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Broncos have plenty of work to do

Jeff Legwold
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Dave Einsel/APDenver Broncos Christian Morton, left (25) reacts as Houston Texans place kicker Kris Brown (3) and holder Matt Turk (1) celebrate their game winning field goal on the last play of a preseason game Saturday in Houston.
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ENGLEWOOD, Colorado ” It is a common August refrain, right there with “hot enough for ya?” but after the fumbles, the penalties and any ill-timed stumbles in the games that don’t add up in the standings it all usually gets shoved into the same pile.

“It’s preseason, man,” said Broncos running back Andre Hall. “We’ll find it. It’s the preseason.”

Indeed it is, at least for three more weeks for the Broncos and the rest of the league.



But the Broncos’ last-tick-on-the-scoreboard loss in Houston started the clock ticking in earnest, one game down, just three to go before the roster goes to 53 players. And two days worth of combined workouts with the Cowboys this week will only drive that point home all the more.

So, as two-a-days draw to a close by the end of the week, the team’s to-do list still includes:



The comfort zone.

Defensive coordinator Bob Slowik has continually said the team is, in many ways, still in the infancy of its work in a new defensive scheme.

Slowik flashed some uncharacteristic aggressiveness in a preseason game with a couple of blitzes against the Texans ” cornerback Christian Morton forced a fumble on a sack on one of those.



Slowik’s group will crowd the line of scrimmage plenty when things get cranked up in the regular season, but until Dewayne Robertson plays at defensive tackle in a game, the Broncos will not have shown their hoped-for alignment along the starting defensive line.

The Broncos had two sacks in 25 pass attempts from the Texans, neither by a defensive lineman. The Cowboys’ physical offensive front will provide a gauge on progress as well.

“We’ve got two more preseason games to touch things up,” said safety Marlon McCree.

That number is key as well. With virtually all of the team’s starters expected to sit out the preseason finale in Phoenix, the Broncos really have only two games to smooth out some of the rough edges in the pass rush, especially off the edge.

Serve and protect.

The Broncos have spent a lot of time in the offseason working on quarterback Jay Cutler finding his underneath receivers ” the backs and tight ends ” in hopes that will loosen things up down the field for the plays when he can impose his arm on a defense.

Last season many teams simply dropped as many defenders into coverage as possible, believing Cutler would spend much of his available time to throw looking beyond the intermediate routes.

The dial-down tactic may also serve Cutler well as the Broncos work through things on the offensive line. Saturday night they started rookie Ryan Clady at left tackle and second-year tackle Ryan Harris ” he missed most of camp in ’07 and was inactive for five games because of back surgery ” on the right side.

So, Harris in a developmental sense is closer to a rookie than he is to a second-year player as his four penalties would attest Saturday. Guard Chris Kuper is playing with a cast on his right hand, center Tom Nalen will likely miss much, or all, of the preseason with pain in his left knee and guard Montrae Holland will go through his first week of practice only this week after reporting overweight.

“We’ve got a whole new offensive line out there right now,” Cutler said. “Two young guys at tackle, we’re going to have to go with them and they’re going to have to learn game-by-game, making mistakes rookies make. . . . I couldn’t be happier with the protections and the pockets we’ve had so far.”

“I thought they played very well in the game, I’m really pleased with the effort,” Shanahan said. “Obviously we had seven penalties by rookies and that usually goes hand in hand with young players. But I liked their effort, I like the way they played . . . and I loved the way they pass protected in the majority of the game.”

Kick it.

Matt Prater missed his first field-goal attempt ” from a rather pedestrian 30 yards ” before making his last three in Houston. The three makes are good for his confidence, but with the AFC postseason race expected to be a tight one, leaving out those who leave too many wins on the table, missed kicks will hurt plenty.

Prater’s leg strength has been clearly evident in camp, but controlling that strength to maintain his accuracy will be what keeps him in the job.

“You stay level-headed and don’t get too full of yourself or arrogant,” Prater said. “I know I have nothing to lose. I just want to be here and keep kicking well.”

The Broncos punted just twice Saturday night, so the competition continues for Brett Kern ” he’s been the No. 1 holder on place kicks so far ” and Sam Paulescu.

Conservation.

With the 80-man roster limit this Broncos training camp has been about the preservation of players as much as the installation of what’s in the playbooks.

Shanahan has made no secret he wants to get to the Sept. 8 opener in Oakland as healthy as possible. With the usual allotment of day-to-day camp injuries a team’s working roster can quickly go 65 or 70 players at times.

That isn’t conducive to the slug-it-out, pad-them-up practices in the days of yore, days that are now long gone leaguewide, because most coaches believe starters lost in August could mean games lost in October.

“This is the first year we’ve dealt with this,” Shanahan said. “I like what we’ve done with the schedule and this is how we’ll do it in the future. You’re trying to get ready to play and in a few weeks we’ll see if we’re ready to play.”


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