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Top Five Questions As Denver Broncos Ready For Regular Season

With three preseason games in the books for the Broncos, what concerns still surround them? There are at least five questions still hovering over this team as the 2010 regular season awaits.

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Editor's Note: David Johnson is a guest writer here at SB Nation Denver, and hopefully we'll see more of his musings on the Broncos as the season goes on. He has his own sports blog at Helmets and Pads Required and has also been featured at Colorado Sports Desk. Today, David addresses five questions surrounding the Broncos as the 2010 season is less than two weeks away.

Now that training camp has come and gone, we are only 10 days away from the start of the 2010 NFL season. If you are a die-hard Broncos fan, you are probably either optimistic and hopeful about the upcoming season, or you are very concerned and worried about what the 2010 season has in store for your Broncos.

Since the end of the regular season, there has been a laundry list of questions that have surrounded this team. That laundry list got even longer once Brandon Marshall was traded away to South Beach, along with Tony Scheffler being shipped to Detroit for what seemed to be a six pack of Coors Light or Fat Tire and a couple of bags of Mountain Man snacks.

After a few free agency moves and a draft that produced Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Tim Tebow, along with some stud offensive linemen, many of the major questions (if not all of them) seemed to be answered heading into training camp. Or, at least that's what we were all led to believe.

Fast forward to today, and there are still five big questions and/or concerns that surround the Denver Broncos. Some are old ones that we thought were already answered, and some are new.

5. The Dumervil Effect: How will the Broncos put pressure on the QB without him?

Every Broncos fan can tell you where they were and what they were doing on the day they heard that Elvis Dumervil was going to be out for most or all of this season. Dumervil being out for the year was and still is a crushing blow for this defense.

The NFL is a passing league, and if you can't consistently put pressure on the quarterback, then you are basically in a gun fight without a gun.

With Dumervil being the only proven pass rusher on this team, Josh McDaniels and Wink Martindale have been trying to find ways to fill the void that he leaves behind.  

Jarvis Moss and last year's first round pick, Robert Ayers, have been chosen as the replacements for Dumervil to come off the edge and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Problem solved, right? No, not really, or at least for now it doesn't seem like it. Moss has been inconsistent when healthy, and Ayers, who is going into his second year as an outside linebacker in the NFL, has only shown flashes of being able to get to the quarterback.  

Some are quick to question whether Ayers is a first round bust the way Alphonso Smith has looked so far. But for those of you who don't know, it typically takes two to three years for a college defensive end to make the transition to become an outside linebacker in the NFL.

As the season goes on, Ayers may end up being the answer as a pass rusher at the "Will" linebacker spot, because as of now, he is the only one who has shown the potential to do so.

4. Run defense is still an issue

One of the biggest concerns that has been carried over from last year is the Broncos' inability to stop the run. We all remember how the Broncos' defense was routinely shredded and exposed in the second half of the season. Anyone who watched the Broncos play last year can tell you that it was the run defense that ultimately led the team to a 2-6 record over the last eight games of the season.

Knowing the importance of a good run defense, McDaniels went out and signed Jamal Williams, who is the perfect zero technique nose tackle that McDaniels needed for his one-gap 3-4 defense, along with Justin Bannan and Jarvis Green to help shore up the defensive line. In addition to signing Green and Williams, McDaniels signed Akin Ayodele who is known as a good run stopping linebacker.

Five months later we have learned that those four guys haven't been enough to improve the run defense, as shown in the three preseason games to date. They have been so ineffective in the preseason at stopping the run that Ayodele was released early last week.

Hopefully Denver's inability to consistently stop the run this preseason is just an aberration and not something that will be carried over into the regular season.

Personally, I don't think it is an aberration; Jamal Williams has been getting killed at the line of scrimmage, and when your nose tackle in a 3-4 defense is getting manhandled and isn't commanding double teams, then your run defense is going to be nonexistent.

3. Offensive line woes

The Broncos' offensive line is a major concern as we head into the regular season. Denver has a young-but-talented offensive line that has the potential to become one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. But, as with most areas of this team, injuries are seriously affecting the development of the offensive line.

Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady tore his patellar tendon playing basketball on NFL Draft weekend. He returned to practice this week, but his availability for the season opener is in doubt.

D'Anthony Batiste, who has only started four NFL games in his career, looks like he'll start if Clady isn't ready.

Left guard, second-round rookie Zane Beadles and unknown Stanley Daniels were battling for a job during the preseason. Looks like Beadles has won that job but that has yet to be confirmed.

Another rookie, J.D. Walton (Baylor), looks like he'll beat out veteran Russ Hochstein at center.

The right side will have the same look as last year with guard Chris Kuper, who has been sidelined due to injuries this preseason, and tackle Ryan Harris both back as the starters. Seth Olsen, a 2009 fourth rounder, will provide depth at the right guard and tackle position.

Hopefully the guys who are dealing with injuries are able to come back soon so that the offensive line can begin to develop as a cohesive group and provide protection for Kyle Orton and open up holes for Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno in the run game.

2. What can we expect from this Broncos team in 2010-2011?

After only being on the job for 23 months, McDaniels has completely renovated this Denver Broncos team into a team that has his type of players on it. Gone are the stars that most Denver fans love.

Proven, young superstars such as Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler and Tony Scheffler are no longer on the team. They have been replaced by rookies Demaryius Thomas, Tim Tebow and Eric Decker, along with veteran quarterback Kyle Orton.

Many have wondered how this team will be a playoff team with there not being any stars and/or proven playmakers on the roster. McDaniels believes that you don't have to have a team full of superstars to make it to the playoffs and compete for a championship.

McDaniels just so happens to be correct. Look no further than his former employer in New England. The Patriots won three Super Bowl titles with Tom Brady and the pips on offense.

Now I realize that Brady is a superstar, but he became one over time by making smart decisions with the ball and by being an accurate passer.

In McDaniels' Ron Ernhardt-Perkins passing offense, having a smart accurate quarterback and a good offensive line is all you need to be successful.

With that mouthful being said, many Broncos fans and NFL analysts wonder what to expect from the Denver Broncos this year.

The Broncos have so many young, unproven players and journeymen on the roster that it's hard to gauge what's going to happen this year. Especially with some of the issues that still surround this team going into the season.

Will this team be good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the AFC?

Has Kyle Orton truly taken that next step in becoming the type of quarterback that McDaniels needs him to be?  

Every quarterback may not need a superstar wide receiver or tight end, but every quarterback needs that one guy that he knows he can count on. So which one of the young wide receivers on this team will step up and become Orton's go to guy?

Do they have enough on offense or will they miss Brandon Marshall?

Defensively, do the Broncos have what it takes to stop the run and consistently put pressure on the quarterback this year?

Those are questions that will only be answered between the months of September and January. Until then, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the season.

1. Kyle Orton's play and health

Orton has looked extremely sharp in training camp and in preseason games. His grasp of the offense and his ability to make the right reads has been phenomenal. The only thing that people wonder about is this: Will the new Orton show up in the regular season?

In preseason games, Orton has done everything right except one thing: He still is reluctant to look deep and take a shot down the field. The Broncos have run several nine routes during games and he seems to be content with medium and short throws.

During the early summer, McDaniels stated in several interviews on the NFL Network that he wanted Orton and the offense to routinely be able to stretch the field with deep passes.

The fact that Orton hasn't taken more chances down the field doesn't shock me. That is simply not part of his game. Throughout his entire career he has always been more prone to living with short and medium throws and has never shown the ability to consistently go deep and be accurate.

Another concern with Kyle Orton is his health. Can he stay healthy for an entire season? If he goes down, so do the Broncos' chances of competing for a playoff spot this year.

Brady Quinn has looked horrible during practice and in games, and Tim Tebow simply isn't ready to be the No. 2 quarterback.

As funny or weird as this may sound, the Broncos' season hinges on Orton's play and him staying healthy.  

It is what it is

At the end of the day, it is what it is: The Broncos are a young team with a lot of raw talent that can be a playoff team if they can fix some of the concerns that have been discussed in this blog.  

I'm sure some of you guys are probably saying to yourself, "It's only preseason, so some of these issues will be fixed once the regular season starts." That may be true, but in football there are just some things that don't matter what season it is.

If your defensive line can't hold up at the point of attack during the preseason, then most likely it won't in the regular season either.

Nevertheless, crazier things have happened in the NFL before. Many people had the Broncos winning maybe four games last year and they shocked everyone by starting the season 6-0 and finishing the season 8-8. So, anything is possible. Anything.