As the Broncos report to training camp for the first time under head coach Josh McDaniels, it's mind boggling to think how differently the pieces to this puzzle were arranged just six months ago.
All this you already know. With those two in the spotlight, everyone knew what to expect from the Broncos. Expectations for this team remain high in the eyes of the fans, but the reasons behind them have been altered forever.
Truthfully, no one is quite sure what the Broncos will deliver this season. That kind of uncertainty has some fans pacing with excitement and others reeling with dread. Personally, I find myself somewhere in between.
Regardless, here are five of the most pressing questions the Broncos will face from now until Week 17.
1. What was Josh McDaniels thinking?
No matter what his reasons were, McDaniels' legacy will be heavily decided by the outcome of the Jay Cutler trade. It may not be fair to tie so much of the man's career to one spoiled athlete, but when all is said and done it's what people will remember 10 years from now.
As far as Cutler goes, I say good riddance. Josh has a lot of my respect already for refusing to allow Jay's ego to become more important than the team. In time, hopefully the entire Broncos' team and fan base will see it that way too.
Just like in New England, McDaniels has a lot of talent he can incorporate into his offense, but is it the right talent for the job? Whether or not his players can get a good grasp on his system remains to be seen, and that brings us to question No. 2.
2. Is Kyle Orton the answer at quarterback?
Perhaps no quarterback has made more strides in the past four years than Kyle Orton. Even now he is far from the smoothest signal caller in the league, but Orton is one of the best at overcoming adversity and finding ways to win games. That is what's most important these days, right? Winning?
During his time in Chicago, Orton was guaranteed two things: little time to throw in the pocket and a severe lack of any proven offensive weapons around him. Seriously, glaciers run better routes than the receivers Kyle was throwing to last year.
Both of those problems should be remedied here in Denver, where Orton will work with one of the league's top o-lines and the most promising receiving corps in the game today. Orton is not going to make anyone forget John Elway, but if he can do what Cutler could not and get the Broncos back to the playoffs, I think fans will be more than satisfied.
3. Can Knowshon Moreno live up to the hype?
Before he even steps onto the field, the Broncos' top draft pick is already facing a major obstacle in his career; his first NFL contract. Once he gets enough nickels and dimes to fill his millionaire sized piggy bank, Knowshon will then have to prove his worth on the field.
His talent has never been in question, nor has his spot with the Broncos. On a team that hasn't had a franchise running back since Clinton Portis, there is a good measure of excitement and optimism surrounding the possibilities that Moreno brings to McDaniels' offense.
The challenge that Moreno faces is performing well enough to silence critics who believe that Denver should've gone with a defender instead of a tailback. While defense was the priority, Knowshon is the kind of player that can stabilize a team for years to come. He's also one that can hold it back if he doesn't develop properly.
Broncos fans are crossing their fingers for the former.
4. Does the defense have all the parts to successfully switch to the 3-4?
I'm still getting comments about the article I wrote over my lack of faith in the defensive line. While I still have my doubts about that particular unit, when it comes to the rest of the D, I'm laying off the "Haterade" a little bit.
If there's one area where the Broncos have unquestionably improved in, it is the secondary.
Brian Dawkins will bring the ferocity and leadership this team has been missing since Al Wilson went down. Champ Bailey remains the elite corner in all football, while Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill should bring their solid play from the Miami coast to the Rocky Mountains.
The linebacking corps has good depth on the inside with DJ Williams, Andra Davis, and Wesley Woodyard, but the outside backers will face some stiff growing pains. Former D-linemen such as Elvis Dumervil, Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder are adjusting to brand new positions, while the team is hoping that first-round pick Robert Ayers can bring the heat on the outside.
In the end though, Denver's defensive redemption will rest heavily on the shoulders of the front three, particularly on those of nose tackle Ronnie Fields.
If Fields and company can take care of business up front, the guys behind them should be able to bring some mojo back to the Broncos' defense. However, that's an if that could cost Denver dearly.
5. Is the schedule too difficult to overcome?
Any success the Broncos have this year could be overshadowed by the strength of the teams on their horizon. Denver will be hosting several unwelcome guests, including New England, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and the New York Giants.
Fortunately, therein lies some good news.
If Denver make the playoffs, then they will be considered to be a legitimately good football team. If, on the other hand, they get bounced around like a ping pong ball, then we may not know how bad they actually are until next year.
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