Denver Broncos: 5 Things to Watch for in First Preseason Game

Travis Wakeman@@traviswakeman10Featured Columnist IVAugust 8, 2012

Denver Broncos: 5 Things to Watch for in First Preseason Game

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    The Denver Broncos will open their 2012 preseason Thursday night against the Chicago Bears.

    While most fans are so eager to see Peyton Manning in a game situation they can hardly stand it, they likely won't see him for more than a series, maybe two.

    Yes, it's just a preseason game and it doesn't count, right? That's true, but it's also critical for the evaluation process for the Broncos to field the best possible team once the games do matter.

    With that said, the Broncos have many things to iron out before the season starts, from determining the winners of certain position battles to finding someone to spark the return game.

    With the regular season opening in just a little over one month, these preseason games, as well as what's left of training camp, will be important for this team.

    Here is a look at five things to keep your eye on Thursday night.

Hanie vs. Weber

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    There is little doubt that second-round draft pick Brock Osweiler will be groomed to someday take over for Peyton Manning. But in 2012, he likely won't see much of the field. That could mean that the backup job could go to either Caleb Hanie or Adam Weber.

    The Broncos will be in deep trouble if they ever have to turn to Hanie or Weber, but they do need a backup for Manning.

    Hanie is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart, but they will give Weber an equal opportunity to win the job, which would probably be a surprise.

    Hanie probably has a slight advantage, serving as a backup for the team they play Thursday night, the Bears, for years. After Jay Cutler left the 2010 NFC Championship game with an injury, Hanie came in and gave the Bears a chance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers.

    Weber, on the other hand, has never thrown a regular season pass in the NFL, spending the 2011 season on the Broncos practice squad. 

    But who knows? Osweiler may prove to be so talented that he leapfrogs both of these guys and serves as the No. 2 quarterback.

Setting Up a Return Game

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    During his time in Denver, Eddie Royal had three touchdowns on punt or kick returns and averaged 24.1 yards per kick return. When San Diego signed him as a free agent, it left Denver with a hole in its return game.

    Who will the Broncos send back for punts and kicks? In training camp, Tracy Porter, Syd'Quan Thompson, Matt Willis, Eric Decker and Lance Ball have all been asked to handle the task.

    In the case of a guy like Willis, it may be the difference in him making the team or not if he proves he can handle the responsibility.

Which Wide Receiver Will Step Up

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    Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker can pretty much be penciled in as the starting wide receivers for the Broncos. But what about the battle for the slot position between Andre Caldwell and Brandon Stokley?

    With D'Andre Goodwin going down with a season-ending ankle injury, it makes it that much easier for one of the Broncos' young, unknown receivers to emerge from the pack as someone who deserves to be on the team.

    Those receivers include Jason Hill, Matt Willis, Gerell Robinson, Mark Dell and Tyler Grisham. Greg Orton and Cameron Kenney, who was recently claimed off waivers, have to be considered long shots to make the team.

    Expect the Broncos to keep six or seven receivers on the roster and expect it to be the most fun to watch, hardest fought position battle of the preseason.

The Linebacker Position

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    Linebacker has become one of the more intriguing positions for these Broncos in the offseason.

    Of course, there's the quandary of what to do with D.J. Williams, who looks to be out for the first six games of the season due to suspension.

    It's a safe bet to say that Von Miller and Joe Mays will be starters, but that weak-side linebacker position will be a key cog in the defense. So without Williams, who fills it?

    The smart money is on Wesley Woodyard, who has always proven to be a capable player when called upon. Behind Woodyard, the Broncos also have sixth-round pick Danny Trevathan, who has been taking advice from Broncos great Karl Mecklenburg.

    Nate Irving will make the team and Steven Johnson has made some nice plays in camp. Beyond that, the Broncos recently brought in veteran Keith Brooking, who brings a wealth of experience along with nearly 1,000 career tackles and 13 interceptions to the team.

    With the talent Denver will soon realize it has at linebacker, D.J. Williams will be expendable.

Can Knowshon Moreno Make This Team?

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    It's now or never for the former first-round pick and one of the few major pieces remaining from the Josh McDaniels era.

    With Mario Fannin being placed on season-ending injured reserve for the second consecutive year, competition has been reduced in the Broncos backfield.

    According the Broncos' first released depth chart, Moreno is looking up at Ronnie HIllman, Lance Ball and Willis McGahee.

    However, the Broncos will likely keep four backs, meaning Knowshon just needs to out-perform Jeremiah Johnson and Xavier Omon and he should be safe.

    John Elway has said that if the team keeps four running backs, they will all be used.

    All of this bodes well for Moreno, who has been a bubble player to make the roster all offseason. A solid performance in the first preseason game on Thursday would only help his cause, so hopefully, for Moreno's sake, he makes the most of his opportunities, for they may be his last, at least in Denver.