Broncos Inside Slant

The Broncos believe they were the best team not to make the playoffs last year, with their offense and defense both ranked in the top six overall.<p> Rather than stand pat, a frustrated Mike Shanahan cut his losses.

First, he ate a hefty chunk of cap space by releasing Brian Griese, then revamped a defensive scheme that was exploited by dink-and-dunk teams like Oakland.

The result is more quickness on both sides of the ball.

Jake "The Snake" Plummer brings escapability, leadership and passion to the quarterback position.

While critics question the move by Shanahan because of Plummer's track record and knack for interceptions, the Broncos brass sees only positives.

"We're telling him to just drive the car, keep it straight," general manager Ted Sundquist said, noting Plummer isn't being asked to do it all as he was in Arizona.

The bigger questions may be on defense, where Larry Coyer replaces Ray Rhodes as coordinator.

He has placed a bigger emphasis on rushing the passer, a trend that suits players like Trevor Pryce just fine.

"Last year we were basically grunts, there to take up blocks and let the linebackers make all the tackles," Pryce said.

"It was very frustrating. It was like a chain around your ankle."

The Broncos are expecting a big boost from prized free-agent acquisition Daryl Gardener, and equally big things from second-year pro Dorsett Davis. Coaches hope he blooms in his second year as Pryce did, and mini-camp certainly gave that indication.

The Broncos will need a bigger push up front to take the pressure off their young, untested secondary.

Deltha O'Neal looks more comfortable and confident on the right side and playing for Coyer, but Kelly Herndon and Lenny Walls will have to step up at the left corner position.

If the Broncos go another year with just nine picks overall, they'll likely find themselves out of the playoffs again.

"It starts up front. There's no way to dodge it," Coyer said. "The front four guys have to create a consistent pass rush. We're trying to upgrade that. If we don't, we won't be successful defensively."

CAMP CALENDAR: The Broncos report to camp July 24, and camp ends Aug. 15. The team will travel to Houston on Aug. 5 for two days of joint workouts with the Texans.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--George Foster soon will be a very rich man, with his expected signing bonus for a first-round pick in the $3 million range.

But until he signs on the dotted line he more closely resembles a starving college student.

Foster said he has been trying to pinch pennies, so much so that he recently ate just one meal a day.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year, Oakland exposed us." Defensive tackle Lional Dalton said of Denver's shaky pass rush and pass defense. In that 34-10 Bronco lost. Rich Gannon completed 34 of 38 passes -- almost all for short yardage. PERSONNEL UPDATE

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: WR Adrian Madise (5th; $1.705M/5 yrs, $190,000 SB; 2003 cap: $263,000).
VETERANS RE-SIGNED: LB Keith Burns (cut; $680,000/1 yr, $25 RB; 2003 cap: $475,000); WR Chris Cole (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); FB Reuben Droughns (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); PK Jason Elam (Potential UFA, $9M/5 yrs, $2.675 SB); QB Jarious Jackson (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); CB Jimmy Spencer (cut; $760,500/1 yr, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000).
VETERANS ACQUIRED: OT Ed Ellis (FA Chargers; terms unknown); S Nick Ferguson (not tendered as RFA/Jets; terms unknown); S Lee Flowers (not tendered as UFA by Steelers; $655,000/1 yr; 2003 cap: $450,000); 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 Danny Kanell (FA; terms unknown); 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).
VETERANS LOST: OT Blake Brockermeyer (cut); TE Matt Dominguez (cut); OG Lennie Friedman (cut); RB Olandis Gary (UFA Bills; 2 yrs, $175,000 SB, other terms unknown); QB Brian Griese (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).

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