CANTON, Ohio — The history assaults the senses. From the moment you turn onto George Halas Drive, the sport engulfs you. Canton, Ohio, is the "Cradle of Professional Football," reminds the historical marker that stands outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Walk to the Hall and you can receive autographs from legends, shop for merchandise, and get your own customized HOF bust picture. Walk through the doors, and the interactive exhibits, lockers -- "My dad's looks great," Brittany Bowlen told Denver7 of her father Pat's display -- rings, helmets and busts open eyes and drop jaws.
For Broncos fans, this weekend stands in importance for one thing: the inductions of owner Pat Bowlen and cornerback Champ Bailey. The Broncos, long overshadowed among immortals, will usher in a pair and that cannot be overstated. Bowlen's record on the field and in negotiating TV and labor deals and expanding the league's global footprint remains unmatched. Going in with Bowlen adds significance to Bailey's honor.
"Absolutely. It's so rare for a player to go in with an owner, especially an owner you know and have been around. Someone you have laughed with, joked with," Bailey told me in April. "It's hard to explain, man. It really is because it's something you can't ever imagine happening and here we are and I am living it."
While Canton will be orange splashed Saturday for the induction ceremony, there is the little matter of a football game. The Broncos open the NFL's 100th season with a matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. Practices are quizzes. Games -- even ones that don't count -- are tests. Time to start the assessment.
My Denver7 Things to Watch For:
Will it be QB3?
Kevin Hogan starts. Great guy. Smart. Hard worker. And the unlucky starter no one wants to see. Rookie Drew Lock fascinates the masses because of his breathtaking arm talent. And yet, his Missouri offense did him no favors. He never huddled or worked under center and was allowed to play off script. He must fine tune his footwork and field vision, while learning to take calculated chances -- the NFL is turnover averse. And yes, calling plays is part of the challenge. He had two-word plays at Missouri. They are closer to 15 words now. That will be a work in progress and makes me think it's possible, if not likely, that the Broncos carry three quarterbacks on the active roster entering the season. If the failed Paxton Lynch experiment taught the Broncos anything, it's that they can't rush Lock and miss again on the future at this position.
Coach Vic Fangio praised Garett Bolles this week, saying he's "hands down" the starter at left tackle. Even if it is for a series, I want to see Bolles' improvement in a game after his strong camp. The Broncos need him to be steady and stop holding. He has been flagged for 29 penalties in his first two seasons. Elijah Wilkinson is enjoying a good summer, but is playing right tackle as Ja'Wuan James recovers from a leg injury. Other things to keep an eye on: Will Connor McGovern be perfect on his snaps, no matter how few has has? And will left guard Dalton Risner continue mauling opponents in his pro debut?
The time for talk is over. The Broncos must develop effective punt and kick returners. Especially punt returners. While River Cracraft and DaeSean Hamilton could fill the void, Trinity Benson and Kelvin McKnight are intriguing options. The Broncos plan to sign Theo Riddick, per sources. When he arrives, he will give them an additional weapon on special teams.
The Broncos defense will be better for three seasons: coaching, additional starting talent and more depth. The depth will be the focus tonight as the starters will barely play, if at all. I am interested to see Isaac Yiadom, Will Parks, Su'a Cravens and Dymonte Thomas get some run -- Thomas grew up a stone's throw from Canton so it will be easy to know when he's in the game. Upfront, Dre'Mont Jones returns to Ohio after starring at Ohio State. Will he make plays tonight, and is all the chatter about DeMarcus Walker being the most improved player going to crystallize? He's fighting for a roster spot.
The Broncos believe they can finally solve their lack of production with this year's tight ends. The Broncos boast Jeff Heuerman, Noah Fant, Troy Fumagalli and Jake Butt. Butt's knee recovery, however, has opened up reps for Austin Fort. Will the former Wyoming standout be one of the players we are talking about on Friday morning? He projects as a practice squad player right now, but nothing is settled.
Outside the Box
We all know the Broncos have two of the best gameplan wreckers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. But where's the depth? Jeff Holland has been quiet in camp. Can he make plays tonight? And what about Justin Hollins, the kid from Oregon? He has uncommon versatility. Both need strong preseasons at a position that looks thin on paper.
Put me in Coach
Fangio makes his head coaching debut after four decades as an assistant in high school, college and the pros. How will he manage the pace of the game? Where will he stand -- he will seek an endzone view when the Broncos are on defense, eschewing the line of scrimmage. How will he act? He plans to throw the first challenge on interference. In the end, victories don't matter in the preseason. But discipline and consistency do.