DENVER -- Trevor Siemian starts Saturday night. It sets up for a chance for him to serve for the match. The Broncos quarterback competition, which began in April, became interesting in June and real during training camp, is nearing a conclusion. Coach Gary Kubiak prefers to name his season-opening starter next week in advance of the third preseason game, a dress rehearsal for the first-stringers.
For the most important evaluation date, Siemian receives the opportunity to play a quarter and a half, almost all of which will be with starters. Mark Sanchez follows with a similar amount, but it's unlikely receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and running back C.J. Anderson will be going deep into the third quarter.
So this is a huge moment for Siemian. And that's where the weekly Take Five questions begin for the Broncos first preseason home game.
1) What does Kubiak need to see from Trevor Siemian?
I have outlined on numerous occasions the multiple factors the Broncos use to grade their quarterbacks: accuracy, footwork, timing, pre-snap reads and formations, among others. Those apply to Siemian. He must perform, and take care of the ball. As I have said, the Broncos would love Alex Smith numbers form their quarterback this season. But the intangibles will carry significant weight in Siemian's case.
He's inheriting a Super Bowl champion team. Can he lead? Can he take charge of the huddle? Can he motivate? Players I've talked to describe Siemian as unflappable, cautioning that his lack of rah-rah personality should not be interpreted as passiveness. His knowledge of the offense breeds confidence in teammates. But will it translate in a game situation? Pat Fitzgerald, Siemian's coach at Northwestern, told me he believes Siemian's best football is ahead of him, something he almost never sees in college players. Saturday, Siemian needs to prove it, showing he's in the lead at the QB spot with strong leadership.
2) What can Mark Sanchez do to win the job?
Sanchez has been everything the Broncos wanted as a leader, as a teammate, as a tireless worker. Then why isn't he the guy? The turnovers. He has had multiple picks in training camp. Some showed a player taking chances. But repeated mistakes created pause. Even with his stellar first drive against the Chicago Bears last week, Sanchez provided a blemish with an interception on his third drive when he stared down Bennie Fowler, allowing the Bears corner to leave Cody Latimer underneath and tip the pass for a pick. Sanchez isn't out of the competition. It just no longer feels like he controls his own destiny. At this point his mission is clear: throw down a perfect night against San Francisco and see where it leaves him.
3) Is tight end becoming a worrisome position?
Prior to training camp, coach Kubiak told me he was concerned about the tight end position. Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman both missed time with injuries. Green has been solid in camp, admitting his finger injury has finally healed from surgeries. But Heuerman remains a mystery. He's battled a hamstring injury throughout the summer, minimizing his impact. The Broncos re-signed tight end Manasseh Garner on Friday after placing defensive end Vance Walker on season-ending injured reserve. Garner provides depth with Heuerman and Garrett Graham (shoulder) dealing with injuries. It has created additional reps for John Phillips and Henry Krieger-Coble to try and make the roster. For the offense to function at its optimum level, it needs two strong tight ends.
4) Will RB Ronnie Hillman make the team or someone else's?
Ronnie Hillman, the Broncos' leading rusher last season, is fighting for a roster spot. He is playing on kick return, and needs to show some special teams acumen to edge out hard-charging Kapri Bibbs. It's hard to see both making it. It creates an interesting scenario for Hillman, who is running third team behind C.J. Anderson and rookie Devontae Booker. If Hillman has a terrific showing will it keep him on the roster or make him a viable trade candidate for another team?
5) Who are players to keep an eye on against the 49ers?
When the Broncos cut to 75 players on Aug. 30 and 53 by Sept. 3, there will be teams looking to scoop up their defense castoffs. Denver boasts ridiculous depth. So defensive ends like Vontarrius Dora and Eddie Yarbrough could attract the attention of suitors. Both bring strong pass-rushing skills. In that regard, this is a key game for Kyle Peko to put his stamp on a roster spot. Also, keep an eye on the punting competition between Britton Colquitt and Riley Dixon. Colquitt is solid. Dixon has a huge leg, but if he can't be a functional holder on field goals it's hard to see him making it. And the return jobs remain open with Jordan Norwood, Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison in the mix.