‘Hawks in the preseason opener.
So, what to anticipate tonight as the Broncos finish off a week of hosting the Houston Texans for practice sessions?
The first thing I want to watch is the offensive line’s performance against a stout Texans front seven led by All-Pro J.J. Watt, with maybe brief appearances from No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, a pass-rushing demon.
Clowney sustained a neck injury this week in practice in Denver and might not play. Even if he doesn’t play, the Texans are physical up front and will provide a good test.
Speaking of the Denver offensive line, keep watching Grand Junction’s Ben Garland, No. 63, playing left guard.
The Central High School grad made a bad play on his first series last week against the 49ers, allowing a rusher to get inside and pressure Manning, but he was rock solid the rest of the way.
He is still very much in the roster hunt and should see enough reps over the next two games to give the coaching staff plenty of fodder for evaluation, and that can’t do anything but help a salary-cap bargain who is quickly adapting to a new position.
Tonight’s contest will be the last preseason game that will give extended playing time to regulars, with most of them traditionally sitting out the final preseason game.
Offensively, the biggest battle for playing time has been at running back, with starter Montee Ball needing an appendectomy early in camp and C.J. Anderson sustaining a concussion. Ball is back in practice, but he won’t play tonight, and Anderson will split reps with Ronnie Hillman as they battle for the second slot on the depth chart behind Ball.
Make mine Anderson, as I still haven’t seen Hillman show off the explosiveness he was supposed to possess when he was the third draft choice two seasons ago.
Also still in the picture as the preseason window closes is ex-Colorado State star Kapri Bibbs, who is one good run or two away from a practice-squad spot. The practice squad, by the way, was expanded from eight to 10 this week by the NFL.
We’re still waiting to see anything from Emmanuel Sanders, the free agent from Pittsburgh who was signed to replace Eric Decker at wide receiver. He has been hampered by a quad injury and is questionable tonight. That will allow second-round draft choice Cody Latimer more opportunity to shine.
Don’t look now, but Latimer could be in the starting lineup by the season opener.
Defensively, the interior line has been exceptional in showing off its depth, and Brandon Marshall was the team’s leading tackler last week as he replaced injured starter Danny Trevathan at the weak-side linebacking spot, which means so far, so good on the injury front.
Speaking of injuries, tonight should mark the return to action of Bronco star linebacker Von Miller from ACL surgery. Miller practiced all week in pads and will see limited time tonight.
Also, keep watching No. 1 draft pick Bradley Roby, who will probably be in a starting role at one of the corner spots. Starter Chris Harris is still out as he recovers from knee surgery, and Kayvon Webster, who was battling with Roby for playing time, sustained an ankle injury in practice and is questionable tonight.
Roby will have to defend against two super receivers, Andre Johnson, one of the league’s best veterans, and young star-in-the-making DeAndre Hopkins.
Good luck with that, son.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one. His Broncos-related columns also are published on SI.com’s “Predominantly Orange” and “Fan-sided” websites.