QB Tim Tebow in Denver's preseason 23-24 loss to Dallas
Denver went into its first preseason game against Dallas with more than a few questions that needed to be addressed. Many were interested in seeing how Tim Tebow fared after a poor showing in last week's scrimmage at Invesco Field, while others seemed to think that Von Miller's development was the most important factor facing the Broncos in the short-term.
Many questions still remain, but here are five things about the Broncos that we learned from their 24-23 OT loss to Dallas in their preseason opener.
Yes, yes. We know. Kyle Orton is the Broncos starting Quarterback. And no, Tim Tebow really isn't ready for prime-time just yet, but he shows flashes of brilliance that show just how valuable his talent could be to the Broncos. Tebow made a few big throws, with the signature play being a 46-yard strike to WR Matt Willis from deep in Broncos territory.
Thursday was a good night for Tebow statistically too, he went 6 for 7 for 91 yards in his first action in 2011. While he had a few bad passes, good fortune seemed to shine down on Tebow, like the terrible throw he delivered on an interception that was nullified due to a pass interference penalty. Tebow also had a clear first down on a slant that he threw behind Willis, forcing the Broncos to settle for a field goal after the receiver was tackled immediately upon the catch. Brady Quinn followed Tebow's performance with a nice one of his own, going 8-14 with 120 yards.
After the very public dressing-down Merill Hoge gave Tebow last week, and another wave of negative comments coming from former Broncos QB Brian Griese during the local broadcast of the Broncos preseason opener, Tebow's at least given his critics something to think about.
Or as Tebow would say, "'ppreciate that."
The Broncos had hoped to keep free agent Tackle Ryan Harris around this offseason for a big reason, to give rookied Tackle Orlando Franklin time to develop. With Harris moving on to the Philadelphia Eagle's best impersonation of the Washington Redksins, the former Miami Hurricane has been forced to step up, and in a hurry.
But Franklin has played well this off-season. Going against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller everyday in practice has done a good job of accelerating his progress.
The Broncos biggest question, though, is not with the first-team offensive line. It's with everyone (or maybe more appropriately, anyone?) that's playing behind them. Once the starters left the field, the Broncos running game suffered a marked downturn.
The good news? Franklin has played both the interior and exterior of the offensive line, while Zane Beadles and Russ Hochstein have the versatility to play all three interior spots. What that means is that even if the Broncos O-Line sustains a major injury during the season, they should have the flexibility necessary to continue playing well.
If they suffer multiple injuries? They're in big trouble.
Lance Ball came into the game listed as the team's third-string Running Back, but he's going to need a strong performance over the next few games to maintain his spot on the depth chart. His 8 rushes for 15 yards in the preseason opener did not help.
Lendale White, in his third season with the Broncos, looked slightly better with 10 yards on 4 carries. But, the stand out in Denver's backfield in the second half was by far Jeremiah Johnson, who's downhill running style seemed to fit well with the Broncos newly-re-found zone blocking scheme.
Johnson ran for 28 yards on 4 carries, the longest being a 13 yard scamper for a TD. With RB Brandon Minor having 11 yards on 6 carries, Johnson's spot on the roster seems to get more secure as each day passes.
Doom & Gloom.
That's all Broncos opponents are going to be thinking about this year.
Elvis Dumervil return and Von Miller's debut for the Broncos may mark something of a watershed moment for the franchise. The Broncos, once known for their fierce "Orange Crush" defense, had underperformed immensely in recent year, but things seem to be a bit different now.
Although Dumervil and Miller were only in for one drive and the first play of the Cowboy's second drive they both made their impacts felt early. Dumervil was back to his old self, collapsing the pocket on Tony Romo's blindside while Miller was causing havoc on the opposite side of the line, their combined pressure forced two incompletions.
Third downs just got a whole lot easier for Broncos fans to stomach this year.
The Broncos biggest need going into the 2011 offseason was their need at Defensive Tackle, and it looks like the team is still trying to figure it out.
Ty Warren, the former New England Patriot and one of the presumed starters, is still recovering from injuries. What may surprise most people was that the best performances from Broncos' DTs in their first preseason game came from holdovers from the McDaniels-era, and not the free agents the Broncos have been signing recently.
After a few big runs early on in the game, Marcus Thomas stood his man up on the line of scrimmage and simply overpowered him on the way to plugging up a stretch play on the Broncos first drive. Kevin Vickerson, who recently re-signed with Denver on a two-year deal, had two big tackles and a pass knocked down at the line.
There's a couple ways to see this. First, the players who aren't supposed to be as talented as the Broncos free agents are stepping up their play and doing their best to earn playing time in the regular season. Or, the Broncos' newly-acquired veterans don't have much upside.
Guess there are just some answers that will have to wait until Week 2.