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End Zone

The calendar tells us August has arrived, bringing with it the buildup to another football season.

That means a month filled with interesting storylines up and down the Front Range. And as we focus on the Air Force Academy, Denver Broncos and the University of Colorado, we already see a bit of irony playing out in the weeks ahead.

In the 2009 preseason, if you follow those three teams, you'll find the same priorities being repeatedly emphasized. So here's your primer for the Falcons, Broncos and Buffaloes — not exploring every detail that will shape their fates this fall, but focusing on three uncertain areas they share in common.

Quarterbacks: Up at Broncoland, Kyle Orton has the starting job and, if new Denver coach Josh McDaniels follows his pattern from New England, Orton might take virtually every snap in 2009. But with a new coach, new offense and new quarterbacks, rest assured McDaniels will develop depth in the preseason. That means veteran Chris Simms should play a lot in Denver's preseason games, as well as rookie Tom Brandstater out of Fresno State. And who knows, if those Michael Vick rumors turn out to be true, it could be a foursome.

Air Force wrapped up its 2008 season feeling secure about starter Tim Jefferson, who showed much promise as a freshman. But he had to focus on academics in the spring, so it's uncertain how much progress he'll make as a sophomore. Classmate Asher Clark, who worked into the lineup last season as a tailback and ran for nearly 600 yards, played quarterback most of last spring. If Jefferson doesn't convince coaches now that he's making better decisions running the show, Clark could step in as the do-it-all quarterback.

Colorado has the next chapter of a long-running saga, with sophomore Tyler Hansen and junior Cody Hawkins continuing their competition for the No. 1 spot. Hawkins comes into August with the upper hand, and it's likely both will play in the season opener against Colorado State on Sept. 6 at Boulder. At some point, though, it's evident head coach Dan Hawkins would prefer for one to take control of the situation.

Defensive line: Look at the Broncos' early depth chart, adjusting to the new 3-4 alignment, and the defensive front is the team's most anonymous area with Ryan McBean, Ronald Fields and Kenny Peterson the likely starters. But this defense also puts pressure on the outside linebackers, who can be pass-rushing defensive ends or pass-covering defenders on any given play. It's clear Denver will expect the outside 'backers to make big plays with Elvis Dumervil, Tim Crowder, Jarvis Moss and first-round draft pick Robert Ayers in those positions. All will be needed.

Air Force's version of the 3-4 must replace graduated ends Ryan Kemp and Jake Paulson, who were standouts last year. Nose tackle Ben Garland returns as a possible all-conference player, but the Falcons will lean heavily on their two new starting ends, Myles Morales and Rick Ricketts.

Colorado, meanwhile, must rebuild its 3-4 front virtually from scratch, with highly recruited true freshman Nick Kasa a possible starter at one end and versatile Eugene Goree at nose tackle. As with the Broncos, CU hopes its linebackers can cover for the down linemen.

Kicking game: Looks like Denver's preseason strategy is to go with punter Brett Kern and placekicker Matt Prater instead of wasting roster spots for competition. But they still have to prove themselves in preseason games, or McDaniels will look to the waiver wire for replacements.

CU returns punter Matt DiLallo, known more for consistency than great distance, but placekicker Aric Goodman has to rise above his ups and downs from last year.

Air Force faces a tall order in replacing Ryan Harrison, who handled both duties almost exclusively the past two seasons. Brandon Geyer looks to be a solid punter, having averaged 48-plus yards on nine kicks as the backup last year. But the crucial placekicking job is up for grabs in August, with Zack Bell and Garrett Jack as the top contenders and only the live drills of upcoming weeks as their gauge.

routon@csindy.com

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