Broncos season Preview


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Jan 22, 2006
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Season preview: Denver Broncos

By Lee Rasizer, SportingNews
August 7, 2006
A picture of every Super Bowl ring ever awarded sits on the desk of Denver Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist. It serves as a reminder of the organization's ultimate goal.

Sundquist also wears the championship jewelry he received from postseason football in the late 1990s, when he was the Broncos' director of college scouting. "It's not because I'm trying to flaunt the fact that I've got a Super Bowl ring but to remind me, at least personally, why I go to work every day," he says. "It sounds corny, but it isn't. It's truly how I feel."

Not that Sundquist needs any visual cues now, not after the Broncos lost the AFC championship game on their home field, not after he watched the Steelers hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

That missed opportunity keeps swirling around his head.

"We went 13-3, got a bye week, won our playoff game and got some luck and forced the AFC to come through Denver," he says. "And we didn't finish what we started."

The Broncos, though, haven't dwelled on the disappointment. They re-signed all of their key free agents, keeping their core together, then traded for elite receiver Javon Walker. The team is poised to potentially make another deep run in the playoffs and, perhaps, even make that Super Bowl step.


Offense: The loss of longtime coordinator Gary Kubiak, now the Texans' head coach, won't alter the philosophy of pounding away with the run, attempting to set up bootleg passes. Rick Dennison moves from line coach to coordinator. He will design the protection schemes and oversee the running game. Assistant head coach Mike Heimerdinger is expected to infuse some fresh ideas into the passing attack. Expect Denver to move away some from two-tight end sets and use more three-wide receiver sets.

Defense: Three areas have been the offseason focus: improving on third down; simplifying the scheme in the red zone, in which the team allowed 22 touchdowns in 33 trips; and producing better pressure from the front four.


RBs Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell: Denver flirted with drafting Laurence Maroney and plugging him into its zone-blocking system, but the opportunity to draft quarterback Jay Cutler was too enticing. So this year's ground game figures to again be a 1-2 punch.

Leading rusher Mike Anderson is gone, and Dayne figures to fill his role as the power back. Dayne didn't get much opportunity last season but did well in spot action. The coaches say he has the quickness and downhill acceleration off cuts to succeed. Dayne also is nearly five years younger than Anderson.

Bell will be given a chance to be the primary runner, but it's unlikely he'll win the role outright. Too often he's indecisive in his initial move and doesn't get the fall-forward, 2- to 4-yard gains in traffic that Dayne can. Bell also can be arm-tackled and runs a bit upright. Bell, though, is valuable. He brings a big-play threat every time he gets to the outside. Denver will continue to try and involve him in its screen game because he is so dangerous in the open field.

WRs Rod Smith, Javon Walker and Ashley Lelie: Smith, 36, continues to be extremely productive. He is a crafty route runner, making every step appear the same before cutting. He also has a knack for falling forward for extra yards. Jake Plummer has an excellent rapport with Smith, but it had become predictable that they would try and hook up on key plays.

The addition of Walker should change that if his surgically repaired knee proves healthy. He gives the defense someone to fear. Walker is the type of receiver the Broncos love – he is physical and can stretch the field, too. He won't be viewed as the decoy Lelie had become at crunch time.

Lelie has grumbled about his No. 3 role. Assuming he sticks around, Lelie figures to give the team its best three-wide combination in coach Mike Shanahan's tenure. Lelie can stretch the field, as evidenced by his consecutive seasons leading the league in yards per catch. He wants to prove he can handle the dirty work underneath, but he doesn't seem suited for that.

The secondary: One of the only position battles is at right cornerback, between second-year players Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth; the loser will be the nickel back. Williams is more of a gambler; Foxworth is savvier. It might come down to the big play vs. comfort. Both will play a lot, and their infusion of speed already has raised the bar defensively. Their development is being counted on to help counterbalance the quick-strike passing games that sometimes plagued Denver on third down.

Champ Bailey is a complete corner, perhaps the best in the NFL. But he battled hamstring and shoulder ailments last season, and that limited the defense's ability to play press coverages.

The coaches also wanted to keep the action in front of the rookies to limit the number of breakout runs. But that mindset has changed after the front seven held up without yielding many big plays, and confidence is growing in the young cornerbacks.

At safety, John Lynch still packs a wallop against the run and Nick Ferguson had a career-best five interceptions last season. But there are concerns about their range in coverage and speed on the back end.


The Broncos are contenders to go to the Super Bowl and should be the favorite to win the AFC West. It's not hard to envision a scenario like the one the Steelers had from 2004 to '05, with a drop-off in record but morphing into a tough, battle-tested team come playoff time.

This team won 14 games last season (including the playoffs), kept its core together and has tremendous team chemistry. The passing game should be more explosive, and the running game always produces. The defense is cohesive and has an abundance of playmakers. Sounds like a winning formula.

Lee Rasizer covers the Broncos for the Rocky Mountain News and Sporting News.
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