The Denver Broncos will take on the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, highlighting six games across the NFL as the 2013 preseason truly gets underway following Sunday's Hall of Fame game. This first game is the first true test for teams across the league and the first shot for coaching staffs to begin and get a feel for the number of players fighting for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Training camp battles are hitting their peak heading into Thursday's games, and with eight more games scheduled for Friday, we're starting to see some unexpected players emerge from the pack while others are disappointing compared to lofty expectations.
The Buccaneers are going to have some issues on the defensive line this season after deciding to let Michael Bennett go and losing Roy Miller. Adrian Clayborn, who had a big rookie year in 2011, is currently out with a groin injury as depth along the line is further diminished. Adding to the problems is the continued disappointing play of third-year lineman Da'Quan Bowers.
The 23-year old was expected to become the focal point of the defensive line this season. Bowers has had just 4.5 sacks in two seasons with the Bucs, and now heads into the first preseason game of the season with the pressure of pleasing a coach who isn't too happy with his performance thus far.
Head coach Greg Schiano stated that Bowers, who is going from a backup role to a starting position, needs to prove he can be consistent when the lights come on.
"I want to see him play hard, play after play after play," Schiano said. "He needs to string together plays where he is going at a high level. He has done that on and off in practice, but it needs to be better."
Stock Up: San Francisco 49ers defensive backs
49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is enthusiastic about his defensive backs, and is encouraged by the play of several young cornerbacks heading in Thursday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Per the SFBay's Drew Morita:
"[Marcus] Coop, the seventh round pick, he's been doing fine, and lately here, he's been picking it up and you can tell that he feels a little more comfortable in his assignments and his techniques. We'll look to, hopefully, see how he does Thursday night. ... The other two guys are fighting through. They're learning as undrafted rookies."
Stock down: Colt McCoy
It was expected that McCoy would have the backup job behind Colin Kaepernick, but it seems the former Longhorns quarterback hasn't yet been able to lock it down. The 49ers acquired McCoy in an offseason trade with the Cleveland Browns, and he has been sharing backup reps with Scott Tolzien so far in camp. Per CSN Bay Area, coach Jim Harbaugh says it's still a wide open competition.
"There's nothing shown there. It's very even. And (I'm) very much looking forward to the games and future practices to determine (it). It's not clear-cut at that position."
Tolzien wasn't exactly lights out in the preseason in 2012, so it's surprising that McCoy is having trouble distancing himself from the third-year quarterback. The true test will come in the games, however, with the 49ers set to take on the Broncos on Thursday night.
Stock up: Mark Sanchez's confidence
New York Jets fans cannot wait for the day when Geno Smith takes over the starting job from Mark Sanchez, but they'll have to wait at least one more game. The veteran quarterback will start Friday's game against the Detroit Lions and per the New York Daily News, that's exactly how Sanchez believes it should be.
"I think I earned the right to start this first game, and we'll see how it goes from there," Sanchez said. "I've got to keep playing well to stay on the field and that's the plan."
Sanchez was downright horrible in 2012, and the Jets wasted no time in selecting Smith in the draft in this past draft. The veteran quarterback does acknowledge that it's up to him to prove he deserves to keep the spot, and it's easy to say if he struggles as he did in the intra-squad scrimmage this past Saturday the tides will decidedly turn in the favor of the rookie.
Stock up: Redskins' rookie defensive backs
On the other coast, another set of young defensive backs are encouraging their coaches. Bacarri Rambo, David Amerson and Phillip Thomas are all hoping to be part of an improvement on what was arguably the worst group of safeties in the NFL. Per the Washington Post, Rambo and Amerson are expected to start Thursday's preseason game in what could be the first of many games with the three young players in a feature role for the defense.
Per Jason Reid, all three have been standouts since the first practice of camp. Rambo has likely already claimed a starting safety spot, with Amerson also fitting in well with the first-team defense. It's an encouraging sign for the Redskins, who continue to get younger and more skilled under head coach Mike Shanahan.