Jussel: Plenty to see in Broncos’ preseason opener

They’re back!

Sure, it’s only preseason, and sure, first-teamers won’t see much action after the referee has blown his whistle maybe a dozen times.

But, it’s football, and it’s the Denver Broncos.

Thursday, the Broncos will be in San Francisco for a glorified scrimmage against one of the teams expected to give the Denver boys some competition in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos and 49ers, according to Bovada website, are 6-1 co-favorites to win it all.

A good way to start the preseason, eh?

Let’s get the nuts and bolts out of the way early.

The game will be telecast locally by KKCO (Channel 11). KUSA out of Denver will be providing the feed, with Kevin Burkhardt doing the play-by-play and former Bronco John Lynch providing the prerequisite analysis (as if we needed it).

Burkhardt is a newcomer to the Bronco telecasts, joining KUSA after working Dallas Cowboys games. This season, he will begin his first year calling NFL games on FOX.

And just so you don’t have to go scrambling throughout the preseason, know that the Seattle game on Aug. 17 and the home game against Arizona on Aug. 29 also will be broadcast by KKCO locally, with the third preseason game Aug. 24 in Denver against the Rams to be a nationally televised CBS affair.

If you find you need listen to the radio, all preseason and regular-season games will be broadcast locally by KSTR-FM (96.1), with old standby Dave Logan doing the play-by-play and Ed McCaffrey doing color. It will be McCaffrey’s first full season providing commentary after being a guest commentator for three radio games with Logan in 2009.

So much for the broadcasts.

Now, here are my five top items to watch for Thursday:

■ No. 1 is running back, where second-year man Ronnie Hillman is battling rookie Montee Ball.

Focus not so much on their running abilities — the two have very different styles — but on what may make the final decision on who starts the season No. 1 on the depth chart: the ability to protect the quarterback. Both of these youngsters will have plenty of work to do as blockers, and it should be relatively easy to follow their progress.

You know head coach John Fox and running backs coach Eric Studesville will be paying close attention, as will the guy who is being protected, quarterback Peyton Manning.

■ No. 2, check out the patchwork offensive line against one of the best defenses in football.

Tackle Ryan Clady won’t play, and the other tackle, Orlando Franklin, may not play after an early week injury. Also, watch the play of Manny Ramirez at center and look for the newly signed Ryan Lilja to make a brief appearance.

■ No. 3, let’s see how new free-agent wide receiver Wes Welker fits in.

Manning will certainly want to get him in the flow and comfortable quickly, and he might play a bit more than other regulars just for that reason.

■ No. 4, and it really doesn’t need be mentioned, but we just can’t help it: Let’s watch Manning and the quicker pace of offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

Does Denver really want a significantly faster pace, and, if so, will we see it rear its head this early in preseason? And while we’re at it, let’s pay close attention to the whims of Manning, who hates to sit on the sideline even in preseason. Will he allow backup quarterback Brock Osweiler to get in some much-needed work?

■ No. 5 is newcomers on defense.

Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams will be on the inside of the line. Shaun Phillips is backing up, at least for now, Von Miller at linebacker, and Nate Irving is taking over at middle linebacker.

Also watch the battle for pecking-order points at the safety slots, with former practice squad member Duke Ihenacho and veteran special teams player David Bruton reportedly pushing hard for starting spots with incumbents Mike Adams and Rahim Moore.

There you have it, nuts and bolts and Denver Bronco preseason football.

We can all breathe easier now.

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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