Broncos Update Insider 9/16

Laurence Maroney gets a fresh start in Denver, leaving the criticism of his running style and middling production behind in New England.

The primary motivation in acquiring Maroney from the Broncos' perspective hinged on concerns over the long-term health of Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter and a desire to have an experienced player in reserve behind the pair.

Lance Ball was the No. 3 prior to the deal, but the Broncos had planned to fill that slot with a veteran and previously couldn't make it work. LenDale White tore his Achilles in the final preseason game. Justin Fargas' knee issues may have caught up to him and he was released.

Ball should still be active for this Sunday's game vs. Seattle given his offensive knowledge and role on special teams.

At first blush, what stands out from the deal is that Maroney is entering the final year of his contract and that swapping a 2011 fourth-round pick for a sixth and the player seems a steep price to pay for a possible rental.

Coach Josh McDaniels, who was offensive coordinator for the first three years of Maroney's career in New England, addressed those issues Wednesday, saying GM Brian Xanders would take care of that.

"Certainly we would love to have an opportunity to keep a young player at that position around for more than a year," McDaniels said. "That would be the goal for sure -- to give us some guys that really have an opportunity to be here for a long time and do what we want them to do."

The knock on Maroney in New England was that he lacked decisiveness and physicality at times running the ball. He had dipped to No. 4 on the Patriots' depth chart, in part due to a lingering thigh injury prior to the deal.

"He's a guy that can do a lot of things," McDaniels said. "I think it depends on what the expectations are that you're setting on someone. If you're playing in an offense that uses three and four and five backs, expectations of 1,500 yards rushing probably aren't realistic."

Maroney won't have an immediate chance at earning meaningful carries. He first has to heal, then get up to speed on Denver's playbook.

The longer-term prospects, should he re-sign, are that he can be a useful part of the Broncos rotation. Moreno still hasn't wowed anyone with breakaway ability but it's highly doubtful Denver strips him of his No. 1 mantle anytime soon given his draft status (No. 12 overall pick, 2009).

Buckhalter, on the other hand, is fair game. He's arguably has shown more burst and playmaking ability than Moreno over the last two years. But Buckhalter turns 32 next month and has had a history of injuries, including a neck/back issue that kept him out of the entire training camp. He has two years remaining on his contract.

Moreno's reaction to Maroney's addition was, "The more the better."

"He's a heck of a talent," said Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, a former teammate of Maroney with the Pats. "He's a great running back, can hit it inside, has speed to get outside and can do great things out of the backfield ... just have to get him caught up."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Defensive end Kevin Vickerson signed Sept. 7 after getting released by Seattle, so he should be able to provide a pretty decent -- and fresh -- scouting report on his former team and its personnel.

Vickerson said his teammates on the defensive line already have inquired.

"I know them. I know what they're doing, know their schemes and know what they don't like and have seen what 'gets' them."

--Denver Nuggets coach George Karl sat in on Broncos team meetings Wednesday, watching film and taking in a portion of practice, too. Karl's reasoning behind the visit was to get better acquainted with McDaniels, who may have his NBA counterpart back to address the team in the future.

Karl said he 'retired' from football long ago when, as a young quarterback, he was asked to run the option. He remains a Steelers fan, a point he made sure to tell McDaniels. The Broncos coach proudly hails from Ohio, where Karl once coached the Cavaliers.

"The first coach I ever did that with was Marty Schottenheimer," Karl said. "My biggest memory of Marty was when I got fired in Cleveland, him coming to my door with a case of Coors Light saying, 'I guess we get to hang out today.'"

--The Broncos should be well acquainted with not only Seattle's zone-blocking system that once was the model of NFL efficiency in Denver in the late 1990s, but also the personnel running it.

Tyler Polumbus, a Bronco for 2 1/2 years, was waived by Denver this summer and will start Sunday at left tackle for the injured Russell Okung. Ben Hamilton, the Broncos' longest-tenured player before he left in free agency this offseason, could be Seattle's starting right guard.

--Left tackle Ryan Clady now has had about three weeks to get readjusted to game conditions after missing all of OTAs and summer camp following surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in his left knee.

"It's gone good," Clady said. "I feel a lot better about it. The difference between the time when I first started practicing to now, it feels 10 times better."

The speed of Chris Clemons, a defensive end/outside linebacker in Seattle's hybrid scheme will be a good test of how well Clady can move laterally in breakneck fashion.

Denver's usual offensive line scheme in the past has been to put Clady on an island in a one-on-one matchup with an opponent's best rusher and let him try and neutralize the threat.

Clady, having moved past the mental block of post-practice soreness, appears comfortable with taking that same approach, even though the opener "wasn't completely up to my standards." The Broncos gave tight end help to his side at times vs. Jacksonville.

"I feel good about that, definitely," he said about his ability to go one-on-one in pass pro.

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Number of consecutive wins in home openers by the Broncos, tied for the third-longest streak since 1970 behind only the 1976-88 Dolphins (13) and 1989-1999 Chiefs (11). The 1987-96 Vikings matched Denver's current streak.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that's when you're playing best: when you never know where the ball's going to go, that everybody has equal opportunity to get the ball and make a play. We all feel that way. We're all confident in one another, so we're looking forward to this week." -- WR Eddie Royal, on Denver's spread-the-wealth passing attack that featured seven different pass-catchers in the opener.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Nose tackle Jamal Williams must use his experience fending off the technique-sound zone-blocking attack and not allow center Chris Spencer and guards Ben Hamilton and Mike Gibson to reach the second level.

ILB D.J. Williams had a solid debut in his second season in the 3-4 and is at his best when he can flow to the ball. But he's also an ultra-aggressive player who must stay disciplined.

Gap control, generally, will be key against Seattle's rushing attack. Ends Jason Hunter and Robert Ayers must avoid getting pinched inside and avoid allowing the Seahawks to bounce plays outside.

Denver held Jacksonville to a 3-for-10 performance on third down but didn't force enough long-yardage situations where it could consistently send the blitz. Matt Hasselbeck worked through his progressions nicely in the opener and Denver must make him hurry his decision-making and force some mistakes.

On offense, Royal missed Wednesday's practice with a groin problem and his status must be monitored closely this week. He led Denver with 10 pass targets last week. If he can't play, Eric Decker would likely fill in for him. The rookie showed a penchant for working the middle of the field when healthy during the preseason.

The other overriding concern will be the health of right guard Chris Kuper. He's a key cog in the power rushing attack Denver is trying to establish. Along with Ryan Harris' anticipated absence, the strong side of the line would be missing both starters and put additional pressure on a line featuring two rookies and first-time starter Stanley Daniels at LG.

PLAYER NOTES

--Chris Kuper didn't practice Wednesday due to knee and ankle issues. Kuper had battled ankle sprains throughout August, but it's unclear whether the same leg is affected now. If Kuper can't play, Hochstein would get the start and push rookie Eric Olsen into a reserve swing role at guard/center.

--Royal continues to practice as a punt returner, despite the fact rookie Perrish Cox handled those duties last week. Denver's top specialist in that area last season, Royal still could be called upon in critical situations where the Broncos need to swing field position or when opponents try to pin them deep, since he's been sure-handed in that role and Cox has had issues with ball security.

--RT Ryan Harris (sprained ankle) still hasn't practiced since Denver began preparations for the regular season. He isn't expected to play this week vs. Seattle, paving the way for rookie Zane Beadles' second start.

--Denver released running back Andre Brown to make room for Maroney on the active roster. It would not be surprising if the team attempted to get Brown onto the practice squad in the coming days, should he clear waivers.

--Denver made a pair of practice squad moves after Miami signed DL Lionel Dotson to its active roster, cutting LB Worrell Williams and adding DL Jeff Stehle and LB Titus Brown. Stehle spent camp with the Broncos. Brown played two years with Cleveland.

--Maroney passed his physical but his status for practice with the thigh injury isn't yet known.





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