Broncos Inside Slant - September 1

Jake Plummer should add some pizzazz to Denver's offense, and unlike in Arizona, he won't have a shortage of targets with Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe and Clinton Portis in the lineup. So what are the three key questions for the Broncos' this season?

Jake Plummer should add some pizzazz to Denver's offense, and unlike in Arizona, he won't have a shortage of targets with Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe and Clinton Portis in the lineup.

But whether Denver improves upon last year's 9-7 record will depend upon the defense, where the Broncos have five new starters.

Three key questions for the season:

1. Can Jake Plummer take the heat in Denver, and become the player so many expected after he left Arizona State?

Plummer quickly bonded with his teammates, and has brought energy to the huddle and speed to the offense. But he has to stop with the bad decisions, which were his downfall in Arizona.

If Plummer can create within coach Mike Shanahan's offense, rather than simply freelance away from it, Denver could be one of the top teams in the AFC. If not, this figures to be a long season for the Broncos.

2. Will Denver's secondary get by with youngsters like Lenny Walls and Kelly Herndon?

Though both have shown flashes, they've also looked vulnerable against the likes of Ed McCaffrey and Ashley Lelie in practice. Deltha O'Neal, meanwhile, seems happier with former defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes out of the picture. But he has to compete on every play, and not fall into a funk as he did last year. So far in the preseason, O'Neal has yet to show the consistency that made him a Pro Bowler two years ago. Daryl Gardener be the impact player the Broncos need up front, or will he fall in the same category as high-priced free agent Dale Carter -- a major bust?

Gardener has missed all of the preseason after surgery to repair injuries suffered in an early-morning fracas, and may not be ready until Week 3 of the regular season. He'll have to hit the ground running.

If Gardener can even come close to playing at the level he did last year as a Redskin, he figures to provide the Broncos an excellent combo in himself and linemate Trevor Pryce.

Player to Watch: Cornerback Lenny Walls -- He's the tallest starting corner in the NFL, and he's come a long way since going undrafted out of Boston College in 2002. After playing mostly on special teams last year, he has worked hard to earn the starting left corner job. There's no question quarterbacks will go at him early to test him, but Walls is a feisty competitor who doesn't discourage easy.

Touting the Top Picks: Tackle George Foster -- After missing the first two weeks of camp with a sprained foot, Foster has been getting extensive work at right tackle. For now, the first rounder is only a backup, until he learns the system.

Linebacker Terry Pierce -- The Bronco's second pick is the future at middle linebacker. He's a punishing hitter, and solid run-stopper. Pierce just needs work on pass coverage, though he's showed flashes there. He will work mostly on special teams for now.

PERSONNEL

--Defensive end Bert Berry was named the starter at right end, winning the job over Reggie Hayward. But both will play a lot, especially in nickel situations when Trevor Pryce moves inside to tackle.
--Quarterback Danny Kanell was released on Monday, leaving just Plummer and Steve Beuerlein at the position. Rod Smith will serve as the emergency backup.
--Roosevelt Williams was signed on Monday. The 6-0, 196 pound cornerback joins the Broncos after being released by Chicago Sunday in the final cutdown of training camp. Entering his second season in the NFL, Williams played in 13 games last year as a rookie, making 11 tackles (7 solo), three passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
--Wide receivers Charlie Adams and Nate Jackson, running back Cecil Sapp and guard/center Chris Watton were signed to the practice squad.


--Defensive tackle Nick Eason was placed on injured reserve because of a partially torn Achilles that would have kept him out 10-12 weeks.
--Defensive tackle Darius Holland, who spent most of the summer unemployed, is now the backup defensive tackle behind starter Dorsett Davis.
--Left tackle Ephraim Salaam was held out of the preseason finale because of swelling in his surgically repaired right knee, but he vows to be ready for the opener.

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