The Denver Broncos finished last season at 8-8, good for second in the AFC West. After a promising 6-0 start, the Broncos fell apart under first-year head coach Josh McDaniels and never recovered.
This year the Broncos camp is brimming with optimism at a fresh start and a chance to make the postseason. Despite that, Denver has looked sluggish in its two preseason games. They lost 33-24 to the Cincinnati Bengals in their opener, and fell to the typically hapless Detroit Lions 25-20.
There is clearly still a lot of work to do before Denver is ready to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in their regular season opener. Here are the top storylines to watch for over the remainder of the preseason.
The Broncos gave starting quarterback Kyle Orton a one-year contract extension through 2011. It's a curious decision considering the Broncos used a first-round draft choice to select Tim Tebow, their probable quarterback of the future.
But Tebow injured his ribs in his first live action and missed the Broncos preseason game against Detroit, and now will likely have to wait till at least 2012 to take over the reins from Orton.
But if the Broncos thought so highly of Tebow in the first place, why would they delay making him their starting quarterback by giving Orton an extension?
One answer might be that Denver thinks Tebow needs at least two years to learn the pro game, and is keeping Orton around to lead the team while Tebow learns the ropes.
It could also mean that the Broncos finally realized what they had in Orton, which is a serviceable NFL quarterback coming off a career year. But then why only a one-year extension?
These questions may not be answered until next year, but in the meantime look for Tebow to play a behind-the-scenes role.
The Broncos have endured more than their share of injures this summer, especially after losing star linebacker Elvis Dumervil for the season.
But now they're finally starting to get some bodies back. Running back Correll Buckhalter, cornerback Champ Bailey, receiver Demaryius Thomas, linebacker D.J. Williams and guard Chris Kuper have all recently returned to action and should be ready for the regular season.
Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady is also expected to return to practice today, providing Denver with a big boost up front.
Denver is still without projected starting running back Knowshon Moreno. They should get back-up LenDale White back today, but they will need Moreno if they want to have an effective rushing attack.
Marshall's teammates and coaches may not miss his immature and unprofessional stunts, but they will most definitely miss what the 6'4" wideout can do a on a football field.
Marshall caught 101 passes for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009 as one of the NFL's premier receivers. But the Broncos got tired of his act and traded him to the Miami Dolphins.
Now, Denver's passing game is going to have to rely on veterans like Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, and Brandon Stokley. The Broncos also drafted Demaryius Thomas in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, and at 6'3", 229 pounds Thomas is the logical replacement for Marshall.
But Thomas hurt his foot in the preseason and is just not getting back to action. Plus, it's not often that a rookie wide receiver sees instant success at the pro level.
Look for Denver to focus on rushing the ball early in the regular season until Orton can work out a repertoire with Thomas and his other receivers.
The nine-year veteran last seen with the Miami Dolphins was expected to be a starter for the Denver Broncos at inside linebacker, especially after the loss of 2009 NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervill. But in a surprising move the Broncos released Ayodele yesterday.
The move allows Denver to move Mario Haggan to inside linebacker and start Jarvis Moss in place of Haggan. D.J. Williams is the other inside linebacker and Robert Ayers will start opposite Moss.
Ayodele is a solid linebacker who tallied 71 tackles last season with the Dolphins. He's been a consistent performer throughout his NFL career, and figured to be a stable option for the Broncos.
The best explanation is that coach Josh McDaniels just wasn't enamored with the play of Ayodele and felt Haggan could help the defensive unit more. It's a football decision, plain and simple.
Denver fans can only hope Haggan won't make McDaniels regret it.