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2006 Team Report: Denver Broncos

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Jake Plummer
Backup(s): Jay Cutler [R], Bradlee Van Pelt

Starting QB: Jake Plummer is entering his 4th season as the Broncos QB. Last season he played with a “No Mistake Jake” mantra, but ended up reverting to his old mistake prone Jake in the AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh. Coach Mike Shanahan has done the most he can do with Jake Plummer, and thus drafted the QB of the future in Jay Cutler. But for the foreseeable future Plummer is still the man in Denver. His fantasy value got a much needed shot in the arm when the Broncos traded for Javon Walker, the playmaking WR from Green Bay. The Broncos will always run the ball effectively, and this helps Jake because he doesn’t have to carry the load for the offense (like he did in Arizona). Expect Jake’s production to resemble that of his 2004 season (27 TD’s), with a reduction of interceptions from that year (20 int’s). Plummer is also expected to mentor young Jay Cutler as his Broncos career winds down. If Cutler develops quickly, this could be the last year that Jake starts in Denver.

Backup QB: The Broncos have their Franchise QB of the future in Jay Cutler. The rookie from Vanderbilt has a somewhat similar skill set to that of Jake Plummer. Both can scramble and make plays with their feet. And both have been known to force passes into coverage. The biggest difference is that Cutler has a big time arm. Look for the Broncos to bring along Cutler slowly, grooming him for a 2007 start- or later. Denver played russian roulette last season with Bradlee Van Pelt. Fortunately for them, Jake Plummer didn’t get hurt and force Van Pelt into action. It’s clear that Van Pelt, while a great competitor, will never make it as an NFL QB.

Running Backs

Starter: Mike Bell [R]
Backup(s): Tatum Bell, Cedric Cobbs, Ron Dayne
Fullback(s): Cecil Sapp, Kyle Johnson

Starting RB: Now that Mike Anderson is gone, the starting RB job is up for grabs. Many felt that Ron Dayne had the inside track on this job heading into training camp. But Mike Bell was the most impressive performer early in camp and seems to have won a position atop the depth chart. Bell is an undrafted free-agent rookie, and got the start in each of the Broncos' first two preseason games, looking impressive in the second. He is a no-nonsense runner who runs hard and does not shy away from contact. He lacks the speed and explosiveness of Tatum Bell, but gets north-south in a hurry and has also done well picking up his pass-blocking assignments.

Backup RBs: Tatum Bell is the speedy playmaker that is a threat to take it to the house on every play. Unfortunately for him, he keeps getting injured and misses significant playing time. For this reason, Mike Shanahan sees him as nothing more than a situational RB. Ron Dayne has failed to live up to expectations so far during his five-year career, but as one might expect, has generally looked better running behind the Broncos' offensive line than he did in New York. Denver runs a zone-blocking scheme similar to the system in Wisconsin where Dayne racked up more yardage than any other back in NCAA history (at the time he went pro). Dayne had a 5.1 ypc average in 2005, the highest of his career. He flashed brilliance in the Dallas game on Thanksgiving, breaking off a 55-yard run to set up the game winning field goal in overtime. Cedric Cobbs had a questionable work ethic and attitude during his time with the Patriots. But he stuck around on Denver’s practice squad all last season, and has come on strong in recent preseason constests. He is a dark horse in the running to earn the starting job in Denver -- behind Mike Bell at this point, but ahead of Ron Dayne.

Fullback: Kyle Johnson played well last season and entered training camp as the starter, but Cecil Sapp overtook him in the early part of camp and currently sits atop the depth chart at fullback. Sapp can also play tailback if needed, and contributes on special teams as well. Johnson's a good receiving option out of the backfield.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Rod Smith, Javon Walker
Backups: Brandon Marshall [R], Darius Watts, Todd Devoe, Domenik Hixon [R], David Terrell, Charlie Adams

Starting WRs: Rod Smith just gets better with age. He is not fast, but is a great route runner and can make some amazing catches. See the catch he made over Troy Polamalu in the AFC Championship game for a great example. He is still the Broncos #1 receiver, despite the fact that they wanted Ashley Lelie to develop into that role. Rod Smith can get open on the best corners, although the fastest corners can make up ground on him quickly. The Broncos know exactly how to use him, and he takes advantage. The Broncos brought in the phenomenal Javon Walker to start opposite Rod Smith. He is coming off an ACL injury that cost him almost the entire 2005 season. If Walker can rebound, then the Broncos have the type of game breaking weapon that can change games. Javon is happy to be out of Green Bay and is looking for a fresh start in Denver.

Backup WRs: Ashley Lelie complained his way out of Denver, leaving the Broncos with a less certain stable of backups. Darius Watts turned heads in the June mini-camp. With Lelie skipping the OTA's, Watts showcased his considerable talent. He needs to become more consistent if he wants to see more playing time. Brandon Marshall is “Baby T.O.”, minus the headaches of course. He should develop into a big time playmaker. Domenik Hixon will see plenty of time at the PR/KR position, and is a playmaker in his own right. Todd Devoe is a good small school prospect that surprised many with his production last year. And David Terrell is a first round bust that is looking for a fresh start.

Tight Ends

Starters: Stephen Alexander
Backups: Tony Scheffler [R], Nate Jackson

The Broncos use a lot of double-tight end formations, so both Alexander and Scheffler will get plenty of playing time. Alexander was healthy all of last year retained the starting job over Jeb Putzier, who has since departed for the Texans. Rookie Tony Scheffler is a good athlete who can challenge the defense down the field. If he proves to be a strong blocker, he could start ahead of Alexander.

Place Kicker

Jason Elam : Elam has ranked in the top ten in scoring for nine consecutive years (including six top fives). Tied for a distant second in that category are Vanderjagt and Stover who have been in the top ten the last three years. His FG accuracy is merely average (79.3% career), however the Broncos continually provide him with numerous attempts. Elam also has good range, with 35 career 50+ yard FGs (second all-time to Morten Andersen).

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Darrent Williams; Charlie Adams; David Kircus; Cecil Sapp; Domenik Hixon [IR]

As expected, CB Darrent Williams won the return specialist role heading into last year as a rookie. An injury in the latter part of the season combined with his rapid development as a starter on defense however led to a reduced role. He ended up returning 18 kickoffs for a 23.9 yard average. He’ll probably once again split the duties with WR Charlie Adams (10 returns, 21.8 avg.). The wild card was fourth round draft pick WR Domenik Hixon returned both kickoffs (23.5 avg.) and punts (7.7 avg.) for Akron last year. He scored on both a kickoff and punt return during his junior year. He missed the pre-aseon with an injury and landed on IR. FB Cecil Sapp may also get a few as a backup (2 returns, 14.0 avg.).

Punt Returners: Charlie Adams; Darrent Williams; Rod Smith; Champ Bailey; Domenik Hixon [IR]

Darrent Williams led the team in punt returns (17 returns, 8.7 avg.) until getting hurt. Charlie Adams took over the role thereafter (16 returns, 8.3 avg.). Domenik Hixon could join the committee, or he could emerge as the return specialist. WR Rod Smith and CB Champ Bailey both have experience returning punts, and are available if needed. Like most teams with strong offenses, Denver’s return numbers were low. The four worst fantasy return teams last year were Indianapolis, Denver, Seattle, and Cincinnati.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT George Foster, RG Cooper Carlisle, C Tom Nalen, LG Ben Hamilton, LT Matt Lepsis
Key Backups: T Adam Meadows, G Taylor Whitley, T Cornell Green, G Chris Kuper (rookie), C Greg Eslinger (rookie)

Much like the Atlanta Falcons, the Denver Broncos are able to get the most production possible out of their players. The Broncos offensive line has been one of the best in the NFL consistently over the past ten years and you can expect that trend to continue in 2006. All five starters return from a unit that started all 80 possible games last year and were able to open gaping holes for the running game to exploit. Guard Cooper Carlisle has really come into his own over the past couple of seasons and is now a very good lineman. He rarely makes an error and is quite athletic. George Foster has kept his weight under control over since he became a starter in 2004 and has become one of the more dominate right tackles in the game today. He rarely takes a penalty, moves defensive lineman off the ball and is very difficult to get around. Left guard Ben Hamilton is undersized at only 283 pounds but has superlative technique and gets the job done. Tackle Matt Lepsis has started 128 consecutive games and is as consistent as they come. He didn’t have a holding penalty and only gave up ½ a sack. This will be Tom Nalen’s 12th year as the starting center and he is still playing at a high level. In late July, the Broncos signed Adam Meadows, who is making his return after several years out of the league. Meadows was an effective starter in Indianapolis and has the smaller, athletic build that Denver looks for; he may even push George Foster for playing time depending on how quickly he grasps the blocking schemes. Both rookie guard Chris Kuper and rookie center Greg Eslinger fit in wonderfully within the Broncos scheme and will start down the road. Add it all together and this unit is among the best in the NFL.

Team Defense

The Broncos finished 15th overall in total defense in 2005 after a fourth overall finish in 2004. In reality, there was not much difference between the two seasons. Led by one of the best linebacker groups in the league, the Broncos continued their strong play against the run with the second best rushing yards per game total. They finished 28th overall against the pass, but had the lead so often they faced the most passing attempts in the league - a full 30 more attempts than the next closest team. Denver ranked fourth overall in scoring defense, allowing 16.1 points per game, giving a much better indication of the strength of their defense than the yards per game total. They finished behind only Cincinnati and Carolina in total takeaways, with 20 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries. The Broncos will return their entire 2005 starting defense in 2006. The 2005 version was improved by the return of WLB Ian Gold and the addition two rookie corners, Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth. It also received a boost by the career season of Champ Bailey. Even the formerly disappointing group of Cleveland Brown linemates played much better together than in prior seasons. This season, another former Brown, Kenard Lang, was signed to improve the nickel pass rush. The Broncos were comfortable enough to spend only one draft pick on the defensive side of the ball. Fourth round pick Elvis Dumervil is also expected to contribute in a situational pass rushing role. With the same defensive talent and no reason to expect a significant decline in offense, the Bronco defense should continue to be a stingy, turnover producing unit in 2006.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE John Engelberger, LDE Courtney Brown, LDT Mike Myers, RDT Gerard Warren
Backups: DE Kenard Lang, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, DE Elvis Dumervil (r), DT Demetrin Veal

Starting DL: Courtney Brown has never been able to fulfill the lofty expectations placed on him as the top overall pick in 2000 after an impressive rookie season in Cleveland. His career has been derailed by multiple injuries. Although inconsistent at times, he still has the size and power to be disruptive from the edge when healthy. Ekuban will split time with John Engelberger at right end. Neither are particularly impressive in pass rush, but should combine to stabilize the run defense. Warren has been disappointing since his rookie season. He has the talent to be an explosive, disruptive tackle but poor conditioning and effort keep him reliant on his superior talent just to hold the line and occupy blockers. He seemed more motivated last season and helped elevate the line to a very solid finish against the rush. DT Michael Myers is consistently good in run support but provides little pass rush. Despite the blemishes of its individual parts, this line works well together and anchors one of the league’s top overall defenses.

Backup DL: Kenard Lang was signed this offseason to upgrade the pass rush in nickel situations. He has 44 sacks over a nine year career but didn’t perform well as an outside linebacker in Cleveland’s 3-4 hybrid schemes. Engelberger may not have the size and power of Brown, but plays with good leverage and has been healthier and more consistent. He will rotate with Ekuban. Dumervil, the Broncos 4th round draft pick this year, may find a niche as a situational pass rusher. At 5’11”, 257 pounds, he does not have the size to hold up as an every down end in a 4-3 scheme. After losing DT Monsanto Pope to the Jets in the offseason, Demetrin Veal is the Broncos only experienced tackle on the bench.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Ian Gold, MLB Al Wilson, SLB DJ Williams
Backups: LB Keith Burns, LB Patrick Chukwurah, LB Ray Wells, LB Nate Webster

Starting LBs: The trio of Wilson, Gold, and Williams is easily one of the best in the league. All three are quick, play well in space, and show better than average cover skills. MLB Al Wilson is the alpha dog in the huddle and the key to Denver’s defense. He is a durable, every down player who plays to the whistle on every play. On the weak side, though undersized at 6’0”, 223 pounds, Ian Gold has sideline-to-sideline range and elite closing speed. Gold is one of the few linebackers in the league talented enough to push an elite talent like DJ Williams from the weak side role he played to acclaim as a rookie to the strong side last year. Williams has good size (6’1”, 240 lbs) but has the quickness and range to play in space. He also has the strength to defeat blockers at the point of attack.

Backup LBs: Keith Burns is a 12 year veteran who can back up all three positions. While no longer as quick or rangy as his younger days, he has good coverage instincts and can also contribute in the nickel package. He is a valuable special teams player. Chukwurah returns for his third season as a backup with the Broncos. He is a solid 250 pound straight line player whose primary contribution will be on special teams. Denver also added Ray Wells and Nate Webster in the offseason to compete for backup jobs. Neither Wells nor Webster played a down in 2005.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Darrent Williams, LCB Champ Bailey, SS Nick Ferguson, FS John Lynch
Backups: CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Karl Paymah, S Sam Brandon, S Curome Cox

Starting DBs: The Broncos have four solid corners. Left corner Champ Bailey is a durable six time Pro Bowler who had a career season with eight interceptions in 2005. He is the complete package at cornerback. On the opposite corner, the Broncos have second year men Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth. Williams was a second round selection, Foxworth a third, but both impressed the coaches with solid play in 2006. Williams will enter the season as a starter, but expect Foxworth to get significant playing time as well. Strong safety Nick Ferguson was a journeyman and special teams ace before coming to the Broncos in 2003. After ably filling in for an injured Kenoy Kennedy that season, Ferguson earned the starting nod last year after Kennedy moved on to Detroit. He responded with five interceptions and solid play in run support. Free safety John Lynch is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame and will again be a physical and intimidating presence in the middle of the field.

Backup DBs: The Broncos like Foxworth every bit as much as Williams. Both are somewhat undersized at under six feet and 200 pounds, but both compete hard in coverage. The third corner from the 2005 draft class, Karl Paymah has better size than his draftmates but isn’t as fluid in coverage. The Denver defensive coaching staff continues to praise the improvement he has made in the offseason. The Broncos aren’t nearly as deep at safety, as Brandon and Cox are back end roster players at best. The team was expected to draft a safety but did not. Undrafted college free agent Tyler Everett could make the team as a backup safety.

Last modified: 2006-09-04 09:55:30



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