Team Report

It's been 20 years since the Denver Broncos opened the season with a pair of road games.Back then John Elway was just a rookie learning what it took to play in the NFL.In 2003, it will be Jake Plummer taking his first snaps as a Bronco.

INSIDE SLANT

Shannon Sharpe has done it for years.

But can a young player like Clinton Portis get the same results?

We're talking about off-season conditioning away from the Denver Broncos facility.

The NFL's Rookie of the Year has been noticeably missing from the Broncos' group workouts the past two weeks.

Instead he apparently is getting in shape with Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James and other former University of Miami players in south Florida.

The move hasn't set well with Broncos strength coach Rich Tuten, who would prefer Portis be part of his group.

"I want everybody here. It builds great team unity," Tuten said. "They know they're all doing their part and are going through the same type workouts and are feeling the same."

Tuten reported the best attendance in the last six years, with about 50 players running and lifting four days a week.

The only other players not participating are Sharpe and Steve Beuerlein. Sharpe, a model of physical fitness, always has worked out on his own in Georgia; Beuerlein was cut some slack by coaches who convinced him to return for his 17th NFL season.

"I know the older guys can do it. I haven't seen the results with a young guy doing it," Tuten said. "But even if he comes in here ranked No. 1, in better shape than anybody, I'd still want him here."

Though the off-season workouts are voluntary, most players view them as mandatory.

The first truly mandatory workouts will be in early May, at the team's first mini-camp.

Portis is expected to attend that, but Tuten is hopeful he will remain in Denver afterward to finish out the voluntary conditioning program that extends into July.

Tuten said he just wants what's best for the rising NFL star, and the team.

In 2002, Portis ran away with Rookie of the Year honors by rushing for 1,508 yards in just 12 starts.

But if Denver goes far into the playoffs this year as many hope, that would mean anywhere from 16 to 20 starts.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--It's been 20 years since the Denver Broncos opened the season with a pair of road games.

Back then John Elway was just a rookie learning what it took to play in the NFL.

In 2003, it will be Jake Plummer taking his first snaps as a Bronco, opening on the road against Cincinnati and San Diego, before a Monday night showdown at home with AFC West rival Oakland.

The toughest part of the schedule may be the end, where the Broncos finish with two more road games, against Indianapolis and Green Bay.

I'm looking forward to going to Green Bay in December," said defensive end Trevor Pryce said of the Dec. 28 regular-season finale.

"It's going to be interesting."

At least November brings some relief, with three home games (New England, San Diego and Chicago) and a Nov. 10 bye.

It's there that the Broncos will have to take care of business. Last year, they were just 5-3 at home, including three straight losses and a Monday night thrashing by Oakland.

--While much of the focus this off-season has been on new quarterback Jake Plummer, it may be Denver's revamped defense that will be tested early.

The last time Denver played in Cincinnati, Corey Dillon rushed for an NFL-record 278 yards against the Broncos.

The Chargers, meanwhile, bring LaDainian Tomlinson. He rushed for 220 yards and three TDs against the Broncos in an AFC West game last year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Actually it's a mind trick. I'm really not looking forward to it, but I'm going to tell you that." -≠ DE Trevor Pryce on playing Green Bay at Lambeau Field in the regular-season finale.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL 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/49ers; 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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