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Broncos' Things to Watch vs. 49ers

Can offensive improve with debut of Javonte Williams?
Broncos Cardinals Football
Posted at 10:20 AM, Aug 19, 2023

ENGLEWOOD — Preseason games don’t count. But they matter. For most, the significance lies in the evaluation of the roster, especially the final 12-to-15 spots. For Broncos coach Sean Payton, the result remains paramount as well.

 “Oh, it matters,” said Payton, whose mood after last week’s opening loss to the Arizona Cardinals reflected this sentiment.

Tight end Adam Trautman, who spent two years in New Orleans with Payton, is aware of what is at stake on Saturday when the Broncos face the San Francisco 49ers.

“Technically, it doesn’t matter. But it does. It’s about putting your mind to it, and always wanting to win,” Trautman said. “That’s a culture thing. And that’s how Sean was for 16 years in New Orleans. And that’s how we are going to be here.”

 With only three preseason games, the second one takes on added importance as a mini dress rehearsal. The starters are expected to play 20-to-25 snaps. The offense logged 21 last week – the unit was kept out for an extra series and produced its lone touchdown – and the defense checked in at 14. My Denver7 things to watch Saturday at Levi’s Stadium:

 

Get offensive
The Broncos offense reached the end zone last Friday on a fourth-and-5 score to receiver Jerry Jeudy. It created momentum but didn’t alleviate concerns since it came against a gaggle of second-and-third stringers on a team many believe will challenge for the No. 1 overall draft pick. A good night for the Broncos against the 49ers? How about 10 points, two scoring drives, and Russell Wilson looking like the ascending player he has been in practice over the past two weeks?

Go Javonte Go!
Running back Javonte Williams has not played in a game since tearing his ACL on Oct. 2. His comeback remains inspirational. He is penciled in for 10-to-12 snaps, and ideally will get four carries and one reception, Payton explained. A couple of things to keep an eye on: Will Javonte run with his trademark evil intentions. How will his knee respond to getting tackled to the ground? And, looking forward, what will his leg feel like on Sunday, always an important indicator of progress during a post-surgery recovery.

Stop the leak
The offensive line must play better. Pass protection has been an issue throughout camp, and it was amplified against a blitzing Cardinals team. Wilson was pressured 64 percent of the time and absorbed five hits. Center Lloyd Cushenberry was the most consistent performer as right tackle Isaiah Prince struggled – Cam Fleming could start Saturday with Mike McGlinchey (knee) still out –guards Quinn Meinerz and Ben Powers whiffed on a few assignments and left tackle Garett Bolles lost leverage multiple times. Establishing the ground game will help slow the rush, and I expect the pass-run balance to be more typical for a regular season game.

Kick in the pants
The Broncos went 1-for-4 on field goal attempts and Riley Dixon uncorked a 32-yarder on his first punt. That won’t work. Brett Maher is the lone kicker with Elliott Fry waived with an injury designation. Maher performed well in practice this week – 13-for-16 over the final two days – but that carries no weight if he can’t convert in games. He is competing against the rest of the league for his spot as kickers like Wil Lutz and Cade York could become available.

Mims The Word
Saturday offers the first game look at rookie receiver Marvin Mims Jr. After being slowed by hamstring injuries in OTAs and the start of training camp, the former Oklahoma star is gaining traction. He has flashed in the passing game and will return punts and kicks vs. the 49ers. With Tim Patrick (Achilles) gone for the season and K.J. Hamler cut with a heart condition that will require a lengthy ramp up period if he does return, Mims has an opportunity to find a niche in the offense. He projects as a weapon when Wilson goes off script. That could become invaluable with Brandon Johnson (ankle) hurt and Marquez Callaway still seeking to open eyes.

How we Drew it Up
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph admitted that he has regular season packages for rookie linebacker Drew Sanders that he will not reveal in exhibition games. Joseph admitted that Sanders makes one play a practice that no one will else could make. Watch Sanders’ physicality vs. San Francisco, and his ability to create pressure for different spots. He represents a potential X-factor for the defense, if not the team.

Race to the Roster
This is a critical moment for those on the bubble. NFL preseason games become Darwinism. Payton wants smart, reliable, and tough players. This is where safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, running back Jaleel McLaughlin – he gives the Broncos something they don’t have with his speed -- and cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian are looking to make an impact. Also, defensive linemen like Elijah Garcia and Jordan Jackson are vying for a roster spot.