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These 5 Items Top the Denver Broncos' Preseason Watch List

Focus Will Center on Offensive Line, Safeties, Running Backs

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The NFL season is upon us -- well, at least the NFL preseason.

But, hey, it beats hashing, rehashing and re-rehashing the A-Rod and Johnny Manziel controversies.

In any case, your Denver Broncos kick off the preseason at 7 p.m. (MDT) Thursday, Aug. 8 on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.

Could it be a Super Bowl preview?

Many national pundits think so but for Thursday night, East Rutherford, N.J. and Feb. 2 will be a full continent and half a calendar away as it's only the exhibition opener for both teams.

Cutting to the quick, here are five areas to watch for the Broncos this preseason:

Offensive Line in Flux

Louis Vasquez, Manny Ramirez and Ryan Lilja are in, J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen are out, and Ryan Clady, Chris Kuper and Orlando Franklin are battling injuries.

Yeah, you could say the Broncos' offensive line is in a bit of flux.

Denver now has 16 quarters to see who can step up and who will be healthy for a unit whose only jobs will be keeping 37-year-old Peyton Manning upright and helping breathe some life into a stagnant ground game.

Battle in the Backfield

Fantasy GMs, this one's for you.

Much-improved second-year back Ronnie Hillman opens the preseason atop the tailback depth chart, but most expect rookie Montee Ball to make a serious move.

And don't forget about Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos certainly haven't after bypassing several opportunities to part ways with the 2009 first-rounder.

All figure to see plenty of action come the regular season, but see who can make the best of the reconfigured offensive-line situation and earn the Week 1 starting nod.

Battle in the (Defensive) Backfield

On defense, it's safeties first -- at least when it comes to question marks.

Can Rahim Moore bounce back from this past January's playoff flub?

Will training-camp surprise Duke Ihenacho make a run at strong safety Mike Adams' starting job?

Can Quinton Carter and/or Quentin Jammer play their way off the roster bubble?

The answers will begin to reveal themselves Thursday night.

Wanted: Pass Rushers

The Broncos figure to open the regular season Sept. 5 with Elvis Dumervil on the opposing sideline and Von Miller suspended and watching the Thursday night festivities from home.

In the meantime, that means 29.5 sacks are missing from the Broncos' 2012 league-leading pass rush, and that means someone from among the group of Derek Wolfe, Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers or Quanterus Smith will need to show they can bring the heat.

Thomas' Time to Shine?

Joel Dreessen had knee surgery and is sidelined for the remainder of the preseason, while tight end running mate Jacob Tamme has been hobbled by a lingering quad issue.

It all opens the door for third-year TE Julius Thomas, a 6-foot-5-inch former small-school hoops star who is hoping to translate his practice-field flashes into some in-game production after having only one reception for five yards to show for his first two pro seasons.

If Thomas can, he'll add another weapon to Manning's already-formidable arsenal.

Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.

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