Key Denver storylines with Broncos team insider Andrew Mason

The Los Angeles Rams host the Denver Broncos on Saturday in the lone 2019 preseason game at the Coliseum, with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. PT Saturday on KCBS2.

For more on L.A.’s next 2019 preseason opponent, theRams.com caught up with Broncos team insider Andrew Mason for Denver’s perspective on this matchup and explains how it impacts the Rams.

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TheRams.com: Generally speaking, how are the Broncos approaching this preseason when it comes to starters’ involvement?

Andrew Mason: “They're taking a three-tiered approach. The top tier of starters sees more limited repetitions -- players such as Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Chris Harris Jr. and Joe Flacco.

“Another tier of starters played in the preseason opener and played deeper into games. Players in this group include offensive linemen Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern and defensive linemen Adam Gotsis and Shelby Harris. They have secure places on the first team, but the Broncos want to get a longer look at them -- especially on the offensive line.

“Then you have players coming off of injuries, who are moving at the pace that their recoveries dictate. Some, like running back Phillip Lindsay, have played extensively in the last two games. Others, such as right guard Ron Leary, have not seen any game snaps. Leary did not practice this week and was limited to half of the reps in joint practices with the 49ers last week.

“Broncos coach Vic Fangio said that "most" starters would not play Saturday, so expect a heavy dose of reserves.”

TheRams.com: What are some notable position battles taking place, if any? Has training camp plus the first three preseason games provided any clarity on that competition?

AM: “There are few battles on the first team, and the ones that do exist involve injury. At right guard, Leary's recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last year creates an interesting scenario, as the Broncos have used Austin Schlottman, Don Barclay and Jake Brendel there, but they also have Elijah Wilkinson, who started down the stretch at right guard last year because of injuries. Wilkinson has worked at both tackle spots in training camp, but his positional versatility could make him a fill-in at right guard once again.

“Inside linebacker Todd Davis suffered a calf injury on the first day of training camp and has yet to return, so the Broncos have used a horde of players in his spot -- Alexander Johnson, Josh Watson, fifth-round pick Justin Hollins, Keishawn Bierria and Joe Jones, who subsequently suffered an elbow injury.

“Then there are the returner spots. Running back Devontae Booker appears to be a good bet to handle kickoffs, although he fumbled against Seattle on Aug. 8. The punt-returner situation is wide open, and no one has emerged from a crowd of young candidates. The Broncos could opt to go back to slot receiver River Cracraft, who handled the work in the second half of the 2018 season.”

TheRams.com: Along those same lines, who are some key Broncos players to watch – offense, defense and/or special teams – on Saturday?

AM: “On offense, watch the offensive line. Left tackle Garett Bolles, their first-round pick in 2017, is still dealing with ups and downs. He led NFL offensive tackles in holding calls the last two seasons and drew another holding penalty last Monday, although Fangio attributed the penalty to the tight end (Troy Fumagalli) failing to chip. At left guard is Risner, their second-round pick. He plays smart and quick and looks like the real deal.

“Also pay attention to the running backs. Lindsay looks to be all the way back from the wrist injury he suffered last Dec. 24, but Royce Freeman is poised to be a 1-A back with Lindsay. The two split repetitions early last season before Freeman sprained his ankle in Week 7.

“With Chubb and Miller expected to sit out, rookie outside linebacker Malik Reed should see plenty of work. The former Nevada defensive end and outside linebacker has been a summer star, to the point where Miller calls him "the dream killer" because he is "killing a quarterback's dream every single play." But Reed also has good awareness when he drops into coverage. He looks like an ideal scheme fit.”

TheRams.com: Rookie QB Drew Lock is currently dealing with a hand injury, and he saw a decent amount of action prior to the setback. What will that mean for Denver’s other QBs against Los Angeles in terms of snaps/playing time?

AM: “You'll see a heavy dose of Kevin Hogan, with undrafted rookie Brett Rypien likely entering the game at some point in the second half.

“Lock looked to have the No. 2 role sealed with his growth over the last few weeks, but a sprained thumb suffered last Monday changed that. It is possible that Lock could be on recallable injured reserve for the first half of the season. So now the Broncos must figure out if Hogan can be trusted as the backup behind Flacco.

“If one were to judge Hogan solely on his work in the preseason opener against the Falcons, the verdict would be positive. He looked composed in leading the offense on a 51-yard drive to a touchdown, and displayed good touch and placement on his passes. The last two games have been rough for him. Hogan is effectively competing against every potential backup quarterback who is and could be on the market after the 53-man roster deadline.

“Rypien has shown good composure, especially in his practice repetitions running the scout team against the No. 1 defense. That work has forced him to adjust to the speed at which standouts like Chubb, Miller and Chris Harris Jr. play. Rypien hasn't taken a preseason snap since Aug. 1, so this could be a showcase for him.”

TheRams.com: Finally, based on what you observed from the Broncos’ third preseason game, what will you be watching for against the Rams?

AM: “I'll be watching to see if the offensive line can fare better in run blocking. Too many plays against the 49ers last Monday blew up because the 49ers' defensive linemen won their matchups at the line of scrimmage and were in the backfield at the time of the handoff. That the 49ers did this with DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa sitting out offered cause for concern.

“On defense, I want to see if the Broncos can continue to generate takeaways with pressure off the edge if Miller and Chubb aren't involved. While the Broncos can't adequately replace either of them if they are injured, a good game from Reed and veteran Dekoda Watson would offer evidence that the Broncos could withstand an injury to one of their bookend edge rushers, who are, at this point, the most indispensable players on defense.”

What it all means for the Rams

The Broncos will be taking a similar approach to the Rams when it comes to player their starters, which means backups for both sides are going to see lots of snaps on Saturday.

Similar to the five Rams players to watch, Los Angeles will be tested at the line of scrimmage. While Bolles and Risner played in the Hall of Fame game in early August, it is unclear whether they will see action against the Rams. If they do play, even for just a couple of series, it will provide a nice challenge for the left side of the Rams’ defensive line since each one is Denver’s projected starting left tackle and left guard respectively.

Should the Broncos’ offensive line struggle again, it could open up some opportunities to put big plays on film for the Rams’ front seven. Los Angeles’ defense as a whole will face a pair of motivated backup quarterbacks. in Hogan and Rypien.

Overall, the Broncos will have several motivated players seeing snaps at the Coliseum, so sharpness and discipline on both sides of the ball will be needed by the Rams on Saturday.

The Rams return from Hawaii to practice in Thousand Oaks, Calif. ahead of the team's third preseason game against the Denver Broncos.

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