Denver Broncos (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Verne Lundquist, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: 14th meeting. The Miami Dolphins lead the series 9-3-1, but the Denver Broncos beat Miami in 2004. Denver got a 50-yard field goal from Jason Elam with 2:50 remaining in the game to squeak out a 20-17 victory last Dec. 12. *2004 rankings: Broncos: offense 5th (4th rush, 6th pass); defense 4th (4th rush, 6th pass). Dolphins: offense 29th (31st rush, 21st pass); defense 8th (31st rush, 2nd pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 20-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins have a new coach, a new quarterback and a rookie running back. The biggest key will be the production of QB Gus Frerotte, who struggled during the preseason. The Broncos have a solid secondary, but are vulnerable to the big play and Frerotte must take advantage. If not, rookie RB Ronnie Brown will have a long night going against one of the league's top linebacking crews. Miami must get an early lead, or they won't put Broncos QB Jake Plummer in the tough situations in which he's prone to turnovers. Denver rushed for 196 yards in last December's meeting, and RB Mike Anderson looked very strong during the preseason. Miami will use 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and employ a variety of blitzes in new coach Nick Saban's defense -- if they can force obvious passing situations.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: QB Jake Plummer has thrown no touchdowns and six interceptions in two previous meetings. ... Coach Mike Shanahan is 10-2 in season openers. Dolphins: NFL-best 29-6 (.829) record in home openers since the 1970 merger. Have won 11 of their past 13 home openers. ... NFL's winningest team (338-196-2) since 1970.
--WR David Terrell will need some time to learn Denver's offense. But when he does gets up to speed, if he can stay healthy he'll have a chance to move up the Broncos' depth chart. Denver has a lot of unproven depth at receiver and Terrell is a former top 10 pick.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban will likely start on Sunday. Courtney Brown missed the entire preseason with a dislocated elbow, so he'll probably be eased back into the lineup and there's a chance he won't be active.
--CB Darrent Williams will have a prominent role when the regular season begins Sunday. Williams, a rookie second-round pick, is expected to be the team's nickel cornerback and handle kickoff and punt returns.
--TE Nate Jackson didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday and probably won't play this week. Jackson was slated to be the team's third tight end. Mike Leach, whose main role is as the team's long snapper, could be the third tight end. Rookie Wesley Duke is another option but he might not be ready.
--RB Mike Anderson said he feels fresh going into the season. He said sitting out the Broncos' final preseason game allowed him to get past the bumps and bruises of training camp. Anderson will start Denver's regular-season opener at tailback.
--P Matt Turk didn't practice Thursday and was downgraded from probable to questionable for Sunday's game against Denver because of a strained groin.
--P Donnie Jones could be promoted from the developmental squad for Sunday's game against Denver to fill in for Matt Turk, who missed Thursday's practice after aggravating a groin injury.
--WR Derrius Thompson was released from injured reserve Thursday after reaching an injury settlement. Thompson was placed on injured reserve last Thursday with a hamstring injury.
--LB Junior Seau (calf) practiced Wednesday and Thursday is expected to play against Denver. Seau is listed as probable on Miami's injury report.
--CB Travis Daniels practiced Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to play against Denver. Daniels, who is Miami's nickel cornerback, is listed as probable on Miami's injury report.
--DE Bryan McNeal was added to Miami's developmental squad. McNeal has spent time the past two seasons with Denver and Tampa Bay.
--DE Matt Walters was released from injured reserve Wednesday after reaching an injury settlement over a shoulder ailment he developed in the preseason.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The pressure on Darius Watts increased when Jerry Rice retired this week.
Rice wasn't playing at the same level that made him the greatest receiver in NFL history when he was with the Denver Broncos in training camp, but the Broncos at least had a veteran backup if Watts faltered.
Watts, who had problems with dropped passes in his rookie season and again in preseason, might start the season behind Charlie Adams as the No. 3 receiver. But eventually, the Broncos would probably prefer if Watts, a second-round pick last year, played up to his potential and became a lock at the No. 3 receiver spot.
"I've just got to keep fighting, keep working," Watts said.
Watts did finish the preseason well. He caught two acrobatic touchdowns against Arizona, which was a great sign for the Broncos. Watts was demoted early in the preseason because of dropped passes.
Watts was up and down as a rookie last year. He started fast, and ended up with 31 catches and 385 yards. But he faded near the end of the season and saw his playing time start to decrease.
Going into this season, Watts wasn't content with just having one big game at the end of the preseason.
"I wasn't waiting for just one (big game)," Watts said. "I was waiting for consistency, a lot of them. I got to make sure I'm doing it every week. If I have eight (good) games in a row, ask how I feel about them."
The Dolphins may be without the services of punter Matt Turk for Sunday's regular-season opener against Denver.
Turk aggravated a groin injury during Wednesday's practice, an injury that had forced him to miss the team's final two preseason games.
Turk didn't practice Thursday and was downgraded on the team's injury report from probable to questionable.
If Turk can't play, the Dolphins are expected to promote Donnie Jones from their practice squad. Jones, who played for Seattle last season, averaged 45.2 yards on 21 punts during the preseason.
But Jones failed to beat out Turk, who set a franchise record last season with 98 punts. Turk tied for the AFC lead in punts inside the 20-yard line with 29 and tied for fourth in net average at 37.2 yards.
Newly named backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels would likely replace Turk as the holder on field goal and extra point attempts. Compounding the problem if Turk couldn't play, the Dolphins are fielding a new long snapper in rookie John Denney, who beat out nine-year veteran Ed Perry for a spot during the preseason.
Dolphins coach Nick Saban said Olindo Mare took some snaps punting during Thursday's practice. Mare has an average of 42.9 yards on nine career attempts but hasn't punted in a game since 1999.
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