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THE CRUCIAL FOURTH WEEK

2) Ask and Ye Shall Receive.
Elway's 1993 is all the more amazing when you consider the mediocrity of his targets. Except for Shannon Sharpe. He was only the second-best receiver in his family with 81 catches, 995 yards and 9 TDs, but brother Sterling is among the best in the league, and talented 'tweener Shannon (small for a tight end, huge for a wide receiver) is now a star in his own right. Meanwhile, tight end Reggie Johnson was ordinary, hard-nosed Derek Russell was still developing and only confirmed Donkeyheads can name the rest of the corps. But look at 1994! To complement Sharpe, former Charger Anthony Miller is an authentic speed-burner and could become Elway's second "go-to" guy--if Miller can keep the ball in his hands. If he drops one, he sometimes drops 'em all. CU homeboy Mike Pritchard, late of the Atlanta Falcons, gives Elway another powerful weapon. The former running back is tough, fast and runs exceptionally well after making the catch. He could be the key acquisition. In other words, Number 7 finally has the first-rate receivers his sublime skills deserve. If everything clicks, you won't be able to add up the receptions and the points.

3) Thou Shalt Cover Thy Neighbor's Wideout.
In 1992, Denver's once-great defense slipped to number 22 in the league. Last season, the pass defense, riddled by injuries and beset by decrepitude, ranked number 27. Now that the Dennis Smith/ Karl Mecklenburg era is over, the Broncos have more new guys on "D" than O.J. Simpson, but whether they can play cohesively remains to be seen. Shane Dronett (7 sacks, 2 INTs last year) anchors a solid defensive line, and Simon Fletcher and Mike Croel lead a talented linebacking corps. But the only holdover in the secondary is hard-hitting safety Steve Atwater, who has not been the standout coaches and fans have hoped and must lead this year. Rondell Jones has first dibs on free safety . They'll both see some new faces at cornerback--former Eagle first-round pick Ben Smith and ex-Detroit Lion Ray Crockett. Ronnie Bradford still lacks speed, they say, but uses his head. In a nutshell, there can be no more fiascoes like last year's three losses to the pass-happy Raiders. If the defense rests, Biff won't be able to put the points up fast enough.

4) Do Run Run, Rod.
Former San Diego running back Rod Bernstine was finally heating up last season when a shoulder injury knocked him out. Again. Bernstine's a bruiser with great hands, but his upright, power-running style invites devastating hits. If he's lost to injury for a long stretch this year, neither the tough but limited journeyman Robert Delpino nor resident flea Glyn Milburn looks durable enough to take up the slack. And if you have to pass on every down, look out. Despite getting hurt, Bernstine carried 223 times in 1993 for 816 yards and 4 TDs while catching 44 passes. Just a modest improvement on those numbers could prove the missing link for your Donks.

Don't order the Super Bowl tickets just yet, though. Wait till after that Buffalo game.

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