The first preseason game for the Denver Broncos is in the books. The Broncos defeated the Chicago Bears Thursday night 31-3 in a game that was full of big plays and intriguing performances.
The Broncos have now been at training camp for over two weeks and only have one week remaining.
They will be an interesting team to watch, no question. It isn't an accident that Denver will appear on prime-time television five times this season. We know that it will be a very different team from the 2011 version.
So what have we learned about the 2012 Denver Broncos?
What are some of the story-lines to keep an eye on?
Will this team be better than last year's group?
Or possibly worse?
Here are seven things that we have learned about the Denver Broncos so far.
And he probably won't even make the team.
There's obviously no question who the starter is. Peyton Manning is head and shoulders above the other contenders.
After that? It becomes a little murky.
Adam Weber, in just his second season, is currently listed as the fourth stringer. Yet in the game against the Bears Weber looked more poised than either No. 2 Caleb Hanie or No. 3 Brock Osweiler.
Weber finished the game 2-for-5 with 42 yards and a touchdown. But Weber played last and the game was well in hand by that time.
He looked confident and collected on his drives. He appears to feel comfortable in the offense and he has the tools to be a future starter in the league.
So why won't he make it? Wrong place at the wrong time.
The Broncos will undoubtedly keep the rookie Osweiler. They just spent a second round pick on him and think he may be the future starter.
And Caleb Hanie has the experience. He is beginning his fourth season in the league.
Weber may be the odd man out.
This change has been evident both in camp and in the victory over the Bears. Aggressive, physical, and swarming to the ball, the defense looks almost exactly opposite of last year's model.
That's what happens when you know that you will be able to score points. You can take some chances.
Did you notice the defenders attacking the football?
Jeremy Beal, Nate Irving, Mike Mohamed, and the rookie Derek Wolfe were prime examples of the differences from last season.
Head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have revamped this unit, and if they are consistent and stay healthy they could be really fun to watch.
After the season he had last year, nearly everyone recognizes the ability of placekicker Matt Prater.
Prater is currently the most accurate kicker in NFL history in kicks of over 50 yards. He has connected with 12 of 16 from long range. He was named the AFC Player of the Week twice in 2011.
Following the season, the Broncos named Prater their franchise player and then signed him to a four year contract.
What many casual fans might miss is that the Broncos' punter Britton Colquitt is a top performer as well. In 2011 he averaged 47.4 yards per kick and was second in the league in punts inside the 20 with 33.
Late in the first quarter against the Bears, the Broncos were leading 3-0 when they were forced to punt. Bears head coach Lovie Smith sent in Devin Hester to return in hopes of sparking his team and the home crowd. But Colquitt pinned Hester on the sideline back at his own nine yard line and Hester was brought down at the 15.
It doesn't show up in the box score, but that is an important play when the games actually do matter.
Oh, and Colquitt also holds for Prater's kicks.
The Broncos have a solid set of kickers.
Once again, the top spot is pretty well set.
Willis McGahee looked reborn last season in Denver.
In three seasons from 2008-2010 McGahee averaged just over 500 yards while playing with the Baltimore Ravens. Rumor had it that he was past his prime and on the downward slope of his career.
Then McGahee came to Denver and ran for nearly 1,200 yards.
He looks even better so far this year. On Thursday in Chicago he averaged four yards per carry in limited time.
After McGahee, there are bound to be some changes.
Knowshon Moreno's days in Denver may be numbered. He has struggled with his running style, preferring to juke and dance instead of going forward. He can't seem to stay healthy and a DUI following the season has many wondering if he will ever be as good as once advertised.
Lance Ball and Jeremiah Johnson are steady if not spectacular. Both run hard and are adequate blockers and pass receivers out of the backfield.
The man to watch here is Xavier Omon. A sixth round draft choice by the Bills in 2008 out of Northwest Missouri State, Omon is running well. At 5'11" and 227 pounds, he is a load to bring down. But the big man has an ability to change directions quickly and he will make defenders miss.
And we haven't even seen third round draft pick Ronnie Hillman in live action yet.
The running back group will be different from the one last year.
I like wide receiver Matthew Willis. He is tough, unafraid, and has great hands despite not being the fastest player on the field.
But he does not look comfortable returning kicks even though he managed to break one tackle on Thursday night and have a nice return to open the game.
Willis is reasonably solid with the ball but he clearly isn't a guy who will strike fear in the opposing team.
Rookie Omar Bolden had one return and time will tell if he can be a threat back there.
One player who does strike fear returning punts is third year cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson. He has the ideal disposition to be a dangerous returner. He goes forward. And he goes full speed. But can he be trusted on kickoffs to hold on to the ball?
When you're bringing in Peyton Manning on offense the last thing you need is a special teams turnover.
We still have three preseason games to go and the coaches are watching every day in practice. So, if anyone wants to be a kick returner, please step forward.
There is some great competition on this year's roster.
The wide receivers have players like Jason Hill, Cameron Kinney and Tyler Grisham.
Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson and newcomer Xavier Omon are making the running back battle highly competitive.
The defensive backfield has some vicious battles to sort out. Drayton Florence, Omar Bolden and Joshua Moore are all vying for playing time.
The linebackers, tight ends, and both sides of the Bronco trenches have numerous battles that will make for some extremely tough decisions.
This is one of the more closely contested training camps in recent years and there are going to be some very good players that will not make this roster.
We Bronco fans are very lucky. We have seen some amazing players and some memorable performances.
And we are now getting the opportunity to watch a legend.
Peyton Manning is already a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Now he is just adding to his resume.
He is a general on the field, putting people in the right positions, changing plays, and attacking defenses with the brilliance of a chess master.
He has looked strong in training camp after sitting out the 2011 season with a neck injury. And his touch is just getting better.
This is Michael Jordan. This is Wayne Gretzky. This is John Elway.
Enjoy watching this guy, Bronco fans. Players like this are rare, and we should know.