Friday, December 28, 2007

Smith upset with "individuality"

In his role observing the third losing season during his 14-year career with the Denver Broncos, receiver Rod Smith said he continues to be upset with the focus on the individual and not the team.

Smith has talked before about the way the Broncos’ championship teams of the 1990s worked out, practiced and conducted meetings with a single purpose, which was winning a Super Bowl.

“Our organization had a certain standard and how we did things,” said Smith, who was named a captain this year even though he hasn’t played. “Somehow we lost that standard. It’s not a matter of not playing hard, but it’s a certain way we conducted business. I know we’re going to get that back.”

Smith said he has tried to instill that attitude with the younger players, but sounded like he didn’t think his message was getting across. Smith said everyone within the organization, including players, coaches and himself, was to blame so he wasn’t pointing his finger at anybody. But he was frustrated because he didn’t think the Broncos’ 6-9 record is indicative of the type of team they have.

“Sometimes you see more individuality,” Smith said. “I’ve seen more individuality in the last four, five years than I have team. That’s a problem with me.”

Week 17 prediction

The Broncos have almost nothing to play for Sunday, and they’ll be facing a physical Vikings team that could make the playoffs with a win.

The Broncos certainly aren’t entering the offseason on a high note. They’ve been outscored 54-16 by Houston and San Diego the past two weeks. Beating a good Minnesota team would provide some momentum going into 2008, but that won’t be easy. Vikings tailbacks Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson have 2,066 yards and 19 touchdowns combined running behind a powerful offensive line. The Vikings also lead the NFL in rushing defense by a wide margin.

The Vikings have too much to play for to give a lackluster effort this week.

Vikings 24, Broncos 17

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rivalry heats up

The shouting match between members of the San Diego Chargers, first and foremost quarterback Philip Rivers, and Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler was still being discussed Wednesday.

In the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, the Broncos were stopped on fourth down and ESPN’s cameras showed an exchange in which Rivers came off the sideline a few yards and yelled in Cutler’s direction. Even though trash talk isn’t uncommon, and was going on for much of Monday’s game, it is rare to see two quarterbacks talk trash to each other.

Cutler didn’t say much about it when asked Wednesday, but said he has never done that with another quarterback, and added it would be remembered when the teams meet next year.

“They talked a lot of stuff and it got heated between the two teams,” Cutler said. “Personally, I don’t think the teams like each other, which is fine. It’s just going to add to it later next year and the year after that.”

Also on Wednesday, safety John Lynch was given the first Darrent Williams Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the media.

“I was very fond of this young man,” Lynch said, holding the plaque with Williams’ name on it. “To win an award in his name is nice.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pro Bowl candidates

The Pro Bowl teams are announced Tuesday, and the Broncos probably won’t have a huge group going to Hawaii after this season.

Champ Bailey led all AFC cornerbacks in fan voting, which counts for one-third of the final vote. Even though Bailey won’t duplicate his numbers from last season, he’ll probably make the team. Nobody else is a favorite.

Receiver Brandon Marshall has had a very good season, but he’ll have a tough time making the squad ahead of New England’s Randy Moss, Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne, Cleveland’s Braylon Edwards or Cincinnati’s duo of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. There are four receivers on each conference’s squad.

Defensive end Elvis Dumervil has 11 sacks, but he is also at a crowded position. Houston’s Mario Williams, Kansas City’s Jared Allen and Miami’s Jason Taylor seem to be the candidates to fill the three spots.

Middle linebacker D.J. Williams leads the team in tackles, but the Broncos defense has struggled this season. Williams also doesn’t have big numbers in other categories, with only one sack and one interception.

Punter Todd Sauerbrun, who is second in the AFC averaging 46.8 yards per punt, also should get consideration.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Week 15 prediction

The Broncos are coming off a very good performance against Kansas City, which means little. Denver has only one two-game winning streak since starting the season 2-0.

The Broncos are also traveling on a short week, a tougher challenge than Houston had hosting tonight’s game. But the Broncos are healthier, which is a major advantage. Houston has suffered many injuries this season. The Texans will be without quarterback Matt Schaub against Denver and might have to start rookie tailback Darius Walker if Ron Dayne can’t play because of an ankle injury.

Denver’s offense has scored at least 27 points in four of its past five games, and as long as the defense does its part, the Broncos should be able to keep their season alive.

Denver 31, Houston 23

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kubiak-Calhoun connection

Gary Kubiak has plenty of ties to the Denver Broncos, but he also is close to Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun.

Calhoun was hired by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan before the 2003 season to be a part of a staff that included Kubiak, the offensive coordinator. Calhoun spent three seasons with Denver. When Kubiak was hired by the Texans to be their head coach, he hired Calhoun to be his offensive coordinator.

Kubiak praised Calhoun, who was Houston’s offensive coordinator before taking the job with Air Force.

“It’s interesting because when Mike brought him in, Mike told me from day one ‘This guy is going to be a great football coach,’” Kubiak said. “As a staff in Denver we could see that from the get go.”

Calhoun worked on defense for a season, then moved to the offensive staff. Kubiak said that experience helped Calhoun prepare to be a head coach.

"Troy’s knowledge of both sides of the ball and the game of football are tremendous,” Kubiak said. “As a person, this guy is off the charts. You guys see what he’s doing at Air Force. I’m happy for him.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

Week 14 prediction

The Broncos’ season officially became a disappointment with a two-game losing streak, but they’re still not as bad off as the Chiefs.

Kansas City has lost five straight games. Their quarterback rotation will stop on Brodie Croyle for this week’s game. Damon Huard started the first meeting against the Broncos. Running backs Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes are both out, and rookie Kolby Smith will start Sunday.

The Broncos are at least getting healthy. They should have every player on the active roster available except safety Nick Ferguson. And Denver still has a slight glimmer of hope at winning out and making the playoffs, which is more than the Chiefs have.

Broncos 21, Chiefs 17

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Playoff chances dim

The Broncos’ loss at Oakland on Sunday was a crushing blow to their playoff chances, and not just because they added another loss to their record. They also significantly hurt their chances of winning the tiebreaker against San Diego.

If two teams from the same division are tied, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. Denver can even that up with a win at San Diego on Dec. 24. The second tiebreaker is record in division games, and that is where the Broncos blew it Sunday. After losing to the Raiders, Denver’s division record is 2-2. San Diego is 3-1. Even if Denver hands San Diego its second division loss on Christmas Eve, the only way the Broncos win that tiebreaker is if the Chargers lose against Oakland in the season finale.

If the Broncos and Chargers each finish with two AFC West losses, the next tiebreaker is common opponents aside from the AFC West foes. Denver is 1-5 against common opponents (Chicago, Green Bay, Houston, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Detroit) with two remaining, so the best they can finish is 3-5. The Chargers are 3-3 in those games with two remaining. A Chargers win against Tennessee or Detroit – or a Broncos loss to Houston or Minnesota - would clinch that tiebreaker for San Diego.

The fourth tiebreaker is conference record and San Diego has an edge in that as well with a 6-3 record. Denver is 5-4.

So even if the Broncos go 4-0 the rest of the way, they likely either need the Chargers to lose to the Raiders on Dec. 30 or lose each of their other three remaining games for Denver to win the division.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Week 13 prediction

Based on last week’s results, the Broncos and Raiders appear to be heading in different directions. Oakland got a road win at Kansas City, its first AFC West win since 2004. Denver blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against the Bears.

But the Broncos have played very well against the Raiders since 1995, when Mike Shanahan became head coach, and are the better team on paper. The best reason to believe the Raiders will win is they should have beat Denver in the second week of the season. That was the game in which Shanahan called a timeout at the last moment as Sebastian Janikowski hit what Oakland thought was a game-winning field goal in overtime. Then Janikowski missed the second attempt and Denver ended up winning.

Based on that near-miss, the Raiders probably feel good about their chances of winning the rematch at home. But the Broncos have treated Oakland like their own home stadium, and have enough left for one more win there.

Broncos 20, Raiders 17

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bailey drop-off

K.C. Joyner agrees that Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey isn’t having the same kind of season he had in 2006, when he almost won NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Joyner, who breaks down film for his extensive statistics on, said he has done a full breakdown of three Broncos games. Bailey didn’t play in one, against Pittsburgh. The other two, against Jacksonville and Tennessee, Bailey didn’t dominate. Joyner said Bailey had 11 passes attempted at him when he had direct coverage and allowed nine completions for 76 yards. He also allowed a touchdown to Jacksonville’s Reggie Williams.

Joyner admits two games is a small sample size, but said it’s telling because Jacksonville's and Tennessee’s receivers are mediocre. Bailey allowed 4.7 yards per attempt his way last year, which was the best rating for any cornerback in the four seasons Joyner has kept the stat. The 6.9 yards-per-attempt for Bailey’s two games Joyner has charted is not very good. Joyner considers a 7-yard-per-attempt rating for a cornerback to be average.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Week 12 prediction

If a team believes in itself, it usually continues to play well. The opposite is true. A losing streak can cause a team to go in the tank once something goes wrong in the next game.

The laws of momentum will be on display this week. Denver has seemingly turned around its season with a two-game winning streak. A modest streak, sure, but it does have the Broncos back in a first-place tie in the AFC West. The Bears have lost two of three since a dramatic last-minute win at Philadelphia. The quarterback situation is a mess, and Rex Grossman is back in the starting job this week. The Bears are 4-6, have no shot of catching Green Bay for the division crown, and after a NFC title last season they are one of the NFL’s disappointing teams.

The Broncos also appear to be a good matchup for the Bears. Chicago has struggled to run the ball all season behind Cedric Benson, and Grossman has a penchant for interceptions. As long as the Broncos offense is efficient and relatively mistake-free, they should continue on the right path in the second half of the season.

Broncos 19, Bears 12

Friday, November 16, 2007

Week 11 prediction

Predicting what the Broncos will do week to week seems pointless. They’ve been so inconsistent, it’s impossible to tell which team will show up on any certain week.

One thing is obvious, however: when the Broncos get turnovers they win. No interceptions in five losses. Nine interceptions in four wins. Those figures are staggering. And the good news for the Broncos is Titans quarterback Vince Young has 10 interceptions this year. The Broncos will probably stack the line of scrimmage, dare Young to throw, and rely on cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dre Bly to make plays.

The biggest factor in the game should be if Young avoids any mistakes. That’s not too likely.

Broncos 17, Titans 13

Friday, November 9, 2007

Week 10 prediction

The Broncos could win this week. True, they haven’t played well, but the Chiefs are vulnerable. Without top tailback Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes and rookie Kolby Smith will carry the load. Holmes was a star once, but nobody knows what to expect from him now. And if the running game struggles the Chiefs probably won’t be carried by quarterback Damon Huard, who has been looking over his shoulder at backup Brodie Croyle most of the year.

However, the Broncos have problems too. Even though quarterback Jay Cutler appears fine after a scare with a leg injury, running back Travis Henry and safety John Lynch are banged up. Even if they play and the Broncos are close to full strength, it’s still Arrowhead Stadium. Since Mike Shanahan took over as Broncos coach in 1995 the Broncos have won only twice there in the regular season.

Maybe Denver can shut down Holmes and the Chiefs’ running game, make the Chiefs throw the ball more and cause some turnovers. But it’s Arrowhead Stadium, and somehow the Chiefs will pull it out.

Chiefs 13, Broncos 10

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Walker improving

Receiver Javon Walker hasn’t run since his knee surgery and the Denver Broncos don’t know if he’s in football shape, but there is some hope Walker can return soon. Walker might return for Denver’s Nov. 19 game against Tennessee, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Shanahan said Walker will have to start running by the end of the week. Walker had surgery Oct. 19 and doctors thought he might miss six weeks. But if he starts running this week, Shanahan suggested he could quickly come back to practice.

“We won’t know that until later on in the week,” Shanahan said. “We’ll wait and see when he runs and gets into football shape.”

Walker’s return would be a help to Denver’s offense, which scored only seven points against Detroit.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cheap shot?

One thing that is tough to tell, even after watching the replay many times, is whether Lions tackle Cory Redding’s hit that knocked Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler out of Sunday's game was illegal.

Cutler said after the game that he was hit on the leg by a helmet. That was by Redding, who was flying into the play when it was obvious Cutler was going to be sacked by tackle Shaun Rogers. Even though it appeared Redding hit Cutler’s leg with his helmet, it also seemed Redding tried to hit with his shoulder pad as Cutler’s legs were being swung forward.

Shanahan said he hadn’t seen the television replays of Redding’s hit. He saw it on the coaches’ film and said he thought Redding led with his helmet but didn’t know that was the hit that injured Cutler’s leg. Using the helmet to unnecessarily and violently butt, spear or ram an opponent is illegal under NFL rules. Shanahan said if the NFL finds anything wrong with the hit, they’ll take action.

“If he did and it’s something illegal, obviously he’ll get fined for it,” Shanahan said. “I can’t tell you for sure.”

Friday, November 2, 2007

Week 9 prediction

Maybe leaving Denver will help the Broncos. After all, they’re 3-7 in the last 10 home games, 10-5 their last 15 road games.

The problem is the Detroit Lions aren’t a pushover anymore. They are 5-2 and have swept the defending NFC Champion Chicago Bears. The Lions have also been blown out by Philadelphia and Washington, so they are prone to some bad days.

Detroit has many dangerous offensive players and a defense that forces a lot of turnovers. The Broncos have to avoid the turnovers, score when they get close to the end zone and the defense has to avoid giving up big plays. That seems like a tough task on the road, no matter how much better the Broncos have been away from Denver lately.

Prediction: Detroit 28, Denver 24

Friday, October 26, 2007

Week 8 prediction

Is Green Bay a better team than Denver? Sometimes that doesn’t matter as much as how teams match up.

Monday night’s matchup appears to favor the Broncos. Their biggest weakness, stopping the run, isn’t much of a factor. Unless Green Bay rookie DeShawn Wynn, who has 202 yards this season, has a breakout game, the Packers will still have to gain most of their yards through the air. One thing the Broncos have done pretty well this season is shut down quarterbacks. Denver hasn’t been as effective over the past six quarters against San Diego and Pittsburgh, but cornerback Champ Bailey was out of the lineup with a thigh injury. If Bailey returns – that’s not a given – the Broncos should be able to hold up well against Brett Favre and perhaps create a couple of turnovers.

If Bailey plays, the offense should be able to scratch out enough points against a tough Packers defense to win.

Prediction: Broncos 20, Packers 14

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Injury update

The Broncos are still waiting to see if running back Travis Henry will play this week. Henry didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday with injured ribs. After practice Thursday, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he hoped Henry could practice Friday, then play on Monday against Green Bay.

“Hopefully he’ll be ready to go,” Shanahan said.

The Broncos also are waiting on cornerback Champ Bailey, who was a limited participant in practice for the second straight day Thursday. Bailey, who missed last week’s game, has a thigh injury.

Receiver Rod Smith practiced for the second straight day, and Shanahan said he has looked good in practice. Smith, who had hip surgery in February, practiced for the first time all year Wednesday. Still, Smith will need some time before he is ready to play.

“That’s going to take some time,” Shanahan said. “You just don’t come back from that injury without practicing or trying to get in football shape in a couple days. But if he keeps on pressing like he’s doing, hopefully in three weeks he’ll be ready to go.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scouting the Packers

After the fact, Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson can say he saw it coming.

Not many others thought Green Bay would have one of the best records in the NFL after six games. But the Packers took the momentum from a four-game winning streak to finish last season and have started 5-1.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Woodson said. “I knew we had it in us.”

The Packers have defeated some good teams, including San Diego and the New York Giants on the road. Offensively, Green Bay has turned to its 38-year-old quarterback Brett Favre to carry the load, mostly because the running game has been ineffective. Favre has thrown 247 passes, and the Packers have 121 rushing attempts.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers haven’t been good fundamentally in the running game, and injuries to running backs and the offensive line have hurt continuity.

“It’s something we’re spending extra time at and we look for it to improve as we move on through the season,” McCarthy said.

Green Bay’s defense is the main reason the team is in first place in the NFC North. The Packers have two top-notch cornerbacks in Woodson and Al Harris, two former first-round picks at linebacker in A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, and a collection of defensive linemen who can rush the quarterback.

“Their defensive line is exceptional,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Week 7 prediction

Even if the Broncos were at full strength, they would have a tough matchup this week against Pittsburgh. And Denver isn’t full strength.

Center Tom Nalen and receiver Javon Walker are definitely out. Cornerback Champ Bailey practiced only once in the past two weeks with a thigh injury. Meanwhile, the Steelers must be excited to run the ball against Denver’s 32nd-ranked rush defense. Willie Parker is averaging more than 100 yards a game and should get enough carries to get 100 this week.

Offensively, the Steelers don’t have a glaring weakness. Their passing defense is better than the past few years and the run defense is strong, as usual. If the Broncos can’t run the ball that will make things especially tough for quarterback Jay Cutler, who won’t have Walker to throw to.

If the Broncos win, they could start to turn around their season. But against a Pittsburgh team that has few weaknesses and matches up well against Denver, it’s tough to envision that happening.

Pittsburgh 28, Denver 20

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Scouting the Steelers

Some things in Pittsburgh have changed. They spread the field more on offense, the defense moves around before the snap on some plays. But the Steelers, under new coach Mike Tomlin, are still winning with the same basic tenets.

They run the ball very well. They are tough and physical on defense. And, after last year’s post Super Bowl hangover, they’re back among the top teams in the NFL at 4-1.

“We don’t care who gets the credit, we’re just trying to win,” Tomlin said.

Willie Parker has been very good at running back for Pittsburgh this season, with more than 100 yards per game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s improvement is a big key for the Steelers. His first two years he was mostly a caretaker for the offense. Last year, when he was battling injuries and the Steelers were struggling, he threw a lot more and had 23 interceptions. This year he’s still throwing a lot and has nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

“He overcame adversity, that’s one thing he’s done,” Parker said. “He’s playing at a high level.”

Defensively, the Steelers play the same 3-4 defense they’ve used for many years, with three linemen and four linebackers. They rank in the top five in rush defense and pass defense and are first in the NFL in total defense by more than 20 yards per game.

“They’re playing hard and playing fast and playing together,” Tomlin said of his defense.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nalen's injury hurts

Since Mike Shanahan took over as Denver Broncos coach in 1995, either Tom Nalen or Ben Hamilton have started 196 of 197 regular-season games. Nalen and Hamilton, who started nine games at center in 2002 when Nalen was hurt, are both done for the rest of the season, which will affect the entire Broncos offense. Nalen has a torn biceps muscle, and Hamilton is on injured reserve with post-concussion symptoms.

The center position is one of the most important on offense. The center calls out the signals for the rest of the line, something Nalen could do easily after 194 career games. Of the three linemen in the organization who have some experience at center, none of them have played a down at the position in the NFL. Chris Myers is the likely replacement, and the last time he played center was in college. Even then, he split time between center, guard and tackle. Greg Eslinger and Mark Fenton were good college centers, but it’s asking a lot to promote them from the practice squad to the starting lineup. Denver could sign someone, but the available crop is thin five games into the season. And a veteran without knowledge of the Broncos’ zone blocking scheme would need some time to learn.

The change will affect everyone. Shanahan said whoever replaces Nalen will have to spend extra time with quarterback Jay Cutler. Last year, Cutler and Nalen hadn’t worked much together before Jake Plummer was benched, and there were numerous quarterback-center exchange problems in Cutler’s first few games. That could be an issue in the Broncos’ next few games as Cutler gets used to a new center.

And the Broncos’ running game will be affected. Nalen coordinated the calls and executed them well, and Shanahan called him the greatest center to play the game. Nalen doesn’t talk much to the media and hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because he’s a lineman, but his absence will have a huge impact on the rest of the Broncos’ season.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Week 5 prediction

If the Denver Broncos win this week, it would be a pretty satisfying victory, one that could catapult them into the last two-and-a-half months of the season. Key players are hurting, the team has been getting ripped after two straight losses, and star running back Travis Henry is reportedly in a court battle that could end in him being suspended for a year over a positive drug test.

Will the Broncos pull it together to win? Stopping LaDainian Tomlinson this week seems to be tough to imagine unless there are major improvements in the run defense, which hasn’t been good all season. San Diego is a talented team, capable of breaking out despite a 1-3 record. The Chargers have the same sense of urgency this week as the Broncos, maybe more.

Denver has to get in the end zone a few times, maybe create some turnovers and at least slow down Tomlinson for a chance to win. But this seems like a week that the Chargers finally get back on track.

Prediction: Chargers 28, Broncos 24

Friday, September 28, 2007

Week 4 prediction

Before last week, I thought the Broncos had a chance at the upset in Indianapolis. But it’s too tough to go on the road and beat a team like the Colts when you can’t stop the run.

The Colts’ passing offense gets all the attention, but they have always been able to run the ball, from Edgerrin James to Dominic Rhodes and now with Joseph Addai. Addai has 271 yards in three games and he should get plenty of carries against Denver’s struggling run defense. So even if the Broncos’ cornerback duo of Champ Bailey and Dre Bly is finally the answer to Denver’s problems stopping Peyton Manning, it might not matter if Addai has a big game.

The Broncos have the offense to compete, unlike their last two playoff debacles at Indianapolis. At some point, the Broncos will put up a bunch of points. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this is the week Denver’s offense breaks out, and it’s still not enough to beat the defending champs.

Prediction: Indianapolis 34, Denver 28

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Toughest matchup

The Indianapolis Colts won’t necessarily force the ball to their star receivers, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, if there’s a better matchup. One matchup problem for the Broncos on Sunday might be tight end Dallas Clark.

The Colts like to use Clark, an athletic and fast tight end, in the role usually reserved for a third receiver. Indianapolis’ true third receiver is rookie Anthony Gonzalez, who has only 88 yards in three games.

Clark will line up between the outside receiver and the offensive line, in the “slot.” It’s the position that Brandon Stokley often plays for the Broncos, and used to play for the Colts.

Clark has 13 catches for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three games. A cornerback is usually too small for him, and Clark can outrun many safeties. The Broncos have Domonique Foxworth and Curome Cox, who have each played cornerback and safety in the NFL, to defend Clark. That matchup could be very important for both teams.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scouting the Colts

The Colts counter punch better than anyone in the NFL. Try one tactic against their offense, and they seem to immediately recognize it. They’re willing and able to adjust.

Teams have tried to back up and take away the pass by putting more people in coverage. The Colts are good enough to run the ball repeatedly against that strategy. Blitz Peyton Manning? Indianapolis doesn’t mind. Manning’s stats against the blitz are staggering. From 2004 through his great game against the Broncos’ defense in Denver’s seventh game last season he had a streak of 336 attempts against the blitz with 39 touchdowns and no interceptions.

So what is a team to do? The best answer seems to be to get a pass rush with the defensive line and hope the cornerbacks can hold up in coverage. The Broncos seem capable of doing both. Stopping running back Joseph Addai seems to be the biggest problem for Denver’s struggling run defense.

Indianapolis’ defense seems improved, using last year’s startling playoff success as a springboard to this year. The Colts shut down the Saints in the season opener and are fifth in the NFL in yards allowed through three games. They are good at rushing the quarterback, especially on the turf at the RCA Dome, and are decent against the run, allowing less than 4 yards per game.

The Broncos will need a great game plan to figure out how to exploit Indianapolis’ weaknesses on offense and defense.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Not so fast

Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is an interesting case. Through 10 games last season, Grossman had 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, seven of which he picked up in two bad games. He was leading the Bears to the top seed in the NFC, and eventually the Super Bowl. Not perfect, but not bad for a quarterback who had 17 career starts.

Three games into this season, he is a villain in Chicago, a quarterback who can’t make a good decision to save himself. Bears fans will never forgive him for, in their opinion, blowing the Super Bowl against Indianapolis. They were chanting for Brian Griese on Sunday night, which should be pretty rich to Broncos fans.

Don’t forget, Griese had some decent seasons for the Broncos before he was run out of town. For all his faults, Jake Plummer was not a terrible quarterback his first three seasons in Denver. He was bad in his fourth season, but that was after fans and coaches lost faith in him. Remember, Plummer led Denver to an AFC Championship Game and had a solid season in 2005. In 2006 he quickly fell out of favor and was replaced. Sounds pretty similar to Grossman, doesn’t it?

Here’s the lesson – even though Jay Cutler is on top right now, is a favorite of Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and hasn’t endured a fraction of the post-Elway scorn of his predecessors, things can change very quickly. Especially for a NFL quarterback.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Icing the kicker

Even the biggest Raiders basher had to chuckle at how Oakland beat Cleveland on Sunday. Raiders coach Lane Kiffin was obviously paying attention in Week 2 when Broncos coach Mike Shanahan called a timeout just before Sebastian Janikowski hit a 52-yard field goal in overtime. Janikowski missed on the re-try and Denver won the game. Kiffin did the same thing to the Browns on Sunday. The first attempt was good, but voided because of the timeout, and the second attempt was blocked.

There’s nothing in the rules that says a coach can’t call a timeout at the last instant, which basically forces the kicker to attempt the field goal twice. To use an example from another sport, a runner stealing second base on a 3-2 pitch can’t look back and see if the pitch is a ball or strike. He has to keep running. A kicker can’t assume the whistle is going to blow – he has to kick it.

That seems a bit unfair, but unless the competition committee comes up with a solution this offseason to avoid last-second timeouts, there will be more of it in the NFL. Coaches like stealing ideas from other coaches, and this one has worked twice already.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Week 3 prediction

The consensus seems to be this week’s game will be close, but it probably shouldn’t be.

Jacksonville played two mediocre to bad teams at home. Tennessee beat it, with 175 yards on the ground from Chris Brown. Brown had 34 yards on 12 carries last week. Then the Jaguars, thanks to two missed field goals by Atlanta, squeaked out a 13-7 win over an Atlanta team that won’t win more than a few games this year.

Denver has been painted as a lucky 2-0 team. Indeed, the Broncos were very close to being 0-2. But they’re leading the league in yards, and allowing very few. Their 437-yard differential is astounding. That is a pretty good indicator of how good a team will be in the long run. One way Denver could lose is if its rushing defense is gashed by Jacksonville running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Jaguars’ rushing offense hasn’t done well in two games this season.

There is some concern that the Broncos didn’t put away either Buffalo or Oakland – two other teams that probably won’t win more than a few games this season. But at home, the Broncos should control the game against the Jaguars.

Prediction: Broncos 20, Jaguars 10

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Scouting the Jaguars

Jacksonville’s first-week loss was strange, its second-week win was closer than expected. Even though the Jaguars are 1-1, they’re not coming to Denver with much steam.

They were upset by Tennessee on opening day, when Chris Brown ran for 175 yards. Last week they beat a dismal Atlanta team 13-7, keeping it close to the end.

“We like the fact that we were able to get our first victory under our belt – we would have preferred it happened in Week 1,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ve been in a couple of close ballgames and we split them.”

The Jaguars in recent years have been built around stopping the run and running the ball. The run defense bounced back from a bad outing in Week 1. Del Rio’s explanation was simple: Jacksonville didn’t play very well in Week 1.

The problems with the rushing offense are tougher to explain. The Jaguars have two dangerous tailbacks, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and they have 135 yards combined. Jones-Drew is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and Taylor is averaging 3.3.

Quarterback David Garrard, who was named starter when Byron Leftwich was cut just before the season started, has played well. But for the Jaguars to win at Denver, they will have to run the ball effectively. Based on how well Jacksonville ran the ball last year, they should end up near the top of the league in rushing offense.

“They’ll get back on track, hopefully not against us,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Janikowski's great miss

Normally, there aren’t any reflections on the impressiveness of a missed field goal. But there was still some buzz Monday about how far Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit a 52-yard attempt that rang off the top of the left upright on Sunday.

Janikowski nailed a 52-yard attempt in overtime, hitting it high on the net behind the goalpost. But a timeout was called before the snap and Janikowski had to kick it again. The second attempt might have gone even further had the upright not gotten in the way.

“That would have been good at 75, no question,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Cornerback Dre Bly’s rush from the edge might have thrown off Janikowski just a bit. Shanahan said he thought the kick was going to go wide left, then it came back and almost went in.

“What do you call that, a slook?” Shanahan said, combining golf terms. “It sliced initially and came back in.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Week 2 prediction

The only way the Denver Broncos will lose Sunday is if they turn the ball over. That could happen – the Oakland Raiders have a solid defense. But Denver’s game plan should reflect their superiority over the Raiders.

There will probably be plenty of Travis Henry carries, a few well-timed shots downfield in the passing game and not much gambling. The Broncos defense should put up a better effort defensively than the Lions did last week, when Detroit allowed 375 yards. Oakland is better offensively than last year, but still not good enough to go up and down the field against Denver.

Maybe when the teams meet again in Oakland on Dec. 2, the Raiders will have a clear answer at quarterback and enough confidence at home to challenge the Broncos. But it probably won’t happen at Invesco Field at Mile High this weekend.

Broncos 23, Raiders 9

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stealing signs

Tight end Daniel Graham, a member of the New England Patriots from 2002-06, has been getting grief in the Denver Broncos’ locker room this week over the sign-stealing scandal the Patriots are involved in.

“We’re giving Daniel Graham a lot of heat about it, tainted championships and calling them the ‘Big Asterisks’ and things like that,” safety John Lynch said. “Ultimately, that’s a good football team whether they’re seeing signs or not.”

Lynch said every team tries to steal signs, to some extent. Lynch said the problem with New England is that it was videotaping it, which crosses the line when it comes to cheating.

“Every team has guys on the sidelines looking for things like that,” Lynch said about stealing signs. “But I do think you cross the line when you bring that technology into the field.”

Lynch said thwarting informal attempts to steal signs is the team’s responsibility. The Broncos use multiple people on the sideline signaling in plays to the defense, but only one is making the actual call.

And Lynch said he has been in games where the opponent has cracked the code.

“I’ve played other teams where you know they’ve got your signals,” Lynch said. “You’re not showing anything, and every time you blitz they’re checking or sight adjusting, and you know they’ve got you.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Scouting the Raiders

The only reason the Raiders might be better this season is because they couldn’t be much worse.

Oakland won only two games last year and earned the first overall pick. The Raiders won’t even get much help this season from that first pick, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, because he just agreed to a contract this week.

Offensively, the Raiders do appear to be improved. Quarterback Josh McCown looked competent against Detroit with 313 yards, but hurt his right throwing hand. Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said McCown will be held out of Wednesday’s practice as a precaution but could practice Thursday. Daunte Culpepper would start if McCown can’t.

There are a few dangerous players on Oakland’s offense. Ronald Curry had 10 catches for 133 yards last week and running back LaMont Jordan had 159 total yards.

“Their offense is much better,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Defensively, the Raiders didn’t allow many yards last year. They also weren’t in many close games, which kept the opponent’s statistics down. For example, at Denver last year, the Broncos took a 13-0 lead in the first half and sat on the lead. The Broncos had 35 passing yards in the final three quarters. Last week the Raiders were in a shootout against Detroit, and the Lions gained 392 yards.

“I think Detroit has some really good players on offense but it wasn’t about them, it was about us not executing and miscommunication and coverage issues,” Kiffin said. “We hope we have those corrected.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Winning despite change

Javon Walker. Tom Nalen. Matt Lepsis. Champ Bailey. John Lynch. Nick Ferguson. Ian Gold. That’s the list of players who were in the same starting position for the season openers in 2006 and 2007.

That’s a lot of change for the Broncos, which is why every win early this season -- including Sunday’s win at Buffalo -- will be important.

Denver is still breaking in a relatively new quarterback in Jay Cutler and a new scheme on defense. But with Sunday’s comeback win, the Broncos should start the season 3-0. The Raiders, this week’s opponent, probably aren’t good enough to come to Denver and win. Denver’s third game is at home against Jacksonville. The Jaguars lost their first game to Tennessee, which has quarterback Vince Young and not much else.

Denver’s fourth and fifth games are at Indianpolis and against San Diego. Those games will be the real test of how well the Broncos have meshed early in the season.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Week 1 prediction

Recent history shouldn’t indicate a Denver Broncos win on Sunday. They’re coming off two straight regular-season opening losses and didn’t look that good this preseason, especially on defense. But a few things are working in Denver’s favor.

The Bills, which were 7-9 last year, lost a lot in the offseason. As good as rookie running back Marshawn Lynch and rookie linebacker Paul Posluszny might be, they’ll still be playing their first game at difficult positions.

As long as Travis Henry is full speed and has about 100 yards, the Broncos should be able to control the tempo of the game. That will also help the defense. It’s impossible to think Denver’s defense will be completely ready for the season opener. They’re still learning a new scheme. But Buffalo isn’t an offensive machine, and the Broncos should be able to force some turnovers with their cornerback tandem.

With a couple of interceptions by J.P. Losman, a quiet day from Lynch and an efficient day from the offense, the Broncos will reverse a trend.

Prediction: Broncos 21, Bills 17

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Captains chatter

Assuming Broncos safety John Lynch is named a team captain this season, he’ll have more responsibility and perhaps a uniform addition this season.

The NFL is putting a greater emphasis on team captains this season through an initiative by commissioner Roger Goodell. Some teams will have their captains wear a “C” patch on their jersey to recognize the captains.

“That’s usually in hockey, eh?” Lynch said.

The decision to wear the patch is optional among teams, according to a league spokesman, and it’s not known if the Broncos captains will wear it.

The initiative also suggested that captains have regular meetings with the team and coach, and also act in on-field communication with officials. Hockey captains act as the team’s representative with officials on the ice during games.

The Broncos haven’t voted on captains yet but will in the next couple of days. Lynch, who was defensive co-captain with since departed linebacker Al Wilson the past few years, is an obvious candidate. Rod Smith has been Denver’s offensive captain for years, but he will miss at least of the first five games of the season because he is on the physically unable to perform list.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Scouting the Bills

After two straight opening-day losses, the Denver Broncos aren’t going to take anyone lightly. The Bills went 7-9 but lost five games by three points or less last year, giving the coaches a way to get the players’ attention this week.

“They came on strong,” Broncos assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates said.

The offseason wasn’t as kind to the Bills. They lost four key players: running back Willis McGahee, cornerback Nate Clements and linebackers London Fletcher-Baker and Takeo Spikes. They did draft two potential impact rookies: running back Marshawn Lynch and linebacker Paul Posluszny.

Buffalo’s reason for optimism this season is quarterback J.P. Losman, who made strides last season, and receiver Lee Evans, who had 1,292 yards last season. Losman threw 13 touchdown passes in 232 attempts in Buffalo’s last nine games last year, the second best touchdown percentage in the NFL over that span.

“Last year he improved tremendously,” Bates said.

The Bills also have some of the best special teams in the NFL, which has been a weakness for the Broncos.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan doesn’t plan on an easy opener this year.

“That record is not indicative of the type of team they are,” Shanahan said.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

2007 NFL predictions

A disclaimer: I’ve lost the weekly picks to David Ramsey two straight years, so take these picks with an enormous grain of salt. But for what it’s worth:

AFC division winners -- New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Diego
AFC wild cards -- Denver, Cincinnati

Thoughts: The AFC is tough, but top heavy. Denver might have a better team this year and still finish second in the division. If I have a super sleeper playoff team, it’s Houston. They’ll surprise some teams this year. All those high draft picks have to eventually pay off, right?

NFC division winners -- Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco
NFC wild cards -- Arizona, Washington

Thoughts: Finding six decent teams in the NFC was tough. And I fully expect Arizona to disappoint once again, even as I’m picking them to make the playoffs. But, once again, they look pretty good on paper. Washington’s another shaky pick, but I think Jason Campbell will be a solid quarterback and they have a great running back duo with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. I really wanted to pick someone other than Chicago to win the NFC North, because I think they’re in for a fall this year, but who else in that division would you trust?

Super Bowl -- San Diego over Dallas

Thoughts: Look, I know everyone thinks Norv Turner is a bad head coach, and his record shows it. But he can’t screw up the Chargers. They have a tremendous roster and will win the Super Bowl. This is like Barry Switzer taking over the Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson. The Chargers are winning, no matter who their coach is.

Other picks
MVP: QB Tom Brady, New England
Defensive player of the year: LB Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Offensive rookie of the year: WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit
Defensive rookie of the year: LB Paul Posluszny, Buffalo

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fantasy outlook

Fantasy football drafts are in full swing, so here’s some thoughts on the Broncos’ skill position players:

Quarterback Jay Cutler: Cutler’s rookie numbers look good when you project them over a season, and he has enough talent around him to have a good season, but there are probably safer picks for your starting quarterback. The Broncos will run the ball a lot, and Cutler is still inexperienced and will have some mediocre games. As a backup he does have some upside. I’d take him over a guy like Carolina’s Jake Delhomme, who’s ranked in the same area.

Running back Travis Henry: I’d want a late-round first-round pick just to have a shot at Henry, who I think is a bit undervalued. Assuming Henry is fine, and the Broncos have no worries he’ll be back for the season opener, he will carry the ball all the time. Mike Bell and Cecil Sapp won’t get a lot of time until Henry gets banged up. And based on his workload and tough running style, I’d assume Henry will miss a game or two this year. But I still think he’ll be in the 1,500-yard range with a lot of touchdowns. He could be a top 5 back who you can get at the end of the first round.

Wide receiver Javon Walker: I don’t really think he’s a good or bad value, he’s a borderline top 10 wide receiver who is a borderline top 10 pick. He’ll have some big games and make some big plays. If you’re optimistic, you think he’ll have a big year because he has a better quarterback. If you're pessimistic you might think he’ll have some low-scoring games because the Broncos are going to run the ball more. Either way, he should be a safe pick as a No. 1 receiver if you can’t grab a Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall: Take advantage of the bad publicity Marshall got early in training camp as he was nursing a quadriceps injury. The best thing that could happen if you want Marshall is for him to have a relatively quiet remainder of the preseason. Then pounce on him as a good value pick late in the draft when others are snatching up Kevin Curtis, Joe Horn and Derrick Mason. Marshall might be a year away from his breakout season, but he’s worth a shot. He’s looked good since returning to practice and didn’t look rusty against Dallas.

Tight end Daniel Graham: Tight end is such a deep position, there’s not much reason to select Graham unless the Broncos look his way often early in the season. After Graham caught a lot of passes the first few days, the Broncos didn't pass his way that much the rest of camp. He might be a good bye week fill-in at tight end. For a very deep sleeper keep an eye on Nate Jackson early in the season. He had a fantastic camp and could get some playing time early in the year as Tony Scheffler gets back into the groove.

Kicker Jason Elam: Draft him and you’ll be safe for a 100-point season. He made almost all of his field-goal attempts last year and he’ll be solid again this year.

Team defense: If your league gives points for sacks and interceptions, I don’t think the Broncos have great value. They weren’t great rushing the passer last year and are banged up on defense. Interceptions should increase a bit though, with Dre Bly alongside Champ Bailey. Fantasy-wise the Broncos’ defense should be taken somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tailback conundrum

Selvin Young better be ready for a long day Saturday, when the Denver Broncos play Cleveland in a preseason game.
Young, the Broncos’ fifth-string tailback, is one of the few upright running backs for the Broncos. Young and Cecil Sapp were the only two tailbacks able to practice Monday. Travis Henry, Mike Bell and Andre Hall were out with injuries.
Henry and Bell could return for the regular season opener. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan indicated Henry’s knee injury was minor and he might return for this week’s preseason game. But the Broncos aren’t likely to risk Henry getting injured further in a game that doesn’t count. Sapp is fine, but with the tailback situation so tenuous, the Broncos can’t afford to get him hurt in a preseason game either. Hall has dealt with a hamstring injury and could play if he improves during the week, but he didn’t practice Monday.
That leaves Young. An undrafted rookie from Texas, Young might get a lot of carries to get the Broncos through the game, like in baseball when a relief pitcher is asked to eat up innings in a blowout. That actually is a great opportunity for Young, who is trying to make the team, but has to be a bit concerning for the Broncos.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tweaking history

Tony Romo could have been handing off to Julius Jones or Marion Barber and throwing to Terrell Owens in Denver, not Dallas, if history had been just a bit different.

Romo said the Broncos and Cowboys were his two options coming out of college after he wasn’t drafted, but he chose Dallas. The Broncos passed on both Cowboys’ tailbacks for options who didn’t pan out. Tatum Bell was selected in the second round and Jones, who has more than 2,000 yards the past two years, was selected two picks later.

At least Bell had some good moments for the Broncos. A year later, the Cowboys got a good deal when Barber fell to the 109th pick of the draft, eight picks into the fourth round. The Broncos got a running back with the final pick of the third round. Yep, it was Maurice Clarett. Barber had 14 touchdowns last year and averaged 4.8 yards per carry as Jones’ backup.

The Broncos decided to pass on Owens after bringing him in for a visit. So how would things have changed if Romo, Jones, Barber and Owens had come to Denver? Jay Cutler might have not been drafted by the Broncos. Travis Henry would almost definitely be somewhere else, Mike Bell might have never got a look in training camp last year and Cecil Sapp would probably still be toiling at fullback. Javon Walker likely would have never been acquired from Green Bay.

Something to think about as Romo, Jones, Barber and Owens play against Denver in Saturday’s preseason game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Preseason opener thoughts

A few thoughts from the day after the Broncos’ preseason opener:

-- If there was an area of concern Monday, it was the passing game aside from Jay Cutler and Javon Walker. Backup Patrick Ramsey had only 45 yards passing in almost three quarters of work. None of the receivers had a notable game, with Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley and David Kircus sitting out with injuries. The Broncos will continue to search through their options to try to find which receivers are worthy of a roster spot.

-- Denver’s run defense wasn’t great, but that shouldn’t be a big problem. Teams play very cautiously early in the preseason. They don’t want to give much away. With Jim Bates’ new scheme, the Broncos will likely continue to play it close to the vest until the games count.

-- Yes, cornerback Champ Bailey gave up a catch. That was very rare last year. But the pass, caught by San Francisco’s Darrell Jackson, showed that Bailey is still on his game. The route, the pass and the catch were perfect, or Bailey probably would have knocked it away.

-- Rookie defensive end Jarvis Moss keeps trying to play through a sore knee, and he was hobbling around a lot on Monday night. The Broncos have to try to weigh whether playing through the soreness is better than him sitting out and falling behind.

-- Travis Henry is legit. Fantasy leaguers who watched Henry plow through tackles Monday night probably moved him up a bit on their board.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Walker's interview

Javon Walker gave an interview to HBO’s “Real Sports” about the death of Darrent Williams, which will be aired Tuesday. In an advance copy of the segment, Walker talks about the incident and the aftermath. And even though training camp has been pretty normal, the interview was a reminder of how fresh Williams’ death is.

Although nobody had the same experience as Walker, who held Williams as he was dying, the entire organization will continue to be affected by the death. There will be so many reminders during the season – some private, some public – that putting that aside will be impossible.

Walker was asked by HBO if the incident will affect his playing career, and the first thing he said was “I really don’t know.” He said he knows that he’ll give it his best. You’d assume all the Broncos would feel that, to various degrees. And it’s impossible to know when things will be back to normal. There’s no precedent for moving forward, at least in the Broncos' organization. Williams and Damien Nash were the first two active Broncos players to die, and they died within two months of each other.

The next reminder for the entire team will come next week. The Broncos will spend the week practicing against the Cowboys, not far from the site of Williams’ funeral, which was attended by the team.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Backup battle

Travis Henry will get at least 25 carries in many games. He’d get 50 if the Broncos thought he could handle it. So most of the time the backup tailback will be able to figure out the trivia question on the stadium scoreboard and try different flavors of Gatorade. Remember, from 1996 to 1998, the most carries a Broncos backup got in a season was 59 by Aaron Craver in 1996. That’s less than 3.7 carries per game. And remember, that was the highest mark in Terrell Davis’ three greatest seasons. Henry might not be Davis, but he’ll likely be used as such.

So why does the battle between Cecil Sapp and Mike Bell matter? Because at some point, the Broncos might need to win a game or two without Henry. Injuries are part of life for running backs, especially those like Henry who crave contact. So either Sapp or Bell could be in line for an important role in this season.

Sapp has taken many of the snaps with the second team, but Bell took most of them today. The four preseason games, starting Monday at San Francisco, should determine who gets the chance to back up Henry, which will be one of the more interesting subplots to the preseason.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Henry health

The biggest question – maybe the only question – with Broncos running back Travis Henry will be if he can take a 350-carry pounding this season.

Henry’s talent has been obvious during training camp practices. He hits the hole with authority and delivers a blow, and has the explosion to break some big runs. He’ll probably average close to 5 yards a carry in this offensive scheme that has produced so many 1,000-yard backs. But will Henry be able to play long enough this season to reach 1,500 yards? His style is to not take the easy road too often. He will get a lot of carries, and get a lot of punishment. Already in this camp he said he was a little worn out after the first few days, then had a minor hip pointer at the end of the first week.

At this point, the only thing that will keep Henry from being one of the most productive running backs in the AFC is if he can’t go 16 games.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Injury woes

If Jarvis Moss’ knee injury isn’t serious, and the initial thought by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was it was just twisted, it still could set Moss back.

Rookies who miss practices in training camp have a tough time early in the season. In 2003, offensive tackle George Foster and running back Quentin Griffin missed most of camp and were non-factors for the team most of the year. Last season, receiver Brandon Marshall hurt himself in the first preseason game, missed the rest of preseason and had only 22 receiving yards through Denver’s first eight regular-season games.

Moss might be in the same boat if his injury is serious enough to knock him out for a week or two. His usefulness early in the season could decrease with every day he sits. And if the injury keeps him out for a long time? The Broncos would rather not think about that possibility.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Graham pitching in

The Broncos didn’t pay tight end Daniel Graham $30 million, including $15 million in guaranteed money over five years, to be just a blocker. Through the first week of training camp, it’s pretty obvious Graham will be included in the passing game as well.

Graham, who caught only 37 passes the past two years combined in New England, has been a favorite target of Broncos quarterbacks. He’s rewarded them by making some nice grabs, including a few Friday. For a man so big – and if you see Graham in person, you realize how massive he is, even compared to other tight ends – he is very agile and has good hands.

Remember too, the Broncos like using the tight end in the passing game. Shannon Sharpe became a Hall-of-Famer, Dwayne Carswell had a Pro Bowl year and Bryon Chamberlain had some good years as the main tight end in the Broncos' offense. Although the second tight end has been featured more prominently than former starter Stephen Alexander the past few years, if Graham is targeted like he has been in camp he could far surpass his season-best of 38 catches this season.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Marshall questions

If Brandon Marshall comes back to practice soon and plays like the Denver Broncos think he can, he’s probably the frontrunner to start at the receiver spot opposite Javon Walker. But as Marshall sits out of training camp nursing a quadriceps injury, that window of opportunity might be getting smaller.

By calling out Marshall this week, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan put him on notice. He wants to see something, and soon. Marshall’s biggest edge now might be that there are questions marks associated with all the other candidates. Domenik Hixon has never played an NFL game. Brandon Stokley is better suited as a third receiver – he has never been a full-time starter – and even though he has looked good in camp he is still recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon. And deep backups like Brian Clark, David Kircus and Quincy Morgan aren’t appealing as starters.

Marshall said he should be back soon, and he thinks he will win a starting job.

“I’m not worried,” Marshall said. “I know what I can do when I get back out there and if I’m healthy enough, I’m not going to worry about it.”

Whether Shanahan agrees will be seen when Marshall returns to practice.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rod Smith

By Frank Schwab

To Mike Shanahan, there isn’t a predicament on what to do with Rod Smith. Smith is recovering from hip surgery and hasn’t practiced yet. But Shanahan said he has told Smith he will have a place on the team, which probably means at the cutdown date he’ll be put on the physically unable to perform list and miss the first six weeks. Shanahan said Smith can take as long as he needs to heal.

Even if Smith never plays again, keeping him around wouldn’t be Shanahan’s worst idea. Smith is recognized as the leader of the Broncos, especially now that linebacker Al Wilson is gone. Is that leadership more valuable than keeping around a seventh linebacker or fifth safety who might be inactive every week? Probably.

Also, as businesslike as Shanahan is, he is sentimental about players like Smith who have done so much for the Broncos franchise. Remember, at Ed McCaffrey’s retirement press conference, Shanahan got very emotional. Parting with Smith won’t be easy either.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bly impressive

by Frank Schwab

Travis Henry might have a better year and Daniel Graham might be the best player the Denver Broncos picked up this offseason, but the acquisition of Dre Bly might have been the team’s most important move.

Bly looked very good Tuesday, and had an impressive interception in the afternoon practice. If Bly can make plays like that, the entire defense will benefit. Without a cornerback of Bly’s caliber opposite Champ Bailey, teams would throw Bailey’s way even less – if possible.

Domonique Foxworth is a talented player, but with him playing the third cornerback position with Bly and Bailey, there aren’t many holes in the Broncos secondary. Bly, like Bailey, has a swagger about him that should rub off on the entire defense.

Lepsis back

By Frank Schwab

One of the best signs for the Broncos in training camp is that offensive tackle Matt Lepsis is quietly doing a good job.

Less than a year after major knee surgery, Lepsis has shown no ill effects of the injury. He flattened defensive end Elvis Dumervil during a pass-rush drill Monday. The Broncos need him back healthy, because as the left tackle, he will protect second-year quarterback Jay Cutler’s blind side. His return also allows Erik Pears to move to the right tackle spot.

Lepsis is one of the most underrated Broncos, and one of the lesser known because of the media boycott of the offensive line, but the team knows exactly how much his healthy return would mean to the offense’s success.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Walsh's legacy

The Denver Broncos, and just about every other team in the NFL, owe a debt of gratitude to the late Bill Walsh.

When Mike Shanahan became Denver’s head coach, he was fresh off three years as offensive coordinator with San Francisco, where he studied Walsh’s meetings and practices and borrowed some of Walsh’s offensive philosophies to fit his own system. Four years into his Broncos’ tenure, Shanahan had guided the team to two Super Bowl wins.

But with Walsh’s impressive list of coaching apprentices, the Broncos aren’t alone. Just about every team incorporated some tenets of Walsh’s famous “West Coast Offense,” and many such as Shanahan, Mike Holmgren and George Seifert used parts of Walsh’s system to guide their teams to Super Bowl titles.

“He studied it, he worked at it, tinkered with a lot of things, and when you hear 'West Coast Offense,' you go back to Bill Walsh,” Shanahan said.

Details, details

This is my fifth year covering Broncos’ training camp, and I’m always amazed that no detail seems to slip by the coaching staff, particularly head coach Mike Shanahan.

A few years ago, the training camp after the Broncos had blown a game against New England because Deltha O’Neal had failed to field a free kick properly after a safety, the Broncos had a drill where they practiced fielding free kicks. This morning, Shanahan stopped the practice during a two-minute drill to announce the situation: 24 seconds remaining, a running play had just been stopped in bounds, and the field goal team had to sprint out on the field for an attempt. The Broncos rushed the field goal team on as soon as Shanahan was done talking.

That situation isn’t too unique, but just about every day there is some situation that Shanahan will make the team go over. Covering the small details like that might seem odd at the time, but at least the players will have seen it before it happens in a game.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Booming cheers

You won’t see this often — the biggest cheers in Sunday afternoon’s practice came for the punter.

Todd Sauerbrun blasted punt after punt during a drill and drew several loud cheers. The loudest came when he hit a punt standing on the 20-yard line, and it flew to the goal line on the other end of the field for an 80-yard kick.

“We’ve been watching him do that since he’s been here,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Sauerbrun should be an immediate upgrade for the special teams.

Flipping out

The highlight of the first practice of training camp happened before the first drill.

Before most practices, the Broncos call someone to lead cheers before they stretch. The player called usually does a dance at the end, and most get booed back to their spot in line.

Before the first practice, rookie defensive linemen Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris were called. As Harris started clapping and the Broncos clapped along, Thomas got the fans fired up, then took off his jersey and pads. After a short running start, he did a cartwheel, a round off and a full backflip. Thomas, Denver’s fourth-round pick, is listed at 315 pounds.

“First time I’ve seen that, a big guy like that,” cornerback Champ Bailey said.

The practice had one serious moment, when wide receiver Javon Walker and linebacker Nate Webster collided and lay on the ground for more than a minute. But both got up, and Walker returned to practice a few plays later. Both players had the wind knocked out of them and are fine, coach Mike Shanahan said.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Short-lived enthusiasm

By Frank Schwab

Players usually come to training camp with at least some excitement, but realize it won’t last long. The physical and mental toll of two-a-day practices is rough on everyone, even though training camp is pretty light in Denver and nowhere near the rough camps of generations ago.

“You look forward to it because you go through OTAs (organized team activities) and after a while you’re like ‘OK, let’s start hitting,’” defensive end Kenard Lang said. “Then you start hitting and after a while you’re like ‘Let’s stop hitting, let’s go back to OTAs.’”

On that note, I’ll be back here tomorrow to chronicle the start of the Broncos’ 2007 training camp.

Smith feeling better

By Frank Schwab

The good news for Rod Smith and the Broncos is he said he has made more progress in the past three weeks than he had in the first three months of his rehabilitation from hip surgery. He is jogging, which he hadn’t done by the end of the Broncos minicamp earlier this month.

That’s the good news. Smith is still not ready to practice and will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Smith said he expected that would be the case, and he’s still being patient in his recovery. He hasn’t set a timetable for a return because he said he would know when his body was healthy enough to return.

Whether Smith can return from hip surgery and an offseason of rehabilitation at age 37 and perform well enough to justify a roster spot will be a major story line through training camp.

4 to physically unable to perform list

By Frank Schwab

The Denver Broncos players started filing into camp on Saturday morning.

The biggest news from reporting day was that four players – receiver Brandon Marshall, receiver Rod Smith, tight end Tony Scheffler and linebacker Eddie Moore will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Smith and Scheffler were not surprises, considering both were questionable to be ready for the start of camp. Moore’s knee started acting up, and he’ll probably have surgery that will knock him out for most of the preseason and probably ruin his chances of starting at strongside linebacker.

Marshall’s injury is a potential problem for the Broncos. Marshall has a quadriceps injury that he said should keep him out about a week, which will be a nervous stretch for the Broncos because of their expectations for him. After finishing last season strong, he was supposed to be a starter. But he missed a lot of practice time this offseason because of nagging injuries. And because of injuries to Smith and Brandon Stokley – who should be ready to practice once a day as he recovers from a torn Achilles’ tendon – the Broncos are a bit thin at receiver. Domenik Hixon, who didn’t play a game last year as a rookie because of a foot injury, might take Marshall’s spot in the starting lineup while he heals. Marshall’s biggest challenge might not be getting healthy, but proving he can stay healthy once he gets back in the lineup.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Training camp countdown: 3 days

There’s nothing quite like 100 degree days to let everyone know football is near.

The temperature is cooling down just a bit, which will be nice for the Broncos. They start training camp with a practice Sunday morning. This blog will have daily entries through training camp and beyond, helping bring you to Dove Valley if you can’t be there in person to argue with your friends if 345 pounds is an accurate listing for massive defensive tackle Sam Adams.

One remaining issue the Broncos have in the three days before camp is rookie signings. They didn’t have a large draft class, with only four players, and two are in the fold. Offensive tackle Ryan Harris agreed to a deal on Wednesday. Defensive ends Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder should be signed before the first practice. That’s a good thing for all parties, considering Moss and Crowder could each earn a lot of playing time with a good rookie training camp.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Brandon's Broncos days over

Denver Broncos safety Sam Brandon, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, will need another surgery and will be released by the Broncos, his agent said Wednesday.

Agent Michael Hoffman said Brandon had some swelling in his knee at the last minicamp and doctors told him he would need another microfracture surgery.

Brandon would have been the main backup at safety behind John Lynch and Nick Ferguson.

Brandon was suspended two games by the NFL earlier this month for violating its conduct policy, but Hoffman said that didn’t factor into the Broncos’ decision to release him. “It is 100 percent medical,” Hoffman said.