COMMENTARY | With starters getting to play a whole half or into the third quarter, the third preseason game gives coaches, fans and media a real glimpse into what the team will look like in the upcoming season.
For the Denver Broncos, the third game will be more about solving a mystery than it is fine-tuning their starters. Injuries to Wes Welker, Champ Bailey, Stewart Bradley and Derrick Wolfe provide plenty of adjustments the team has to work with.
Right now, there's uncertainty regarding the Broncos' pass-rush, linebackers, offensive line and running game. Fortunately, players have a big chance to make their mark Saturday against the starting unit of the St. Louis Rams.
Here are five players to look out for:
Nate Irving, linebacker
Rundown: As a Von Miller suspension looms, Irving will get plenty of looks at the strongside linebacker. To this point, Irving's preseason has been met with mixed results. On one hand, Irving's been a disappointment -- losing the starting job at middle-backer to Stewart Bradley. On the other, Irving had a really nice play against the San Francisco 49ers by providing a huge hit that caused a fumble and allowed Shaun Phillips to return it for a touchdown.
To this point in his career, Irving has mostly played in the middle or on special teams. Will replacing Miller actually help him?
Shaun Phillips, linebacker/defensive end
Rundown: Like Irving, Phillips has the most to gain with Miller's suspension. Phillips, who had 9 1/2 sacks last year, needs to produce pressure on the quarterback. Without Miller and departed Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos produced 22.5 sacks last year. The number with them? 29.5. Miller and Dumervil had a huge impact on Denver's pass rush last year.
The Broncos most likely won't be using blitzes against the rams they'll use in the regular season, but it's still important that Phillips provides pressure against Sam Bradford. The coaches need to see if he'll be effective as a Miller replacement or if they will have to rely on Malik Jackson or rookie Quanterus Smith.
Ronnie Hillman, running back
Rundown: What Ronnie Hillman did last week against Seattle, as offensive coordinator Adam Gase put it, was unacceptable.
On an impressive 14-play, 79-yard drive, Hillman carried the ball near the goal line only to fumble in the end zone. Seattle's Brandon Browner returned the fumble for a touchdown.
It was a horrific play that capped off a horrific night for Hillman. The second-year running back had only 34 yards on 13 attempts.
While the Broncos have stated that their run game will be "by committee," Hillman still has to show that he's the running back that deserves most of the carries.
Tavarres King, wide receiver
Rundown: One of the more interesting, less talked about position battles for the Broncos is the battle of the fourth receiver spot between rookie Tavarres King and Andre Caldwell. King, a fifth-round draft pick from Georgia, has gone quiet in the preseason after making noise during training camp.
With Wes Welker hurt, King could very well get a chance to make his mark in the slot. At Georgia, King averaged a staggering 19.1 yards a catch. Could he have an impact with Manning throwing him the ball?
King has a chance to show fans he's a hidden gem.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback
Rundown: Rodgers-Cromartie has spent the last few weeks rehabbing from a sprained ankle he suffered during training camp. Having yet to see preseason action, Rodgers-Cromartie finally gets to play Saturday. His return comes at no better time, replacing an injured Bailey and adding depth to the Broncos' defensive backfield.
The sixth-year cornerback signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the team in March. He was brought into provide size at the cornerback position. After two years of disappointment with the Eagles, Rodgers-Cromartie's road toward redemption starts against the Rams.
Matthew Paras is a Journalism Major at DePaul University. He writes for multiple outlets, including Maxboxing.com, Operationsports.com, and DePaul's student newspaper, The DePaulia. He can be reached by email at Mparas1432@gmail.com or on twitter @Matthew_Paras. He currently resides in Chicago, but lived in Littleton, Colo. for seven years.
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- Shaun Phillips
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- Tavarres King