Team Report

Ed McCaffrey will have a battle on his hands to retain his starting position. Read about that as well all the latest skinny from the Denver Broncos camp in our weekly team report.

These haven't been the best of times for one of Denver's most popular athletes.

First, Ed McCaffrey was forced to take a $750,000 pay cut.

Now the veteran wide receiver is out of commission for the next 2-3 months after surgery to repair a sports hernia.

It only figures to make his fight to keep his starting job tougher.

"I think it's more of an emotional setback for me than it is physical," McCaffrey said.

Though he hopes to return to full activity by the Broncos' June mini-camp, he'll have his hands full fending off former first-round pick Ashley Lelie.

Lelie, a former University of Hawaii star, came on strong at the end of last season. He finished with 35 catches for 525 yards.

And he vowed to work even harder in 2003 and push for a starting job.

Coach Mike Shanahan insists it will be open competition.

"The best players play, very simple," he said.

While McCaffrey has great hands and unmatched toughness, he doesn't have Lelie's speed or athleticism.

Asked how McCaffrey might deal with being No. 3, Shanahan said, "If anyone's accepting of it, then you've got the wrong guy. You're always disappointed when you get beat out. Eventually somebody is going to get beat out, the older they get.

"Ed's going to make sure it's not this year or next year. He's made of the right stuff. But Ashley's going to try to win a position."

McCaffrey beat the odds once, coming back from a devastating broken leg suffered in the 2001 season opener. But he admitted he wasn't 100 percent last year when he caught 69 passes for 903 yards.

Upon signing his restructured contract, he said he felt better than ever.

But about a month into his off-season training regimen, he began experiencing pain in his abdomen. He had surgery March 18.

Now, rather than working on his timing with new quarterback Jake Plummer, McCaffrey needs rehab.

"Obviously I'll probably miss the first mini-camp and that's disappointing. But I'll have plenty of time to get in great shape by training camp," he said.

Team Notes:

--Steve Beuerlein confirmed that he will return for one more season, but indicated he plans to retire after this, his 17th NFL season.

"I'm not closing the door but I'm approaching this season as being my last," he said.

Beuerlein, who recently turned 38, admitted he was prepared to step away from the game after losing a potential chance to start when the Broncos signed free-agent Jake Plummer. But he said Mike Shanahan's cross-country visit convinced him to return. He said he couldn't say no out of loyalty."

--About 50 players showed up for the first day of the team's voluntary off-season workouts, including Plummer.

Though the first regular-season game is still five months away, players agreed that the season officially started March 31 inside the team's practice "bubble."

"I think everybody realizes it's been disappointing the last couple of years," linebacker John Mobley said. "We need this to get back to where we want to be."

Mobley said he thought he was in good shape until he showed up Monday, which he admitted was tough.

"It was a harder first day than we've had in the past," Mobley said. "Usually he takes it easy on us. Not today."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Someone said he was the devil and I didn't believe 'em until he had us doing those pushups. But it's good. ...To sweat out here and work with (each other), that's part of the camaraderie, the bonding, the teamwork. That's what carries you through in those fourth quarters late in the season and gets you in the playoffs." -- Jake Plummer, on attending the Broncos offseason conditioning program run by strength coach Rich Tuten.

Team Skinny:

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: DE, CB, QB.

The Broncos added a quarterback and defensive tackle through free agency, but still could use another top rush end to complement Trevor Pryce. At cornerback, they are hurting. They dumped Denard Walker, and lost Tyrone Poole to free agency. Though they say they are confident in the players they have, that means throwing untested Lennie Walls and Kelly Herndon into the mix alongside inconsistent Deltha O'Neal. They could see who becomes available there June 1.

As for quarterback, Denver got its man in Jake Plummer, but if the picks fall their way, the Broncos could pick up a quarterback next month in the draft.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RB Olandis Gary (injuries have hurt his stock).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Chris Cole (tendered at $605,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation); FB Reuben Droughns (tendered at $605,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation); QB Jarious Jackson (tendered at $605,000 with 7th-round pick as compensation).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LB Keith Burns (cut; $680,000/1 yr, $25 RB; 2003 cap: $475,000); PK Jason Elam (Potential UFA, $9M/5 yrs, $2.675 SB); CB Jimmy Spencer (cut; $755,000/1 yr, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: S Nick Ferguson (not tendered as RFA/Jets; terms unknown); DT Daryl Gardener (UFA Redskins; $34.87M/7 yrs, $5M SB; 2003 cap: $1.373M); OG Heath Irwin (UFA Rams; $680,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000); QB Jake Plummer (UFA Cardinals; $40.7M/7 yrs, $7M SB/$6M option SB '05; 2003 cap: $1.53M); LB Quincy Stewart (not tendered as ERFA/Jets; terms unknown).

PLAYERS LOST: OT Blake Brockermeyer (cut); TE Matt Dominguez; OG Lennie Friedman (cut); DT Chester McGlockton (cut); WR Phil McGeoghan (not tendered as ERFA/Jets; $300,000/1 yr); DE Kavika Pittman (cut); WR Scottie Montgomery (not tendered as RFA/Raiders; terms unknown); CB Tyrone Poole (UFA Patriots; $8M/4 yrs, $1.8M SB); DT Montae Reagor (UFA Colts; $17.23M/6 yrs, $2M SB); S Izell Reese (UFA Bills; terms unknown); CB Denard Walker (cut); DE Keith Washington (cut).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


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