Keys to the season

After an offseason that will be remembered for a long time in Denver, the Broncos will be happy to finally start the regular season.

Denver found a new coach and replaced most of the assistants. The organization sparred with its star receiver, after sparring with and trading its Pro Bowl quarterback. The roster was redone from top to bottom.

Nobody knows if the moves will be for the better, at least immediately. Denver led the AFC West from the start of last season until it lost the lead - and a playoff berth - with a loss at San Diego to finish the season. Few are expecting the Broncos to beat the Chargers for the division title this year.

The Broncos have a brutal schedule in October and November, so getting off to a fast start is important. With injuries hitting the Broncos pretty hard late in the preseason, that will be a challenge.

THREE KEYS TO THE SEASON

1. The Broncos need to be able to establish a running game. Passing the ball is the crux of Josh McDaniels' offense, but running the ball will put less pressure on quarterback Kyle Orton and not expose the defense by having it out on the field most of the time. Denver has the line and the talent at tailback to have an effective running game this season.

2. The defensive line is unproven and largely unknown, but the 3-4 won't work unless the line does its part. The linemen are big, and if they can keep blockers off Denver's linebackers the defense can run along smoothly. That will be the key to the Broncos improving a run defense that was a major weakness in 2008.

3. The lack of big plays from the secondary in the preseason is a bit of a concern. But cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman with safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill have a good track record and played well in training camp. If Mike Nolan's aggressive style starts to result in more turnovers, the Broncos could make a leap defensively.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

RB Knowshon Moreno: Moreno's holdout and knee injury didn't help clear up what his role will be early in the season. But he has top-notch talent and will play a lot right away. He has great explosiveness and because of his versatility, the Broncos will use him in different ways.

LB D.J. Williams: Williams hasn't been to a Pro Bowl, but that could change this year. In the weak-side inside linebacker spot, he will have every opportunity to be the playmaker of the defense. He has the ability to be a top linebacker in the NFL if he takes to the position.

OT Ryan Clady: Clady almost certainly won't repeat his rookie season, when he gave up only a half of a sack. But he isn't a good bet to have a sophomore slump, either. Clady has phenomenal athleticism for a man his size and instantly became one of Denver's franchise players. He should go to the Pro Bowl.

WR Eddie Royal: The Broncos appear willing to move on without Brandon Marshall if they have to, in part because they think Royal can be a No. 1 receiver. He had a good rookie season and could be even better in his second year. The only problem might be that he isn't physically imposing and could break down with too many touches.



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