DENVER — The preseason demands context given the meaningless nature of the game and the lack of star players on the field. Yet, for the Broncos, Monday night matters. Everything does when you are trying to tunnel to light following back-to-back seasons that included 12 losses by double digits. With head coach Vic Fangio in charge, all signs are beginning to point in the right direction, though patience is required with a top-heavy roster and the NFL decree the Broncos play in the AFC West against Super Bowl contenders the Chiefs and Chargers.
Quarterback Joe Flacco makes his preseason home debut, and is expected to play a quarter or slightly more. The entire first-string offensive line is expected to accompany him with right guard Ron Leary telling Denver7 he is line to start. Tonight also boasts the return of star receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has looked brilliant in practice, but wants to build up endurance in a game after rupturing his Achilles on Dec. 5 last year.
Sanders leads my list of Denver7 things to watch:
Go deep, Emmanuel
The Broncos need Sanders healthy and productive. Any doubt was erased last week. When he was on the field, the Broncos looked better. And when Denver came out flat in Friday’s practice, it was Sanders who reminded teammates “to run the energy” on Saturday. They did. Now, it’s time to see Sanders peel off another layer of bubble wrap. If Flacco doesn’t attempt two deep passes to Sanders it will be disappointing.
Phil it up
Phillip Lindsay didn’t have a great practice Friday. And those moments are the best things to happen to him. It tightens his focus, makes him better. Like many, I am not crazy about playing starters in the preseason. But if that’s the call, then get Lindsay five touches tonight.
Put it in Drive, Joe
Flacco was fine in his first outing against Seattle. He completed 3-of-4 passes for 19 yards In his 12th season; Flacco doesn’t need exhibition games. However, it can’t hurt as he re-learns an offense he last ran in 2014. What is the goal for Flacco? At least one touchdown drive.
Messy in the middle
Clarity is needed at inside linebacker. I know Fangio has better coverage plans than my cellphone. However, the Broncos are thin at inside linebacker with Todd Davis (calf) likely out until the season opener and Josey Jewell returning from an oblique injury and not considered strong in the passing game. Will someone among the group of Alexander Johnson, Justin Hollins, Josh Watson and Keishawn Berria separate from the pack? Johnson is a physical marvel, who continues to shake off rust. Hollins is an intriguing weapon to cover tight ends because of his size and speed.
The Broncos don’t have the luxury to continue covering for underachieving special teams. They desperately need better from punter Colby Wadman, who struggled last week with low line drives, and the punt returners. To concede that they need someone not to fumble is a losing mentality. If someone doesn’t emerge by this time next week, it’s time to scour the waiver-wire or add a player after final cuts. River Cracraft, Devontae Jackson, Kelvin McKnight and Nick Williams are among the contenders.
No trainer’s room
Listen, Fangio remains of the mind that preseason games are necessary to prepare. The Rams and Bears are among the teams sitting their starters and more teams are leaning on adding joint practices as a way to get ready. That said, the Broncos need to stay healthy, especially Von Miller, Chris Harris, Bradley Chubb, and the O-line. You get the picture. The Broncos have lost running back Theo Riddick, fullback Andy Janovich and linebacker Joe Jones for at least two weeks into the season. Hopefully, it stops there.
Lock it up
Drew Lock will likely enter the game in the second quarter with another opportunity to secure the No. 2 spot. There’s a lot to like about Lock. It starts with the talent, and it ends with the fact that he cares. He is his own worst critic. He puts in the work. That’s a good sign. The Broncos could still carry three quarterbacks, but Lock has a chance to show why that’s not necessary over the next three games.