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Online Broncos Lines & Predictions - Denver Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Denver Broncos Season Preview

2006 Broncos NFL News - August 31st, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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Twenty-two days into the calendar year of 2006, the offense of the Denver Broncos was about a quarterback, Jake Plummer, handing off to a running back, Mike Anderson, and throwing to a No. 1 receiver, Rod Smith.

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By the time the NFL nation flips its calendar to 2007, the Denver Broncos could be about a quarterback, Jay Cutler, handing off to a running back, fellow rookie Mike Bell, and throwing to a No. 1 receiver, Javon Walker.

And hey, it's not as if change is unusual in the NFL. Teams make alterations, sometimes of the wholesale variety, from season to season. People get hurt. They retire. They're deemed expendable. It's part of the business.

It's just that franchises coming off of 13-3 seasons and trips to championship games don't generally make such major renovations at the skill positions, especially when they finish in the Top 10 in the league in scoring.

But Mike Shanahan hasn't made a living in the NFL by going with the grain, and thus you have a team standing on the brink of a major transition.

Cutler might not play this year, but he wasn't selected No. 11 overall in the April draft to be Jake Plummer's adviser for personal grooming. Unless Plummer has a Unitas-like season and wins a Super Bowl, Cutler will be the team's starter in 2007, and if Plummer reverts to the gun-slinging, mistake-making, finger-flipping form he once made famous, the Vanderbilt product is going to see the field a lot sooner than that.

Bell was the surprise choice as the team's No. 1 running back in the preseason, beating out holdover Tatum Bell (no relation) and the injury- hampered Ron Dayne. Shanahan isn't too sentimental when it comes to running backs (see: Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson), so the former Bell will keep the job as long as he can find those massive holes created by Denver's road-grading o-line.

Walker's acquisition was perhaps the least surprising element of the Broncos' offseason, as the team had long desired to find an heir apparent to the workmanlike Smith at the primary receiver slot. His presence should make life easier for whoever's time card gets punched at the quarterback and running back positions.

Clearly, Shanahan was less interested in tinkering with the Broncos' machine than in giving it a major overhaul in the interests of boosting performance not just for this year's pleasure drive, but for the long-term life of the vehicle. How quickly the Broncos can get through the gears in the infancy of the backfield transition will be reflected by the team's record and standing when the ignition is cut on the eve of calendar year 2007.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Denver Broncos, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 13-3 (1st, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2005, lost to Pittsburgh, 34-17 in AFC Championship

COACH (RECORD): Mike Shanahan (114-62 in 11 seasons with Broncos, 122-74 overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rick Dennison

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Larry Coyer

OFFENSIVE STAR: Rod Smith, WR (85 receptions, 1105 yards, 6 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Champ Bailey, CB (64 tackles, 8 INT)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 2nd rushing, 18th passing, 7th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 2nd rushing, 29th passing, 4th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at New England (9/24), Indianapolis (10/29), at Pittsburgh (11/5), at Kansas City (11/23), at San Diego (12/10)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Jay Cutler (1st Round, Vanderbilt), WR Javon Walker (from Packers), TE Tony Scheffler (2nd Round, Western Michigan), DE Kenard Lang (from Browns), DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil (4th Round, Louisville), LB Nate Webster (from Bengals)

KEY DEPARTURES: RB Mike Anderson (released), TE Jeb Putzier (released), DE Trevor Pryce (released), DT Monsanto Pope (to Jets)

QB: There is little doubt what the selection of Jay Cutler (1st Round, Vanderbilt) means for the Denver Broncos in the long-term, but for 2006, the starting quarterback job still belongs to Jake Plummer (3366 passing yards, 18 TD, 7 INT). The 31-year-old Plummer comes off perhaps his finest year as a pro, as he threw just seven interceptions (a career-low for a full season), managed the offense well, and led his team to the brink of the Super Bowl stage. But it is precisely the fact that Plummer failed to step up in the AFC Championship that will eventually hasten his exit from Denver, and one wonders what the presence of Cutler on the roster will mean for team chemistry. Cutler was impressive in the preseason, but does not figure to see time in '06 unless the season unravels. Shanahan has suggested that he will keep three quarterbacks in 2006, meaning local favorite Bradlee Van Pelt (48 rushing yards, 1 TD) will make the team.

RB: Call it arrogance, but the Broncos have had enough success in the running game to back up the notion that running backs are basically interchangeable within their offense. Mike Anderson (1014 rushing yards, 18 receptions, 13 TD) is the latest 1,000-yard back to be allowed to leave without much of a fuss, joining the likes of Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns on the list of the unappreciated. And just to underscore their point, the Broncos went ahead and installed an undrafted rookie free agent, Mike Bell (Arizona) into the No. 1 tailback job, in turn placing the unheralded Bell on a list with Ringo Starr and Brad Pitt as one of the luckiest men alive. Bell looked a little shaky in the preseason, meaning holdovers Tatum Bell (921 rushing yards, 8 TD, 18 receptions) and Ron Dayne (270 rushing yards, 1 TD) were thrown back into the starting competition, but the latter Bell is not a favorite of the coaching staff and Dayne struggled with turf toe during camp. That opened the door for Cedric Cobbs and ex-Titan Damien Nash (32 rushing yards, 3 receptions with Tennessee) to claim a spot on the roster, with Cobbs looking like the favorite there. Fullbacks Cecil Sapp (21 rushing yards) and Kyle Johnson (17 receptions, 6 TD) are both vital cogs in the run-based offense.

WR/TE: The Broncos made major draft day noise when they traded for wideout Javon Walker (4 receptions with the Packers), who is two years removed from his first Pro Bowl but missed most of 2005 with a torn ACL. Walker played sparingly during the preseason, but is expected to eventually assume the No. 1 receiver mantle from the ultra-reliable Rod Smith (85 receptions, 6 TD), who comes off his eighth 1,000-yard season in nine years but turned 36 in May. The acquisition of Walker meant that the team lost little sleep over dealing the disgruntled Ashley Lelie (42 receptions, 1 TD) to the Falcons, but Denver will need some formerly anonymous pass-catchers to step up and play key roles in multi-receiver sets. Fourth-round draft pick Brandon Marshall (Central Florida) struggled with a knee injury during the preseason but is likely to emerge as the team's No. 3 wideout. Former Lions scout-teamer David Kircus, ex-Bears No. 1 bust David Terrell, and holdovers Charlie Adams (21 receptions), Darius Watts (2 receptions) and Todd Devoe (9 receptions, 1 TD) were in the mix for backup jobs as the preseason neared its conclusion. Stephen Alexander (21 receptions, 1 TD) is back to fill the all-important tight end role, and second-round draft pick Tony Scheffler (Western Michigan), a 6-5, 260-pound specimen, figures to see the field a great deal as well. Holdover Nate Jackson had an edge on ex-Brown Chad Mustard for the third tight end job during the late stages of the preseason.

OL: The Broncos' much-celebrated, seldom-speaking o-line unit returns in its entirety, which is great news for the entire Denver offense. From left to right: left tackle Matt Lepsis, left guard Ben Hamilton, center Tom Nalen, right guard Cooper Carlisle, right tackle George Foster. All started each of the team's 16 games a year ago. Two or three backups will be mined from a group that includes 2006 draft picks Chris Kuper (5th Round, North Dakota), and Greg Eslinger (6th Round, Minnesota), holdovers Dwayne Carswell, Chris Myers and Cornell Green, and newcomer and ex-Colts starter Adam Meadows. The notable among this group is Carswell, the converted tight end and current guard who is attempting to rebound from a serious car accident that nearly took his life midway through the 2005 season.

DL: A major weakness of the Broncos defense is the lack of a pass rush, as the team ranked near the bottom of the league with just 28 sacks a year ago. Complicating matters for the defense is the fact that end Trevor Pryce, who was tied for the team lead in sacks with four in 2005, escaped to Baltimore via free agency. Still penciled in at the end slots are Courtney Brown (24 tackles, 2 sacks) and Ebenezer Ekuban (27 tackles, 4 sacks), who were sturdy against the run last season but didn't scare many quarterbacks. The team could look to develop newcomer Kenard Lang (41 tackles, 2 sacks with Cleveland), rookie Elvis Dumervil (4th Round, Louisville), or holdover Patrick Chukwurah (8 tackles) into a situational pass rusher. Gerard Warren (19 tackles, 3 sacks) and Michael Myers (31 tackles, 1 sack) will again fill the tackle roles, with holdover Demetrin Veal (25 tackles, 1 sack) slated to add depth. Undrafted rookie Antwon Burton (Temple) was impressive during training camp, and could take a spot away from yet another ex-Brown, Amon Gordon.

LB: There is no turnover here, as Al Wilson (72 tackles, 3 sacks) returns to man the middle, Ian Gold (88 tackles, 3 sacks) the weak side, and D.J. Williams (55 tackles) the strong side. The Broncos linebacking corps doesn't make a ton of big plays, but neither does it miss many tackles. Slated for backup and special teams duties are Louis Green (10 tackles) and ex-Bengal Nate Webster, with special teams ace Keith Burns (19 tackles) and rookie Cameron Vaughn (LSU) possibly fighting for one roster spot.

DB: The Denver secondary will once again be a mix of young and old, with cagey veterans like cornerback Champ Bailey (64 tackles, 8 INT), free safety John Lynch (61 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT), and strong safety Nick Ferguson (79 tackles, 5 INT) combining with second-year players in cornerbacks Darrent Williams (53 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack), Domonique Foxworth (70 tackles, 2 INT) and Karl Paymah (14 tackles) to make up the core of the group. All were on the field regularly in 2005 with the exception of Paymah, the third-round pick out of Washington State who has played primarily on special teams. Slated for reserve roles along with Paymah are safeties Hamza Abdullah (1 tackle), Sam Brandon (24 tackles) and Curome Cox (19 tackles, 1 INT).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Back for a 14th season in Denver is kicker Jason Elam (24-32 FG), who no longer has the leg to kick 63-yarders but remains reliable and accurate. Punter Todd Sauerbrun (43.8 avg.) is still among the best in the business, but will miss the season's first four games following his violation of the league's steroid policy. Paul Ernster, a seventh-round pick out of Northern Arizona who kicked off in one game before tearing his ACL during his rookie season of 2005, is likely to handle the punting until Sauerbrun returns. Darrent Williams (8.7 punt return avg.) was decent on punt returns last year, and will also be in the mix for kickoff returns along with Mike Bell and David Kircus. Mike Leach begins his fifth season as the team's long- snapper.

PROGNOSIS: At this same time last year, many NFL pundits were snickering at some of Mike Shanahan's risky offseason moves, which included trading Reuben Droughns and acquiring pretty much the entire Cleveland Browns' d-line. Shanahan had the last laugh, as the Broncos controlled the AFC West, sprinted to the playoffs, and came as close as they have in the post-Elway era to reaching the Super Bowl. We now know that this team has the coaching, and it has the talent, especially with the addition of Javon Walker to the offensive lineup. If the Broncos fail to win at least 10 games and serve as a major player in the division race, it will be a surprise. How far beyond that Denver is able to go will have everything to do with chemistry. If Plummer can ignore the presence of Cutler in his rear-view mirror and play with the same poise and efficiency that he did for much of last season, the Broncos should again be a Super Bowl contender. If things start to go poorly and the fans begin calling for Cutler to play, look out. A quarterback controversy has the potential to prove divisive, and once a split occurs in the locker room, Denver can probably wave goodbye to those Super Bowl aspirations.


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