Broncos unit by unit analysis

Here's a unit by unit run-down of how the Broncos line-up shapes up going into training camp.

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jake Plummer. Backups -- Steve Beuerlein, Jarious Jackson, Danny Kanell, Nick Rolovich.

There isn't much suspense here as Jake "The Snake" has been brought in to provide playmaking ability and leadership. He is entrenched as the starter, but that doesn't mean he won't be pushed by veteran Beuerlein.

The real battle may be at No. 3, where Jackson has shown talent but not the consistency at practice. Kanell has 22 starts under his belt and could be a real threat to Jackson's job.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Clinton Portis, FB Mike Anderson. Backups -- Anderson, Reuben Droughns, Quentin Griffin, KaRon Coleman, Ahmaad Galloway, Cecil Sapp, Antwon McCray, Terrell Davis.

Portis started turning heads last summer, and proceeded to run away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Now it could be another rookie's turn to draw attention, with Griffin the top candidate based on mini-camp performances. Anderson and Droughns will battle for the fullback job and the leftovers at halfback, with Coleman, Sapp and Galloway likely vying for the final roster spot.

TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter -- TE Shannon Sharpe. Backups -- Dwayne Carswell, Jeb Putzier, Patrick Hape, Arther Love, Mike Leach.

Sharpe is back for one more year as Denver's pass-catching tight end. The big question concerns best-blocker Carswell, who has more legal problems. His woes could only mean good things for Putzier, who has great hands but needs to improve his blocking.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey. Backups -- Ashley Lelie, Herb Haygood, Chris Cole, Adrian Madise, Frank Rice, Charlie Adams, Darcey Levy.

Smith is looking for his seventh straight 1,000-yard season, but who ends up starting opposite him will be a big question. McCaffrey is the veteran but he is coming off off-season groin surgery and will be pushed by Lelie, who already has developed a nice rapport with Plummer.

This may be Cole's last chance to prove he has more than speed. If not, Haygood and Madise are ready to jump on any opportunity they get.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Ephraim Salaam, LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Dan Neil, RT Matt Lepsis. Backups -- OT George Foster, OG/OT Cooper Carlisle, OG Heath Irwin, OG Steve Herndon, OT Ed Ellis, OT Mark Baniewicz, OT Trohn Carswell, OG Tyler Lenda, C Chris Watton, C Ben Claxton. OT Freddie Moore.

The starting unit remains intact from a year ago, but should be better if Nalen and Neil are healed sufficiently from knee surgeries. First-round pick Foster obviously is the future at left tackle, but he won't be rushed. His development bears watching. That Plummer has so much more mobility than Griese should take some of the pressure off the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Trevor Pryce, LT Dorsett Davis, RT Daryl Gardener, RE Bertrand Berry. Backups -- DT Lional Dalton, DE Reggie Hayward, DT Monsanto Pope, DE Aaron Hunt, DE Clint Mitchell, DE Devon Finn, DE Bryant McNeal, DT Nick Eason, DT Russell Newman.

There could be as many as three new starters here, with Gardener replacing wide-body Chester McGlockton, journeyman Bert Berry stepping in for underachieving Kavika Pittman, and second-year pro Dorsett Davis making a push to replace Lional Dalton inside.

The Broncos love the progress Davis has made, and he could be a force. Pryce, with more emphasis on rushing the passer, could have a banner season.

LINEBACKER: Starters -- WLB Ian Gold, MLB Al Wilson, SLB John Mobley. Backups -- Terry Pierce, Jason Sykes, Donnie Spragan, Keith Burns, Louis Green, Quincy Stewart.

This group was the heart of Denver's defense last year and figures to be so again. Wilson doesn't need the added incentive of playing for a new contract. Neither does Wilson, but both should be even better with another year under their belt.

Denver's new scheme should necessitate more shedding and taking on blockers.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Kelly Herndon, RCB Deltha O'Neal, SS Kenoy Kennedy, FS Sam Brandon. Backups -- CB Lenny Walls, CB Jimmy Spencer, CB Sam Young, CB Corey Chamblin, CB Brandon Williams, CB Jermaine Chatman, S Lee Flowers, S Chris Young, S Nick Ferguson, S Willie Middlebrooks, S Bobby Walker.

There's plenty of uncertainty here, with O'Neal the only starter who can be considered safe. Even then, this is a guy who was benched last season, and struggled to make plays.

Herndon and Walls will both get the chance to work with the first team, while Flowers will push both Brandon and Kennedy for starting time.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jason Elam, P Micah Knorr. Others -- P Mat McBriar.

Elam is happy after signing a lucrative free-agent deal, and looks to improve upon a tough 2002. Knorr remains the best bet kicking off, and that gives him an edge at punter even though undrafted McBrian may have the strongest leg of the bunch.

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