Jussel: Broncos’ final preseason game a tuneup for real thing

Preseason is at an end tonight for the Denver Broncos.

Preparation for the regular-season opener against the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens has begun. Coaches at Dove Valley will have spent little, if any, time this week worrying about preseason foe Arizona, instead thinking of ways to ground the Ravens for real on Sept. 5.

Those of you hoping to get a glance of your favorite player in the preseason finale against the Cardinals had better hope your favorite player is Brock Osweiler, or Zac Dysert, or Omar Bolden.

More familiar names, such as Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady or even Manny Ramirez, are going to sit this one out. First-teamers on both sides of the ball, other than maybe an occasional stray, will be wandering the sidelines, saving game faces for the next week.

The Broncos have been in camp for more than a month, and the coaching staff knows the best players at each position. The preseason finale is simply to help make decisions on who best can step in if (and when) injuries occur.

So, what’s left for the Broncos prior to kicking off against the Ravens?

As one might suspect from what has been a terribly inconsistent three previous preseason games, there is still the running back battle between Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno.

Hillman has fumbled away a huge opportunity, fumbling three times and losing the ball twice with both of those returned for touchdowns. Moreno has looked the best, but his repeated injury-prone past and present continues to haunt him in the eyes of the coaching staff.

And Ball is one of those backs who needs to run the ball a bunch, but to do that he has to be on the field a bunch. His pass-blocking prowess, or rather lack thereof, has prevented that.

At the very least, a short-term solution will be determined against the Cardinals.

Offensively, the rest of the positions are settled.

Clady is back from shoulder surgery and will be good to go against old friend Elvis Dumervil and the Ravens. Ramirez has held on to the starting center job, and Louis Vasquez has moved in nicely as right guard. Old reliable Zane Beadles will be at left guard and Orlando Franklin at right tackle.

Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have looked good at wide receiver, and new slot receiver Wes Welker also will be good to go against Baltimore, with Welker having sat out the third preseason game with an ankle sprain (although he said he would have played had it been for real).

The tight end situation has featured Julius Thomas, with Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme both injured. All will be contributors pending offensive formations. With Welker in the mix, there will be fewer two-tight-end formations this season.

As for the defensive side of the ball, Champ Bailey has a foot injury and is questionable for the regular-season opener. That has brought Quentin Jammer back into the equation at Bailey’s left cornerback position.

Jammer was brought in to help out as a nickel back or at free safety, but he’s been struggling in the safety spot. He was a full-time starter with the Chargers on the corner and will see plenty of action against the Cardinals.

Other D-backs to keep your eye on tonight will be safety Duke Ihenacho and corner Kayvon Webster, both of whom have worked their way into five- and six-back schemes, maybe in Ihenacho’s case, even into a starting position.

The linebacking corps, unsettled to the max with the Von Miller Situation, is in need of a six-game solution that will involve plenty of situational scheming on the part of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

The only linebacker who is a certainty to be on the field in virtually every situation is Wesley Woodyard.

Tonight, players like Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving, Shaun Phillips, Steven Johnson and newly signed Paris Lenon will be trying to at least make an imprint in coaches’ minds.

Tonight’s game against the Cardinals, for those of you who have the stomach for second-stringers and beyond, will be televised locally by KKCO (Channel 11) starting at 7 p.m. Radio, as usual, will be KSTR-FM (96.1).

Curiosity always gets the best of me in these mostly meaningless situations, and I’ll be watching, continuing to tune up for games that really matter just more than a week away.

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.

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