It is Wednesday, so that means only five days remain until the Broncos primetime, divisional and regular season opener against the team’s archnemesis, an opponent that ESPN’s Chris Berman will overly refer to as the “RRRaidahs!” prior to Monday night’s clash.
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Head Coach Mike Shanahan for one is, as the Monday Night Football theme song suggests, ready for some football.
“You look forward to it ever year,” Shanahan said about starting the season. “We have been working throughout the offseason—obviously the OTAs, summer camp. We have gotten a chance to see our team in live situations. We have a lot of young players playing on Monday night, and I’m looking forward to it.”
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Shanahan’s gunslinger behind center, Jay Cutler, is also looking forward to Monday night’s season kickoff.
“The first game of the season is always big, especially in the AFC West on the road on Monday night. It’s a big first game for us,” he said. “We get a chance to showcase our team on national television… It’s something that we look forward to.”
Eric Lars Bakke
The Raiders are also anxiously awaiting Monday’s opener and for good reason. The silver and black have been stuck at the bottom of the NFL standings for several seasons. Oakland has posted just six wins in the last two seasons. But recent futility is no reason to sleep on the 2008 edition of the Raiders. The losing seasons brought with them the opportunity to draft highly touted college players JaMarcus Russell, drafted No. 1 overall in 2007 and Darren McFadden drafted No. 4 overall in 2008.
The Broncos coaches know that these players have the potential to put up some impressive offensive numbers.
“He hasn’t played a lot, so we haven’t seen a lot of him,” Shanahan said about Russell. “We have watched a lot (of him) on film. He has played in one game as a starter and played in four other games. Like all other young quarterbacks, it’s a growing process. You know how talented he is, being the first pick in the draft. Everybody knows his size, his arm strength and him being a No. 1 pick. So he has a big, big upside and he has a good supporting cast around him.”
Defensive Coordinator Bob Slowik said a player of Russell’s ability can be hard to prepare for.
“Man is he a strong runner,” he said. “He is pretty athletic; he is real fluid. He has got a strong arm. He can move in the pocket well, and if you do get to him, he is hard as heck to get on the ground.”
The Broncos hope they can halt McFadden’s preseason progress from translating into the regular season.
“He is averaging over five yards a carry, I think 5.4,” Shanahan said. “He has had a good preseason. The have given him a lot of reps and he is a weapon. He has great speed and everybody knows what he did in college. He is going to try to do that at the pro level.”
The Broncos have plenty of stars of their own to match up against the Raiders, however they will be without one of their brightest as wide receiver Brandon Marshall will miss the game serving his one-game suspension.
“I don’t think Brandon will dictate the (complexity) of our game plan,” Shanahan said. “We have some young players, so it might not be as deep as it normally is, but we have enough to show up and play.”
Cutler said the Broncos will have to step up in Marshall’s absence.
“We would like to have him, we would like to have him every game,” Cutler said. “He is an offensive weapon that you are not going to find very often in this league. He does some stuff on the field that is amazing. We are going to have to make due. With the receivers we have, the tight ends and the running game, we’ll have to all pull together to make up for it.”
As the Broncos prepare pull of a win with a receiving corps sans Marshall, the Raiders will try to pull off a victory with a pair of former Broncos receivers on their sidelines.
Javon Walker wore the blue and orange of the Broncos the last two seasons and Ashley Lelie, a former first round draft choice of Denver, was on the team from 2002-2005.
Slowik said in a situation such as this one, when a team takes on former players, familiarity breeds parity.
“Most of the time you think that the offense has the advantage knowing where they are going, but with us knowing him and him knowing us, I think that it kind of equals out a little bit,” Slowik said, when asked if Walker’s knowledge of the Broncos defense would be an advantage.
Raider’s Head Coach Lane Kiffin said he is still uncertain whether Lelie will play on Monday. If he does, Slowik knows exactly what to expect.
“I would think if he does play it will be to run as fast as he can down the field and stay on top because he is going to go deep,” he said.
With the Broncos 2008 campaign set to get underway on Monday night, the team knows that this game can set the tone for the entire season.
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“They are all good teams,” Cutler said. “We will see how it goes. We are a whole different team this year. Those teams are proven and we have to go out there and do it week by week.”
It is hard to believe a team that is opening the season on Monday Night Football is flying under the radar, but Shanahan said there is good reason for that.
“We understand why we are,” he said. “When you take a look at where we were at last year, both offensively, defensively and special teams-wise, why would they pick us? We have to go out there and prove ourselves each week. We are a young football team and we just have to go out and get it done. If you win games then you get the attention you deserve.”
The Broncos hope to capture some of that attention Monday night.
-Jake Grilley, DenverBroncos.com