Friday, August 8, 2008

What to Watch?: vs. Houston

Throughout the preseason and possibly into the regular season we will feature a column called "What to Watch?" it will point out the inside stories that Denver fans should be aware of. Hopefully adding value (as if there needed to be) to the game the Broncos will be playing this week.

According to Mike Shanahan the following players will not suit: Champ Bailey, Tom Nalen, DeWayne Robertson, Hamza Abdullah and Dre Bly will only be out on nickel formations.

On Saturday the Denver Broncos will play at the Houston Texans, here is a few notes on potentially interesting sidebars.

Mario Williams vs. Ryan Clady: Mario Williams, the controversial number one draft pick from three seasons ago, held his coming out party last season against Denver, sacking quarterback Jay Cutler three times. Reversing many fans protests, who had previously felt that Reggie Bush may have been a much better choice with that draft pick. Denver fans are ready to proclaim Ryan Clady the next Gary Zimmerman, but the first quarter on Saturday will be the first challenge that Clady will face. Will, 'Sweet Feet,' hold true to his nickname and dominate Mario Williams or will he be rudely welcomed to the NFL by the future prototype at defensive end?

Eddie Royal: We've heard the reports and Mike Shanahan has given the start at wide receiver to the rookie Eddie Royal. Though Houston itself is young and very inexperienced in their secondary, they still have more experience than Royal and they will be looking to impress early. Denver is very heavy at wide receiver and a lot of players need to get looks at that position and Eddie Royal has veteran receiver Darrell Jackson breathing down his neck. It's an uphill battle and the rookie will probably only get a quarter, along with whatever opportunities that brings, to look good. That means perfect pass routes, blocking and hands. Dropped passes are a killer and can quickly lose a young receiver's confidence, along with the confidence of a quarterback and the coaching staff.

Selvin Young/Andre Hall battle: Selvin Young has proclaimed himself the number one back in Denver, but Andre Hall has been quiet and very impressive so far in training camp. As fans have seen neither lost an opportunity to shine when given the option last season. The battle is Young's to lose, but Hall will be facing less talented defenses. That being the case, Selvin Young will need to continue his 5.2 yard per carry average. Mostly where Young will win or lose the position battle is picking up blitzes in pass blocking and in catching the ball out of the backfield. Where Hall will need improve is in short yardage situations, we know that Hall can break a forty-yard run, we need to see constant four to six yard runs from him. Where both backs can prove their are the uncontested number one is in goal line situations. That's where the Denver Broncos were counting on rookie Ryan Torain to have an impact, his injury leaves a gap that either Andre Hall or Selvin Young will need to fill.

Jay Cutler: No, you'll find no mention of the quarterback's diabetes. Where Jay Cutler will need to improve is in his check offs. Yes, we've seen the, "No look pass," in training camp, but camp goers have seen that Cutler stares down a wide receiver. This doesn't work with Champ Bailey or Dre Bly in practice and it won't work for any of the lesser corners in the NFL. The expectations for Jay Cutler this season are sky high and the prophecy is that Cutler will help coach Mike Shanahan six-pete on quarterbacks having career years in their third season in Shanahan's offense.

Ryan Harris: There has been loads of disinformation on the internet regarding last year's third-round draft pick. Here will be Denver's first chance to see what the truth is. Ryan Harris will most likely get at least two-quarters this game.

Marcus Thomas: The second-year defensive tackle earned his spot on the first-team in training camp. Now he'll have to prove he deserves it and starting next to DeWayne Robertson might be the easiest chance he gets to do that. Robertson will draw double-teams leaving Thomas one-on-one with a guard. It wasn't easy for anyone to look good on Denver's defensive line last season, but this season there won't be any excuses. A year wiser, Marcus Thomas needs to prove that Denver doesn't need to target a highly regarded and highly paid defensive tackle (Albert Haynesworth) next off-season.

Niko Koutouvides vs. Nate Webster: Their two day rotation in training camp isn't exactly encouraging. Both are talented and all though Nate Webster started last season in Denver a lot of his impressive production was a due to the defensive scheme funneling backs to the linebackers. Niko Koutouvides has been a skull cracker on special teams his whole NFL career and has played the last several seasons in Lofa Tatupu's shadow. Early observations from camp show Nate Webster to play with reckless abandon, which allows him to light someone up, at the same time leaving him very vulnerable to missed tackles. Niko Koutouvides, appears to lack a bit of closing speed, but flourishes in pass coverage.

Dre Bly vs. Domonique Foxworth: Though this game will most likely not be the game to judge, as Dre Bly will reportedly not play outside of nickel formations. This opens up the door even farther of Domonique Foxworth, who can now go up against the Houston Texans first-team offense. With Champ Bailey out and Dre Bly seeing very limited action Domonique Foxworth, Karl Paymah and rookie Jack Williams will all see plenty of action in the secondary going against the very talented quarterback duo of Matt Shaub and Sage Rosenfeld.

Nate Jackson vs. Tony Scheffler: This has kind of been the quiet battle of training camp. Nate Jackson has been seeing more time with the first-team offense than Tony Scheffler, often times in practice Jackson is even split out as a wide receiver. When Denver resigned Nate Jackson this off-season, the strength of his contract put pressure on him to perform at a higher level than he has over the past three seasons. The casualty of that signing may have been Tony Scheffler, Jay Cutler's favorite target. Scheffler has constantly stepped up to the plate over the last two seasons though, no matter where he may have been on the depth chart. Both Jackson and Scheffler have been plagued by injuries over their time in the NFL and this may be Denver's way of insuring that no matter who it is playing their second tight end position, they are interchangeable.

Marquand Manuel & Marlon McCree: Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree are known for their intense hitting ability, which at times borderlines on illegal. That alone makes them worthy of joining the incredible pedigree that his Denver's safety position. While Marquand Manuel is stepping in for the resting Hamza Abdullah, don't be surprised if he is able to push Abdullah down a roster spot. He is officially listed behind Marlon McCree on the depth chart, but will see time along side him this week vs. Houston.

Jarvis Moss: Another player that has been the subject of erroneous training camp reports is defensive end Jarvis Moss. Moss will rotate in at the defensive end position with the first-team defense on rushing downs and with the second-team he should see time during both passing and receiving downs. Fans should get the opportunity to see for themselves what type of player Denver has at defensive end.

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