Broncos hope to, and need to, have answers to questions on offense

Emmanuel Sanders was held out of all four preseason games because of a hamstring injury and the Broncos hope his return gives the offense a boost. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Uncertainty, thy name is offense. At least for the Denver Broncos.

Sure, the names are familiar, guys like Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels. There are plenty of touchdowns on those résumés.

But in terms of exactly how the Broncos offense will look in Sunday's regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, there are plenty of question marks. Namely how Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will mesh his offensive scheme to Manning's strengths as a quarterback.

Or the fact that the Manning-Thomas-Sanders tribunal simply has not worked together all that much, even in practice. Demaryius Thomas skipped the offseason program as his representatives and the Broncos hammered out a new contract, and Sanders missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury.

Or that the offensive line the Broncos will start Sunday has not appeared together in a game since left guard Evan Mathis was signed just two weeks ago.

"I'm looking forward to Sunday," Manning said. "I'm looking forward to see how we're going to perform. We've got some new guys playing and we've got some new things that we're doing."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who had Broncos coach Gary Kubiak as Baltimore's offensive coordinator last season, said with all of the changes to the team's offense, he has had to take a bit of a wait-and-see approach as well as the Ravens prepared for Sunday's game.

"I think that all remains to be determined," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "The teams that play (Manning) Weeks 4, 5 and 6 and down the road will have a better feel for that than we will. ... But you can see the elements of Gary's offense ... you can also see element of what Peyton has done recently with Denver with (former Broncos offensive coordinator) Adam (Gase), but you can also see what Peyton has done historically even all the way back to Indianapolis."

There were times in Manning's two preseason appearances -- a total of 63 snaps -- that he looked somewhat uncomfortable in the limited version of the offense they revealed publicly in the preseason. But the Broncos are hopeful Sanders' return, in particular, will pump up the offense.

Sanders suffered his injury early in training camp and was held out of all four preseason games. He was only re-inserted into practices as the preseason drew to a close as the Broncos took a better-to-be-really-safe-than-sorry approach. Sanders has practiced fully in recent days, including Wednesday.

"Emmanuel hasn't caught a ball yet this year, right?" Kubiak said. "We need to get him started, but we need good work this week with those guys together."

"Emmanuel is a guy who loves football," Manning said. "Hey, get him to Sunday and he goes and he plays with great enthusiasm, great passion, loves to win. ... I think the one thing that will be good in the huddle, whether it's in practice or in the game, is to have his energy out there because he brings a lot more than his speed or route-running. He brings an energy."

With Mathis' signing, which put him between rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo and first-year starter Matt Paradis at center -- Paradis was on the Broncos' practice squad as a rookie in '14 -- the Broncos will play their starting offensive line in a game for the first time against the Ravens Sunday.

Manning said, after watching the group work in practice, "I feel good about those guys," and Kubiak said while he originally hoped to have named the starting unit when training camp opened in July, he felt like the group was settled in before the opener.

"We had them all here in July, they just weren't all practicing yet," Kubiak said. "It's been a work in progress, we know that. The one thing that I am confident in is that the guy that we're talking about who hasn't played with the group has played the most football (in Mathis). I'm watching them work out here and I'm just very happy to have him. ... I think the most important thing when I look at the picture right now is that we continue to climb as a group and get better each and every week."