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Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray warms up before a preseason game against the Chicago Bears on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Columnist Paul Klee wonders if the Broncos should trade Ray before he becomes a free agent.

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Gazette columnist Paul Klee offers three hot takes on the Broncos-Raiders showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Sunday: 

Trade Shane Ray for a top-shelf cornerback

Bear with me: when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 it was pass-rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray who scored the headlines. (OK, Peyton Manning fell into a few.) But the chain-link that held up the fence was Denver’s ability to put three top-shelf cornerbacks on the field: Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. Can’t throw if they’re covered. Can’t throw? Get sacked. So it makes sense, at least in this space, for the Broncos to explore options to strengthen a cornerback crew that had 34-year-old Adam “Pacman” Jones playing 66 percent of the defensive snaps in the season opener. (Hey, good for Pacman. What kind of freaky athlete must you be to carry that rap sheet and still have teams begging you to play? Respect.) But if the Broncos are serious about a postseason run, the cornerback room needs a boost. “We have higher standards” than allowing four long pass plays by Seattle, Vance Joseph said. Seems like a good time to borrow from a luxury to address a need: trade Shane Ray in exchange for a top-flight cornerback. Ray is a fine athlete and a gentleman. But the Broncos already chose to decline his fifth-year option, so they’re not sold in the first place. While it would tickle to move a 2015 first-round draft pick soon after waving a flag on 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch, doesn’t it make sense to get something in return before Ray becomes a highly paid free agent? Shaq Barrett’s also a free agent after this season. Nice as it sounds, the Broncos surely can’t afford 'em both.

Ode to Bill Musgrave

Moose on the loose: Broncos offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave better make room for all the Christmas cards he's bound to receive. Count Emmanuel Sanders (10 catches in Week 1), Phillip Lindsay (only the third undrafted player since 1967 to score a touchdown and total 100 yards from scrimmage) and the Broncos defense (which needn’t be perfect) among his admirers. Oh, and add one more: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. "He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around,” Carr said. It was Musgrave’s offense in Oakland that helped Carr to the best season of his young career. And ever since the Raiders fired Musgrave after Carr threw 28 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2016, the quarterback hasn’t been the same. “He was a joy to be around,” Carr said. One game is probably too soon for a statue of Musgrave in his hometown of Grand Junction. Broncos Country remembers how his predecessor, Mike McCoy, hung 42 points on the Cowboys in Week 2 of last season before the bottom fell out and 5-11 unfolded. But there is good reason to believe Musgrave’s offense has staying power. The Broncos seem to be shadowing the Mike Shanahan blueprint to a “T”: spread ‘em out early with Sanders, Lindsay and the playmakers, beat ’em up late with hefty running back Royce Freeman. "I think the thing about him is just how smart he is," Carr said. The Broncos have a wolf call. Do they need a moose call?

Vance Joseph throws a challenge flag at 'D'

Rabbit in a hat: while the masses were off debating Case Keenum’s three interceptions and hyping Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline at Mile High, Vance Joseph quietly was firing off challenges to his defense. The relative stability of Keenum and the offense has allowed Joseph to focus his attention on his area of expertise: defense. First, Joseph dared the Broncos defense to be better than it was after taking three turnovers from the Seahawks: “We didn’t meet our standards on defense.” Next, Joseph referred to players on the Raiders offense as “a mismatch” (tight end Jared Cook), “almost flawless” (Carr) and "special" (running back Jalen Richard). Say, who took Vance Joseph’s whistle and clipboard? This can’t be the same guy who let every little thing slide until they amounted in one big, eight-game losing streak. “We’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to play better,” Joseph said. The Broncos got no respect after Week 1. Pro Football Focus pegged Khalil Mack as the pass rusher of the week after Mack harassed DeShone Kizer into a handful of mistakes. Meanwhile, Von Miller was chasing down the elusive Russell Wilson for three sacks. And you can always guess the head coach’s message by listening to what the players say. The players usually serve as echoes for what's said behind closed doors. "We had them down 23-10 and then we went downhill,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “They scored two touchdowns. That’s unacceptable.” VJ's thrown a challenge flag. Will the Broncos ‘D’ accept it?

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

Sports columnist

Denver sports columnist for The Gazette

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