Aside from rookie Ryan Torain's elbow injury, which will keep him out about two months, and center Tom Nalen's bad knee, the Broncos didn't suffer any serious injuries. And coming off a 7-9 season, Denver got some much-needed confidence by coming along quickly on offense and defense during training camp and the preseason.
After a short look at his team, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan went on a Denver radio station and predicted his team wouldn't miss the playoffs. He later said that injuries would be a big factor in his team's fortunes.
"I said, No. 1, you've got to be a little bit lucky, a little bit fortunate if you can keep healthy," Shanahan said. "In our two Super Bowl years we lost 10 starters (games to injury) one year and 15 starters the next year. Last year we lost 72. I've got some high expectations for this team, and hopefully we'll get there."
The players looked at it as a challenge, one that they felt up to.
"I look at it as him being confident," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "Obviously he knows we have a lot of work to get to that point, but right now I feel like we can make it too."
The Broncos might be a team that gets better as the season goes on, although their good preseason might mean they're further along than expected. The starting offense, which is filled with inexperienced talent, was sharp in every game, especially quarterback Jay Cutler. The young line came together quickly and other young players performed well right away.
Defensively the Broncos are learning a new scheme. The players and coaches were happy with the progress in picking up the new defense, which is now run by coordinator Bob Slowik, and the results were good in the preseason. The run defense was effective in the preseason, which was a positive sign because Denver was 30th in rushing yards allowed last year.
Even the special teams, which are very young, weren't much of an issue in the preseason. Kicker Matt Prater missed a couple of preseason kicks but overall had a very good camp and preseason.
The Broncos' first two games will be big, and they'll likely have to play both without receiver Brandon Marshall, who will be serving a suspension. Denver opens at Oakland, then comes home to face the defending AFC West champion Chargers.
Competing better against the Chargers is Denver's top challenge. The Broncos were blown out twice by San Diego last season, so the early-season game will be a good test of how far along they really are.
COACHING: Mike Shanahan, 16th year, 14th with Broncos (138-90).
REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West)
PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record 7-9 (2nd in AFC West)
--Wide receiver Brandon Marshall flew to New York to appeal his suspension for violating the NFL conduct policy. He was suspended three games, but can reduce that to two. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he didn't know when the final verdict would be handed down.
"No clue as to what went on or when it's going to be finished, but I'm sure it will be done in a timely fashion," Shanahan said.
"I'm not worried about it," Scheffler said. "I think I proved myself last year that I can make plays for this team and I think I'm going to be a big part of things."
Dumervil broke his pinkie finger, and while he's likely to play, he didn't sound as confident as Manuel.
"I've got to see after this week," Dumervil said. "I'm resting this whole week off, then we'll start going after it and start the healing process."
--Linebacker Boss Bailey is fighting through pain in his ankle, which he hurt in the preseason opener. He suffered a high ankle sprain but wants to play when the regular season starts.
"I still feel good about that," Bailey said. "You've got to keep working through the pain, because it's going to be sore."
BY THE NUMBERS: 36 - Years since the Broncos have had back-to-back losing seasons. Denver went 7-9 last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think they might throw me in that short-yardage stuff, because I'm shorter, quick, it's tough to bring me down because I'm a short and stocky guy." -- RB Andre Hall on the possibility of being Denver's short-yardage back.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos have to make room on the roster for two injured offensive players, or lose them for the season. Center Tom Nalen has a bad knee, and has had two minor surgeries on it since June. He didn't play at all in the preseason, but is a vital cog of the Broncos' line. Denver wants to get one more year out of him, and thinks he can return early in the season. Rookie running back Ryan Torain won't return until about midseason at best. He is targeting Oct. 20 against New England as a possible return date from an elbow injury. Because he adds a different dimension to the Broncos' run game, Denver is likely to be patient with him and avoid putting him on injured reserve.
PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Andre Hall - Hall is going to have a significant role on the Broncos. A talented back, Hall will return kickoffs, could be Denver's goal-line back and looks like he will share some carries with starter Selvin Young. Hall showed some flashes of his talent in limited time last year, and could have a nice year in the Broncos' typically strong running offense.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Rd. 1/12, OT Ryan Clady, Boise State -- Clady was named the starter as soon as he was drafted, and he hasn't disappointed. He needs to be a little more aggressive in the run game but his pass protection has been fantastic.
Rd. 5/139, RB Ryan Torain, Arizona State -- Once Torain recovers from an = elbow injury, he should quickly move into the mix at tailback.
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