Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills: Key Position Battles to Keep an Eye on
With the second preseason game coming up in Denver, the Broncos' players are in the thick of position battles across the board.
The coaching staff looks to see what improvements have been made at key areas of emphasis, especially at the running back position and the free safety spot.
This week's matchup against the Buffalo Bills is the perfect proving ground for the coaches' observations, and to see how the players respond at full speed.
I present to you the key battles and matchups to watch for, as well as the improvements the Broncos have made with personnel and how the team will gel as a whole.
Kyle Orton: First Team Snaps
John Fox hasn’t revealed how many snaps Orton will see in the second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, but I believe it will be similar to last week.
Orton will likely see more than just the single series he got against the Cowboys, but I don’t see Fox leaving Orton in beyond the first quarter.
Orton had the most underwhelming performance among the starting quarterbacks, but remains the clear starter. Look for Orton to build on last week’s performance. He needs to show that he can handle the offense under pressure as heavy pressure will likely be in his face in the limited action he sees.
Tim Tebow: 2nd and 3rd Quarters
Tim Tebow will likely relieve Orton at the start of the second quarter. Tebow needs to show maturity from his first preseason game in 2011 in his snaps against Buffalo.
Improvisation against the speedy pass rush will likely be the coaches’ greatest concern. He needs to stay in the pocket and complete passes down the field.
If Tebow turns over the ball or makes any particular “stupid” mistakes, he will have Brady Quinn breathing down his neck.
Brady Quinn: 4th Quarter
Brady Quinn will come in at the end of the game with the third and fourth-stringers. This could change if Tebow stumbles early on, and Quinn could be brought in to show what he can do with a little better talent around him.
Quinn looked good against the Cowboys and the coaching staff is eager to see if he has made strides since last week. Quinn needs to orchestrate some long drives ending in touchdowns to improve his status.
Adam Weber, the team’s fourth-string quarterback with likely see very limited play, if any play at all, in the second preseason game.
Running Backs: Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee
The new regime in Denver has made the running game a point of emphasis. Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee will be the centerpieces of the team’s new focus.
In the first preseason game, the tandem picked up 40 yards on six carries. They will be called upon to carry the offense this season. Look for more of the same in the second preseason game against the Bills.
The other bright spot in the running game to look out for was the emergence of Jeremiah Johnson, who rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown last week. The Broncos released shaky veteran LenDale White last week after seeing Johnson’s stellar play, indicating that Johnson will make the 2011 team and backup Moreno and McGahee.
Defensive Tackles: Brodrick Bunkley and Kevin Vickerson
The other point of emphasis for the Broncos this season will be stopping the run. The Broncos were 31st in the league last season against the run. The team surrendered an average 154.6 yards per game in 2011.
To remedy this glaring issue, the staff brought in two key acquisitions in the offseason: Ty Warren and Brodrick Bunkley.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, Warren is going to miss significant time this season. He is undergoing surgery to repair a tear in his tricep muscle, and the Broncos are hopeful that they will have him back for a couple games at the very end of the season. The other loss for the Broncos on the same day was Marcus Thomas, who was injured the same day with a pectoral injury. It appears that Thomas’ injury is less severe and he will only be out for the preseason.
The Broncos will now rely heavily on Bunkley, a key acquisition through trade the Broncos made with the Eagles this offseason, whom the Broncos listed in last week’s depth chart as the starting nose tackle. Bunkley must demonstrate why he was brought in to Denver this week and bottle up Bills’ rushers Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Kevin Vickerson was a holdover from last season’s Broncos, and he looks to secure a starting spot in the Broncos' defense. Vickerson needs to win over the coaching staff and show that he can be counted on to be the starting defensive tackle if he wants to see much playing time this year.
Pass Rush: Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller
The coaching staff is very high on the prospects of the Dumervil-Miller sack attack and the problem that they will pose for opposing offenses. Dumervil is coming off a season-ending injury in 2010 and needs to demonstrate the quickness and tenacity he brought initially to Denver in his first two seasons. In his best season, the Doom racked up 17 sacks to lead the league in 2009.
Von Miller is arguably the best prospect from the 2011 NFL draft. He is a fast, sack master. He needs to adjust to the speed of the game in the NFL and the preseason is the perfect way to do that. He needs to be able to translate the raw talent he displayed in college to the NFL to show the coaching staff he was worth such a high pick.
Miller was relatively quiet in the first preseason game against the Cowboys, but look for Miller to make some noise against the Bills this week.
Rookie Safety Battle: Rahim Moore and Kyle McCarthy
Rahim Moore turned heads when he was announced as the starting free safety on the initial depth chart the Broncos released in 2011.
His undrafted, second year counterpart, Kyle McCarthy, turned heads in the first preseason game against Dallas.
The two young safeties are in a battle to demonstrate who deserves the starting job at free safety, and the battle will likely be determined through the four preseason games the Broncos have this offseason.
Moore needs to clean up some of the errors he made against the Cowboys last week. One specifically stands out late in the game when a wide receiver was wide open after Moore was lured on a fake to one side of the field while his responsibility on the opposite side of the field ran free for a touchdown.
In contrast, McCarthy wasn’t on anyone’s radar before his stand-out performance against the Cowboys last week. McCarthy made three tackles in the first preseason game, one of them a sack of Cowboys’ quarterback Stephen McGee. He came untouched on a safety blitz, lighting up the unsuspecting McGee.