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By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Historic Soldier Field will be the setting for one of the most anticipated preseason openers in recent memory, with Peyton Manning's long-awaited debut as a Denver Bronco and return to game action providing plenty of sizzle to an otherwise insignificant contest between his new team and the Chicago Bears.
It's been 19 months since Manning has taken a snap in a live game, and five since the legendary quarterback signed with the Broncos shortly after his brilliant 14-year tenure with the Indianapolis Colts came to an end. The four- time NFL MVP's final season as a Colt, of course, was spent entirely as a bystander as he recovered from multiple surgical procedures on his neck.
Manning has been able to practice without encountering any setbacks thus far in training camp, though the 36-year-old has admitted he doesn't know exactly what to expect when he takes the field for the first time since the Colts' 17-16 AFC Wild Card Round loss to the New York Jets in January of 2011.
"It's a different scenario, a different team and a different circumstance for me, so this will be a first," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing somebody different."
While Manning's comeback has understandably grabbed all of the headlines, there's another interesting subplot involving a Broncos quarterback in Thursday's tilt. His current backup is Caleb Hanie, who spent the first four seasons of his pro career with the Bears before joining Denver in the offseason.
Hanie started four games for Chicago in place of an injured Jay Cutler last season but struggled tremendously, completing just 50 percent of his attempts and throwing nine interceptions. The Bears dropped all four of those contests as part of a five-game losing streak that knocked the club out of playoff contention.
It's believed Manning will run the offense for Denver's first two series before giving way to Hanie. Rookie Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick in this past draft who's made a bid for the No. 2 job with an impressive camp, will likely see extensive action later on in his official intro.
The same can't be said for another of Denver's 2012 draft choices, as third- rounder Ronnie Hillman is dealing with a hamstring injury that has him doubtful to participate in Thursday's tilt. The speedy running back is part of a logjam at the position behind veteran Willis McGahee, with returnee Lance Ball and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno also attempting to claim the role as McGahee's main handcuff.
Second-year defensive back Quinton Carter, who had been running as a starter at strong safety, will miss at least Denver's first two preseason matchups after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week. That development prompted the Broncos to sign experienced safety Jim Leonhard on Saturday.
Cutler, Denver's 2006 first-round selection who was traded by the Broncos to the Bears prior to the 2009 campaign following a personality clash with then- head coach Josh McDaniels, is also coming back from an extended absence due to injury. The strong-armed signal-caller was lost for the final six games of last season after fracturing his right thumb in November, which included a 13-10 overtime defeat at Denver in Week 14.
Thursday's test will also mark the Bears debut of wideout Brandon Marshall, himself an ex-Bronco who was acquired by Chicago in a trade with Miami back in March. The five-time 1,000-yard receiver suited up for Denver from 2006-09 and eclipsed 100 catches in three of those seasons, two of which Cutler served as the team's primary quarterback.
The most notable inactive on the Bears' side this week will be longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, with the multiple All-Pro honoree being brought back slowly from a knee injury he sustained near the end of last season.
Denver has won four of its seven previous preseason bouts with Chicago, but the Bears snapped a two-game losing streak in the set with a 27-17 victory at Sports Authority Field in 2009.
08/08 13:57:32 ET
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