ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Thursday, football is finally back for the boys in Orange and Blue.
Well, for the most part. As the team hits the field against the Chicago Bears, it will be the first time that the 2017 Denver Broncos have faced an opponent other than themselves.
Although it’s “just” a preseason game, and thus will have no meaning in the standings, there will be many important implications as to how the final roster will be composed for the opening of the regular season, Sept. 11, against the Los Angeles Chargers.
As a first-time head coach, Vance Joseph called the first exhibition game “huge” for himself as well as for many players on the roster — specifically mentioning the quarterbacks.
With different parts of the team at different stages of development — an unknown starting quarterback and a defense scattered with Pro-Bowl players — the way Joseph and his staff handle the first preseason game will be anything but straightforward. Here’s what to expect and look for as the Broncos take on the Bears.
Heavy Dose of QBs
In a typical preseason, the starting quarterback will progress from playing a few series the first game to a little over a quarter the second game to a half or three quarters the third game.
In 2017, the Broncos quarterback situation is anything but typical, meaning they won’t follow that progression. With Trevor Siemian getting the start on Thursday, he and Paxton Lynch are expected to “each get a quarter, quarter-and-a-half, but no more than a quarter-and-a-half,” according to Joseph.
“Probably a quarter, it depends on how the game is going,” he added. “The average plays per quarter in preseason are 15, 16 plays. We want to get those guys probably a little bit more than that so we can have a fair evaluation there, but max a quarter-and-a-half.”
Additionally, Joseph said that “some” of the Broncos’ starters will stay in the game once Lynch comes in.
Nearly Dormant Defense
The defense won’t put in a full night’s work against the Bears. In fact, if they perform well, they won’t even have to put in a quarter night’s work. With five Pro Bowl players on the defensive side of the ball, the first-team defense will play three series at the most. That’s only if it doesn’t go well, too.
“Depends how it goes. If we got out there and have a dominant series, they may play one [series],” Joseph said. “If we have a so-so series the first and a better series in the second series, they may only play two. Three max the first game.”
This plan will include Von Miller, as well. After saying earlier that Miller may receive “very few” reps in preseason, Joseph did say that at this point Miller will play with the first-team defense on Thursday.
A Few Good Backs
Although the Broncos are currently carrying seven running backs on their roster — not including fullback Andy Janovich — they will only have four available for Thursday’s game.
With Bernard Pierce missing the past week with a hamstring injury, Devontae Booker out all of preseason with a fractured wrist and Jamaal Charles being held out as he slowly progresses back from knee injuries the past two seasons, the Broncos will get a heavy dose of a few running backs.
Starter C.J. Anderson will play with the first-team — a maximum of three series — and then the game will be turned over to Stevan Ridley, De’Angelo Henderson and Juwan Thompson.
Ridley, Henderson and Thompson will each get a significant workload to prove their value with what is expected to be one of the most intense position battles of the preseason.
Vanilla Game Plan
Preseason is about finding out which players can play, and thus determine if they deserve a spot on a team. It’s not about implementing and practicing your regular-season game plan. Joseph won’t deviate from that formula.
While the coach wants to have enough of a game plan to allow his players the opportunity to succeed, he doesn’t want to give anything away to regular-season opponents. Thus, the Broncos’ game plan, on offense and defense, will be fairly basic.
“My opinion on that is this: preseason games, I want to give them enough to play well. I don’t want to surprise players. I don’t want to rescue them with scheme, either,” he said. “I want to see on offense who can block, who can catch the ball, who can run with the ball. On defense, who can get off blocks, who can rush and who can cover. So, I’m not going to rescue guys with scheme, but I’m going to give them enough to play well.”
According to Joseph, regular-season scheme will be implemented in the preseason, but not until Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers in what he calls “our simulated game plan.”
Almost a Full Crew
Outside of Charles (rest) and Pierce (hamstring), the Broncos will also be without linebacker Todd Davis (shoulder), safety T.J. Ward (hamstring) and center Matt Paradis (rest).
Joseph called Davis “day-to-day” and said his absence is more precautionary. Ward is expected back on the field after Thursday’s game when the team travels to San Francisco to practice and play against the 49ers.
With Paradis receiving a rest day, as he works back from double hip surgery in the offseason, Connor McGovern will start at center. The rest of the starting offensive line will be Garrett Bolles at left tackle, Max Garcia at left guard, Ron Leary at right guard and Menelik Watson at right tackle.