John Elway hired Gary Kubiak to take his Broncos back to 1998. That's when a 37-year-old Elway quarterbacked a championship team. Then-offensive coordinator Kubiak put together run-heavy Broncos game plans. And the team won with Terrell Davis, a gritty defense, and his aging QB.
The new head coach in Denver has fewer pieces to work with now, though. After a tough offseason, his roster was picked apart in free agency and was nearly left behind by Peyton Manning. Those Super Bowl dreams can still come true -- but only if these five players step it up.
DeMarcus Ware, linebacker
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DeMarcus Ware was a coup for Elway in free agency last offseason. Now, some view him as just an aging sackmaster with an unwieldy cap number ($8.6 million). That's a small price to pay for what Ware brings to Denver. He's a leader and mentor for new rookie Shane Ray to learn from. He'll need to prove he can still drag QBs down, though, for his team not to touch his three-year deal.
Brock Osweiler, quarterback
Peyton Manning will run the show again in 2015. But Elway and Co. want a good long look at Osweiler before season's end; the young passer hasn't had meaningful game reps since he joined the Broncos as Manning's heir apparent. That will almost certainly change this year. And every snap Osweiler takes will be double-scrutinized as his impending free agency draws near.
Virgil Green, tight end
Denver will rely on a career No. 2 tight end with 23 career receptions in 2015. Still, Virgil Green is a capable target in Gary Kubiak's tight end-friendly offense. He'll almost certainly double that output; will that be enough to compensate for the loss of an All-Pro caliber player in Julius Thomas?
Montee Ball, running back
It's C.J. Anderson's world now in Denver -- Montee Ball is just living in it. But the former second-round pick knows better than most how quickly a starter's status can change. Keep in mind that Ball was tabbed as the man last season before injuries took their toll. He needs to be ready for game action if Anderson goes down. It's the only way he'll justify a roster spot beyond this season.
Sylvester Williams, defensive tackle
Maybe the hiring of Wade Phillips was a wake-up call for Sly Williams. According to reports, the North Carolina product has done nothing but impress his new defensive coordinator. Carrying that momentum over into game action is another story, however. Williams' cap hit is just over $2 million -- the Broncos might move on if the ex-first rounder can't piece it together in year three.
*All salary cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com.