Team Report: Inside Slant


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Jan 22, 2006
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Team Report: Inside Slant


--Get Javon Walker up to speed: Walker is progressing well in his rehabilitation from a torn ACL he suffered with Green Bay last year. But he was held out of all drills against defensive players in the team's minicamp three weeks before training camp started.
Walker's big test will be putting on pads and seeing how he reacts to bump-and-run coverage and getting hit again. Some players take longer than others to get back to full speed and bounce back mentally. Walker seems capable of returning very close to his pre-injury form because of the work he has put in during rehab. He will probably be limited to one practice per day during camp.

The Broncos can't afford to wait, either. If Walker isn't capable of making an impact early in the season, Denver doesn't have anyone else of his caliber to line up opposite Rod Smith. Defenses could suffocate Smith if there's nobody to take the pressure off him, and there's no solid proven receiving option at tight end.

--Develop a pass rush: Someone on the defensive line will have to emerge as an option to rush the quarterback. Denver had 28 sacks last year, a total that needs to improve. And coach Mike Shanahan doesn't appear willing to sacrifice the back end anymore by using constant heavy blitzes, so the defensive line will have to create pressure.

One way to get that pressure is by letting tackle Gerard Warren assume more of a freelancing role, something the team is interested in doing. Last year Warren spent plenty of time clogging up blockers to let others make plays. This year, the Broncos want to use him as a difference maker.

Denver is hopeful that a young player like end Corey Jackson or rookie Elvis Dumervil adds a spark to the pass rush. End Kenard Lang was also signed in the offseason to help get after the quarterback.

--Get Jay Cutler experience: Once the season begins, quarterback Jay Cutler will likely be strapped to the bench. The Broncos used a first-round pick on Cutler but nobody in the organization wants to see him play this year. In a perfect world, Jake Plummer would stay healthy and be effective during a push deep into the playoffs. Plummer gives Denver its best chance at winning the AFC in 2006.

But Cutler is the quarterback of the future, and might start as soon as 2007. He'll get plenty of chances during the preseason and training camp to get used to the NFL. He is raw and has great talent but Mike Shanahan's offensive system is complicated. Cutler will need as much time as possible running the system before he is ready to take over.

Denver also needs to be prepared if Plummer misses any time this season. Bradlee Van Pelt is in his third year in the Broncos' offense, and he might be more immediately ready to help the offense this season if Plummer misses a game or two. But if Plummer is out for a long time, the Broncos have to decide based on what Cutler shows in training camp and the preseason if he would be a better option.

CAMP CALENDAR: Broncos players, veterans and rookies report to camp on July 27. The first practice is July 28. The Broncos are not traveling to have joint practices against anyone, as they did with Houston in 2003 and 2005. Denver hasn't released its training camp schedule, but camp will likely break on Aug. 16 or 17.
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