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NFL Preseason Preview - Denver (0-0) at San Francisco (0-0)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - After coming oh so close to capturing the franchise's sixth Super Bowl crown the San Francisco 49ers start from scratch again when they host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to start the preseason.

The NFC champions will be aiming to get the most out of what may be the most gifted roster in football from top to bottom. Finding a replacement for the injured Michael Crabtree (torn Achilles), perhaps the Niners' best receiver since Terrell Owens, is paramount.

Anquan Boldin goes from Super Bowl antagonist with Baltimore to Colin Kaepernick's top outside threat right now but Boldin is more of a move the chains-type possession guy at this stage. A.J. Jenkins, the team's first-round pick out of Illinois in 2012, has worked hard to add strength in the offseason and needs to step up but has struggled in camp. Kyle Williams is back form injury to help from the slot and expect star tight end Vernon Davis to split out quite a bit.

"I think everybody knows why Vernon is different," Kaepernick said. "He's a matchup nightmare, he's a physical freak. You can do just about anything with him."

On defense, all eyes will be on the secondary where 2013 first-round pick Eric Reid will be asked to replace Pro-Bowler Dashon Goldson, who left for Tampa Bay in free agency. Veteran corner Nnamdi Asomugha also hopes for a resurgence as he returns to Cali in an effort to garner some much-needed depth outside the numbers.

The Broncos figure to coast to another division crown in the weak AFC West as long as Manning is healthy and on the field.

Postseason success is another matter and will depend on whether Denver finds a consistent running threat and improves the defense on the back end. Willis McGahee's release could turn the backfield into a committee-type setup with Ronnie Hillman, rookie Montee Ball and veteran Knowshon Moreno all in the picture.

Talented but underachieving cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was brought in to help the secondary along with veteran Quentin Jammer, who has moved to safety.

Manning's tremendous receiving corps of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker was only bolstered by the addition of slot star Wes Welker from New England.

Denver suffered a major loss in camp, however, when veteran enter Dan Koppen went down with a season-ending ACL injury. The team is also awaiting word all the possible suspension of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller.

According to the Denver Post, Miller is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL drug policy but the case is currently under appeal. That news came just one week after the Broncos suspended director of pro personnel Tom Heckert and director of player personnel Matt Russell for DUI arrests.

"We are looking for how guys operate in game conditions," Denver coach John Fox said when talking about the preseason opener. "This game is about what to do, how to do it and be able to execute that under pressure. You have guys sometimes that flash really well in practice, but maybe not so well in games. The games are ultimately how we grade. It is a performance based profession and we like to see how those guys perform as we try to pick our 53 guys."

The Broncos and Niners have met 34 times in the preseason with Denver holding a slim 18-16 advantage in the series.

"I'm just happy to get back on the field," Kaepernick said. "Practicing against our defense is great, but I'm ready to play somebody."

08/07 13:40:21 ET


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