Second-year running back Selvin Young returns to his hometown of Houston as the Broncos' starting running back after a productive rookie season.
After a disappointing 7-9 finish in 2007, the Broncos begin their 2008 season with a matchup against a team full of familiar faces in the Houston Texans. The Texans defeated the Broncos 31-13 in a December 2007 regular-season showdown, but the Broncos will get their first look at several new young players in this preseason opener.
This will be head coach Mike Shanahan's 13th season as head coach of the Broncos. With 123 regular-season wins with Denver, Shanahan ranks 11th in NFL history in most victories by a head coach with a single franchise. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak worked as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Shanahan before coming to the Texans.
We break down the Broncos position by position.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler, a promising young quarterback with a gifted arm, enters his second season as the Broncos' starter in his third year in the NFL. Cutler made huge strides in his development last year behind a solid offensive line, throwing for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Running back:After releasing running backs Travis Henry and Mike Bell in the offseason, the Broncos now hand the reigns over to second-year back Selvin Young, a Houston native from Jersey Village High School and the University of Texas. Young had an impressive rookie campaign despite playing behind Henry for most of the season and finished with 729 yards rushing and one touchdown while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Behind Young are former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Michael Pittman and second-year back Andre Hall, who rushed for 4.9 yards a carry in 10 games last season. University of Houston rookie running back Anthony Alridge rounds out the backfield along with fullbacks Cecil Sapp and Arknasas rookie Peyton Hillis.
Wide receiver/tight end: Brandon Marshall returns as the Broncos' number one receiving threat, though he is battling an offseason arm injury and a looming three-game suspension in the regular season. Marshall caught 102 passes last year in his sophomore season, giving him the third-highest total by a second-year player in NFL history. The Broncos lost one of the best players in their team's history when wideout Rod Smith retired this summer, but former San Francisco 49er Darrell Jackson and ex-Indianapolis Colt Brandon Stokely are vying to fill the void along with former Carolina Panther Keary Colbert and rookie speedster Eddie Royal, the second-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech who has been a star in Denver's training camp. At tight end, Daniel Graham provides top-notch blocking while Tony Scheffler gives Cutler a dangerous receiving threat over the middle of the field.
Offensive line:Fifteenth-year center Tom Nalenis likely to miss Denver's first three preseason games due to a lingering knee injury. Casey Wiegmann, a 35-year-old center who started the previous 111 games for the Kansas City Chiefs, should take his place. Aside from eighth-year right guard Ben Hamilton, the rest of the Broncos' line is comprised of young players with little-to-no starting experience: rookie left tackle Ryan Clady, the No. 11 overall draft pick out of Boise State, third-year right guard Chris Kuper and second-year right tackle Ryan Harris.
Defensive line:Leading the way up front for Denver is defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who registered 12.5 sacks in 2007. On the other end of the line is John Engelberger, who totaled 41 tackles a year ago. Former New York Jet Dewayne Robertsonteams with second-year pro Marcus Thomas to clog the middle.
Linebacker:Outside linebacker D.J. Williamsfinished second in the NFL with 141 tackles last season. He's joined by fellow Miami (Fla.) alumnus middle linebacker Nate Webster, who was second on the Broncos with 86 tackles in 2007, and Boss Bailey, the younger brother of Champ Bailey who was signed in the offseason from the Detroit Lions.
Secondary:The Broncos' secondary boasts one of the league's premier defenders in cornerback Champ Bailey, who has 42 interceptions in his nine-year career but is questionable for Saturday's game with a tweaked hamstring. Cornerback Dre' Bly, coming off of a five-interception season in 2007, locks down the opposite side of the field. Free safety Marlon McCreetakes the place of the departed John Lynch, while strong safety Hamza Abdullahreturns to the starting lineup after starting eight games in his second pro season last year.
Kicking: The preseason should be an important time for the development of Denver's young special teams players. With Bronco great Jason Elam now kicking for the Atlanta Falcons, second-year pro Matt Pratertakes over the placekicking duties after going 1-of-4 on field goal attempts in limited action as a rookie out of the University of Central Florida. Meanwhile, punter Sam Paulescu, in his second year out of Oregon State, punted only five times in his rookie season.
Returning: Royal, a speed-burner who finished his career at Virginia Tech as the all-time leader in punt return yards in ACC history, will handle both kick and punt return duties for the Broncos.