Broncos have reasons for optimism

The Denver Broncos have a lot of new pieces in 2007, which is a reason for optimism. All the change is also a reason for some concern.

Denver looked like a team in transition in the preseason. Eventually, new talent such as cornerback Dre Bly, running back Travis Henry and tight end Daniel Graham will make the Broncos a better team. But they can't afford to still be learning once the regular season starts because San Diego will be tough to catch in the AFC West if the Broncos fall behind.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is one of the best in the NFL, so the problems should be minimized by the season opener. As long as the team takes to the defensive scheme early in the season and second-year quarterback Jay Cutler doesn't experience many bad games, the Broncos and Chargers should battle for the top spot in the division all year.

Three keys for the season

1. The defense must take to the new scheme. Assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates has been successful in Miami and Green Bay, so his scheme itself shouldn't be a problem. Getting the players on the same page was an issue in the preseason. The Broncos have talent on defense, so they should be fine once the scheme becomes second nature.

2. Jay Cutler's supporting cast needs to help him out. Cutler played well in the final month of last season. He should be fine this year even though he's inexperienced, but he can't have too much pressure on him. The receivers need to play well, and running back Travis Henry needs to provide a much-needed lift to the running game.

3. Denver has to protect Invesco Field at Mile High. The Broncos were a pretty good road team last year, but a 4-4 record at home was the reason they stayed home during the playoffs. In every one of those four losses, the Broncos blew a second-half lead. In a tough AFC, the Broncos can't give away that many games at home this season.

PLAYER NOTES --WR Brandon Marshall looked good once he returned from a quadriceps injury about two weeks into camp. He has the talent to be a dangerous playmaker opposite Javon Walker, but he needs to be consistent and avoid injuries.

--DE Jarvis Moss: Denver needs a better pass rush this year. One key is Moss, the team's first-round pick. He was slowed by a knee injury in training camp, but once he got healthy, he had a good performance against Dallas in the second preseason game. He might not be ready yet to play every down, but he can still be a big contributor right away.

--LB D.J. Williams is in a tough position, having to learn a new position while taking over middle linebacker for former defensive captain Al Wilson. Williams has the talent to be a very good middle linebacker, but looked tentative at times in the preseason.

--CB Dre Bly admits he will have some tough games. He likes to take some chances, which makes him vulnerable to big plays. But he also should make plenty of plays himself. He will have many opportunities playing opposite Champ Bailey, who rarely gets tested.

--WR Rod Smith was officially placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He didn't practice for all of the preseason, but said he is improving. --DE Kenard Lang, a starter last year, was released. Lang didn't play terribly last year, but the Broncos drafted ends Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder this year.

--P Todd Sauerbrun was given the Broncos' punting and kickoff job when the team released Paul Ernster. It isn't a surprise that former Pro Bowler Sauerbrun won the job, but he has been inconsistent this preseason.

--DE Elvis Dumervil is getting a long look at the starting defensive end spot vacated when Ebenezer Ekuban was lost for the season. Dumervil slipped in the draft because he was considered a pass-rush specialist.

--G Ben Hamilton is feeling the effects of a concussion. The Broncos have had him see specialists, and are waiting to see when he can get back on the field. He could miss the regular-season opener.

--G Chris Myers has been with the Broncos' starting offense for most of the preseason because of Ben Hamilton's concussion. Myers hasn't played much as a pro, but the Broncos like his versatility.

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