COMMENTARY | Franchise left tackle Ryan Clady has his long-term deal, suspensions have been meted out in the wake of the inexcusable DUI charges leveled against two team executives and even at 37, Peyton Manning appears to be as armed and as dangerous as ever at the helm of one of the NFL's odds-on Super Bowl favorites.
But by no means do the Denver Broncos have all of the answers with the start of training camp looming in a little more than a week. In fact, here are five burning questions the Broncos must contemplate over the ensuing seven weeks leading up to the Sept. 5 season opener against the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens:
Can the secondary bounce back from last season's divisional playoff disaster?
The lasting memories from this past January's playoff loss to the Ravens are nightmarish ones for the Broncos' defensive backfield as Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco shredded the alleged coverage for 331 yards and three TDs, the last one coming on a 70-yard desperation heave with 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
The prime Broncos culprits, cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Rahim Moore, both are back in their same roles and are projected to start even though the team has added reinforcements in free agents Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer and third-round draft pick Kayvon Webster. Corner Chris Harris and safety Mike Adams also return and figure heavily in the team's plans as well.
On paper, the secondary looks more than solid, and with some timely help from the pass rush and (hopefully) one painful, late-game lesson now learned, it should hold up just fine.
One thing's for certain: It won't take long to find out with Flacco and Co. coming back to town in Week 1.
How will the Broncos replace Elvis Dumervil's pass rush?
This one's going to be tricky with Dumervil joining the Ravens after having notched the 11th-most sacks (37.5) in the league over the past four seasons -- even with the defensive end missing the entire 2010 campaign due to injury.
Dumervil's pass-rushing running mate of the past two seasons, linebacker Von Miller, finished third in the league with 18.5 sacks a season ago and can't reasonably be expected to contribute much more, especially factoring in the extra blocking attention he's now sure to receive.
Instead, look for the sack slack to be picked up by some combination of veteran free-agent signee Shaun Phillips, second-year improvement from DE/DT Derek Wolfe, solid play from holdover DE Robert Ayers and a possible wild-card contribution from fifth-round pick Quanterus Smith.
With leading rusher Willis McGahee now gone, who will step up at running back?
When the news broke of McGahee's release in early June, many immediately assumed shiny, new second-round pick Montee Ball was destined to be the man.
The NCAA's all-time TD leader still might be, but second-year back Ronnie Hillman will enter training camp atop the depth chart. And the more we hear about the strides Hillman has taken in adding some productive pounds -- now up close to 200 after slipping below 180 late last season -- and shoring up his pass blocking, the more it sounds like he'll carve out a definite 2013 role for himself.
And then there's veteran Knowshon Moreno, coming back from another injury and written off too many times to count. While it's pretty clear that Moreno likely never will live up to his first-round franchise-back billing, he's seemingly still found a way to contribute just about every time he starts sliding toward total obscurity.
To be certain, McGahee's veteran toughness and inside running will be hard to replace, but the Ball-Hillman-Moreno triumvirate has the potential to be a key cog in a Super Bowl run.
And what about the situation at middle linebacker?
First, a quick note to quantify the relative importance of this position in the Broncos' overall scheme. With Denver utilizing a nickel formation for as much as 65-70 percent of its defensive snaps, that typically means the middle 'backer is on the bench in favor of the third cornerback.
That said, the team still needs a new starter in the middle. Keith Brooking, a free agent who started 14 games in 2012, wasn't re-signed, leaving 2011 third-round pick Nate Irving, veteran free agent Stewart Bradley and 2012 college free-agent Steven Johnson as the prime starting contenders.
Veteran Joe Mays, who's made 21 starts for the Broncos over the past three seasons, technically still is under contract but hasn't been mentioned in team's plans and could be released by the time you read this.
The front-runner here is Irving, a two-year backup who's excelled on special teams, but Bradley is a wild card after the former Philadelphia Eagle proved to be an ill fit for the Arizona Cardinals' 3-4 scheme the past two seasons.
Finally, will there be enough footballs to go around with the team's bevy of pass-catchers?
With free-agent Wes Welker joining a cast that already included wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, this has become a conundrum, particularly in the ever-expanding fantasy football circles.
In total, the above quintet combined for 390 receptions, 4,763 yards and 36 TDs in 2012, but unless the Broncos want the 37-year-old Manning dropping back on virtually every snap, that's simply not going to happen this year.
So whose stats are headed for a tumble?
The easy answer is that all five will see a slight, across-the-board decrease, but as crafty as Welker is in the slot, it's hard to envision the former Patriot stepping into a new offense and catching at least 111 passes for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
Ninety or so catches for Welker seems much more reasonable, while his presence in the middle of the field figures to take away targets from Tamme and Dreessen as well.
In any case, aside from the fantasy folks, this is more of a problem for opposing defenses to deal with.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.
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