The Denver Broncos enter the 2008 season 10 years removed from the John Elway era. However, Elway is certainly not the only player gone from the 1997 and 1998 championship seasons.
With Rod Smith retiring and Jason Elam going to Atlanta via free agency, center Tom Nalen is the only player left from those teams. Many of the players from those teams will slowly end up in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame. This year’s team is young and can start a new winning tradition.
Mike Shanahan returns for his 14th season as the Broncos' head coach. Since Gary Kubiak left to become the Houston Texans’ head coach, Shanahan has had a 16-16 record and has not led the the Broncos to the playoffs since 2005. This could be a make or break year for Shanahan.
Jay Cutler enters his third NFL season and his second full season as the Broncos starting quarterback. Cutler has had a roller coaster offseason after being diagnosed with diabetes. However, the third-year quarterback looked sharp in preseason. This season could be the year Cutler shows whether he can be the next franchise quarterback for the Broncos.
Patrick Ramsey enters his second season as the Broncos' backup. Ramsey appeared in two games last season, completing 29 passes out of 48 for 262 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Do not look for Ramsey to get any time unless Cutler is injured or ineffective.
Selvin Young enters his second season and looks to be the starting running back for the Broncos. Young rushed for 729 yards in his rookie season and had one touchdown.
Second year running back Andre Hall should see some carries as well. In 10 games last year, Hall rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Newly acquired Michael Pittman could spend time as both a running back and fullback. However, rookie Peyton Hillis looks to be the starter at fullback.
Newly acquired Darrell Jackson and rookie Eddie Royal will be the Broncos' starters at wide receiver. Nevertheless, this could change when Brandon Marshall returns from suspension. Brandon Stokley and Keary Colbert will also get a few looks. Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler should see most of the action at tight end.
The offensive line should be stronger as the same group returns. Veteran Tom Nalen will return as center. Ben Hamilton will be at left guard and Chris Kuper will be the right guard. Ryan Clady, a first round pick from Boise State, should start at left tackle and Ryan Harris will start at right tackle.
John Engelberger and Elvis Dumervil should start at the defensive end position. Engelberger had 41 tackles and one sack last season. Dumervil had 39 tackles and 12.5 sacks. Dewayne Robertson and Marcus Thomas will start at the tackles. Robertson had 57 tackles and four sacks for the New York Jets. Thomas had 19 tackles last season.
D.J. Williams, Nate Webster, and newly acquired Boss Bailey make up the Broncos linebacker core. Williams had 141 tackles, one sack, and an interception last season. Webster had 87 tackles and a pass deflection. Bailey had 51 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season with the Detroit Lions. Williams should provide the leadership for this group as he enters his sixth season in Denver.
The Broncos' secondary is made up of both new and old faces. Champ Bailey and Dre’ Bly return as the starting corners, but John Lynch and Nick Ferguson are no longer on the team. Ferguson signed with the Texans and Lynch signed with the New England Patriots, but was released before the season. Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree will be the starters at safety.
The special teams are young and have plenty of new faces. Matt Prater takes over the kicking duties in his second season. Brett Kern, a rookie from Toledo will start at punter. Look for Royal and Jackson on punt returns, and Royal and Hall on kick returns.
The question this season will be whether the Broncos can return to the postseason. Once the Broncos start a winning tradition like the mid-to-late-'90s they will be good for a long time.