1. Can The New Faces Acclimate Quickly? -- The Broncos added 36 new players to the roster since the end of the 2007 season. The team has added 16 draft picks or college free agents, acquired defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson from the Jets in a trade, welcomed six unrestricted free agents, signed six street free agents and added seven future-contract players. Sure, some of those guys won't last to see the sweat of middle August, but many of them are being counted on to play keys roles for the Broncos in '08. How quickly the acclimate themselves to wearing Orange and Blue will go a long way towards the team getting off to a hot start.
Offensively, with question marks still surrounding Brandon Marshall, Darrell Jackson and Keary Colbert are going to be relied upon to make an impact. Rookie Eddie Royal will be counted on as well to chip in, especially on Special Teams. There is always a spotlight on the #1 pick as well, and all eyes will be on Ryan Clady and his adjustment to the pro game.
On defense, Boss Baily and Niko Koutouvides are being brought in to solidify the linebacking corp. Koutouvides will be given the first shot at becoming the new "man in the middle" and his success, or lack thereof, will go a long way towards the development of the defense as a whole.
2. Is This The Year The Coaching Carousel Stops? - Another summer, another defensive coordinator. It seems we talk about this every year around this time. In '08 it is Bob Slowik's turn at turning this defense around. Slowik has had success as the team's DB coach and is well liked in the locker room, something Jim Bates never enjoyed. While the new faces the team has added will be the key to the defense's success, how well Slowik can formulate a game plan that maximizes the players' strengths will be just as important. There are still vulnerabilities to cover up and Slowik will need to find a way to get the most out of the talent at hand, without alienating players the way Bates did.
On offense, it is out with Mike Heimerdinger, who left for greener pastures in Tennessee, and in with Jeremy Bates, the son of the aforementioned Jim Bates. The younger Bates will be tasked with running the Broncos' passing game under Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison. Dennison's strength has always been the running game, and Bates will need to add a bit of spice to a passing game that has become, well, plain boring the past few seasons.
3. Can The Guys Coming Back From Injury Return To Form? - Tom Nalen, Ben Hamilton, Jarvis Moss, Ebenezar Ekuban, Brandon Marshall. All these guys are counted on to be starters and big-time performers in 2008. Unfortunately, all are coming off of serious injuries and are big-time question marks as "The Quest" begins.
It appears all systems are go for Nalen and Hamilton to regain their starting spots along the Broncos offensive front. I have faith that Nalen will be able to come back from the Right Biceps injury that ended his 2007 prematurely. My confidnece isn;t nearly as high with Hamilton who suffered a concussion during training camp last year and never could shake the symptoms. While Hamilton feels fine now, what will happen the first time he bangs heads with a 325 lb. d-lineman? That is a concern for the Broncos and one reason they added depth on the O-line, in the draft and via free agency.
Marhsall's rehabilitation has been hush-hush so far, but there seems to be an undercurrent of concern in regards to is recovery. While I have nothing to substantiate my feelings, I have this nagging feeling the Broncos would be foolish to count on Marshall making an impact in 2008, let alone duplicating his 2007 season. There's just something about "cutting nerves, veins and tendons" in your arm when you are a receiver that brings out the pessimist in me.
For Moss staying healthy has been a problem his entire football life. In 2007 it was a broken ankle and torn ankle ligaments suffered during practice that put him on the shelf. Moss had the walking boot removed in February and began running in March. He is fully entrenched in the team's off-season strength and conditioning program and looks to be on track to begin training camp full speed. How long he can remain that way is the big question. Ebenezar Ekuban was supposed to give the Broncos time to slowly work Moss into the lineup, but that ended when the veteran defensive end tore his achilles tendon during the pre-season game in Dallas. Ekuban has been reportedly been rehabbing vigorously in hopes of getting back to full strength, and the Broncos will likely tread lightly in bring Eb back. If both Moss and Ekuban can give the Broncos what Elvis Dumervil provides on the oppisite side the defense will be vastly improved.
4. Can Jay Cutler Progress With Questions About His Health Swirling? -- 2008 was a big year before Jay Cutler announced he was diabetic. Now that the gorilla is out of the closet everyone seems to be blaming the disease for his performance at times in 2007. If it were only that easy. Cutler is still young, heading into his second full season as the Broncos starting quarterback. Even before the dianosis I was looking for Cutler to take a huge jump in terms of in-game management and consistency. While there seems to be no reason Cutler cannot perform with diabetes, having Wade Wilson as the poster child for quarterbacks that were able to play with the condition doesn't exactly ease my fears. It's not that I don;t think Cutler can do it, there just isn't any comparative case to use to back up any optimisitc opinion. PLaying quarterback in the NFL is the hardest job in sports when everything is 100%. How Cutler handles his health will be a huge factor for the rest of his career.
5. Can The Broncos Find A Reliable Option At Kicker and Punter? -- A question that will linger all the way until the Opener on September 8th, the Broncos will officially begin their search for a new kicker and punter. With 5 candidates vying for 2 jobs, there are going to be a lot of balls flying all over the practice fields over the next 4 months. Matt Prater and Garrett Hartley are competing at kicker. Brett Kern, Danny Baugher and Sam Paulescu are battling for punter duties. Right now my money is on Prater and Paulescu, but this is a battle that will be worth our attention all summer. With some of you still lamenting the loss of Jason Elam, I know there will be alot of interest.
Are those the only questions? Certainly not. But Quarterback Camp is only the beginning of the Journey and few if any of the answers will be learned over the next two weeks. The important thing is the Broncos are back on the field, back trying to get better, back to putting a disasterous 2007, on and off the field, behind them. Let "The Quest" begin....
UPCOMING DATES --
* Quarterback camp: Today through Thursday; May 27-30.
* Team camp: June 2-6; June 9-13 (tentative).
* Minicamp: July 7-8.
* Training camp: Players report July 24.