Broncos Inside Slant

Read our weekly report on the Broncos with notes, quotes, anecdotes, player of the week, rookies to watch and all the latest personnel moves.

The best battle of camp was supposed to be at left cornerback.But coaches have seen enough after just a few days of camp to declare second-year pro Lenny Walls the starter for now.

Though Walls knows the job is his to lose, he insists he won't take it for granted.

"I still have to fight every day and make sure it's mine because I still haven't proven myself on Sundays yet," said Walls, undrafted out of college two years ago.

The better battle might be for the right corner job, where one-time Pro Bowler Deltha O'Neal has a slight edge over Kelly Herndon. Herndon had been battling walls on the left side entering camp, but he was moved to the other side to give O'Neal a push. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer insists the job is open, despite O'Neal's credentials and Herndon's lack of experience.

"You've got to fight. We have to get the best 11 out there," he said.

O'Neal has been playing much better than last year when he was benched toward the end of the season. And he is showing a lot more confidence. But there is room for improvement.

"He's playing well and he wants to challenge guys a lot more. But sometimes he kind of takes plays off here and there," player-coach Jimmy Spencer said. "We're trying to get him every play to concentrate and compete because that's what were going to need from him this year, get him back to his Pro Bowl form."

How well Walls, Herndon and O'Neal play this year will go a long way toward determining the Broncos overall success.

Denver will rely on more man coverage from its corners, but the hope is that an improved pass rush will make it easier for them. Last year Denver struggled against the pass, with the Broncos recording only nine interceptions. They raised eyebrows in the off-season when they dumped veteran corner Denard Walker, and allowed nickel back Tyrone Poole to leave via free agency. The moves seemed particularly daring considering neither Walls nor Herndon had ever started a game. But Walls, who stands 6-4, 6-5, or 6-6 depending on whose measuring stick is used, has come up big so far.

"He's a starting corner," Coyer said of Walls. "He's exhibited the fact that he can play, he covers, he's competitive, and he's consistent. He's earned it at this point in time, clearly."

CAMP CALENDAR: The Broncos leave Aug. 5 for two days of joint workouts with the Houston Texans. Camp closes Aug. 15.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Ed McCaffrey gave coaches quite a scare when he came down in pain after reaching high attempting to grab an overthrown pass.
"For a split second you think, 'Oh, no,'" the veteran wide receiver said. "Then you remember they told you this was going to happen."
Instead of reinjuring his groin, McCaffrey simply tore loose some scar tissue and isn't expected to miss much time at all. Though No. 3 receiver Ashley Lelie has been the star of camp, McCaffrey has done better than expected after offseason groin surgery. He has been crisp, and still may have the best hands on the field.
--Backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein may be the oldest player on the Broncos roster but he showed he still has plenty of fire left in him. After cat-quick linebacker Ian Gold hit his right arm as he was in the midst of passing, Beuerlein turned and chased after Gold, then got in his face and gave him a piece of his mind.
"I'm old school and I have always been accused of being dumber than I look as far as who I pick my fights with," Beuerlein said. "It's just my intensity, my enthusiasm and my energy out there. And what he did was flat-out wrong."
Gold apologized, and Beuerlein was laughing about the matter within minutes. But he is particularly protective of the right elbow, having undergone surgery on it twice in the past two years. Beuerlein may still be slow, but he can still throw, and he is having a great camp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Physically I feel great. I feel like I could physically play two or three more years. I'm not going to get any faster, but ...as long as my elbow is fine, I've always been able to drop back and throw the football. That's what I do. I'm a pocket guy." -- Backup Steve Beuerlein, who previously said season No. 17 would be his last.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos have brought back veteran tackle Blake Brockermeyer. The move came after current starter Ephraim Salaam underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, which will keep him out three weeks. First-round draft pick George Foster, meanwhile, hasn't practiced in over a week because of a sprained foot.,p> That left Cooper Carlisle, who had been moved to guard this offseason, working with the first team and guarding Jake Plummer's blind side. Brockermeyer was a cap casualty in February, but he could push for the starting job now that he is a year removed from shoulder surgery.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Two years ago, the Broncos were down to a few no-name receivers in the lineup. Now they have more depth than ever, with the battle for the fourth and fifth spots fierce.

Chris Cole had the inside track because of his speed, and special teams ability. But his inconsistent hands were a big negative. "Chris Cole is work for me," veteran Rod Smith said. "I'm constantly working him. I stay on him like a big brother, but not in a bad way. "I want him to be as good as he can be. Sometimes, in my opinion, I don't think he's giving me all he's got all the time. I tell him, 'You need to give it to me all the time, be more consistent.'"

Cole took the comments to heart and has been better.

But so have second-year pros Herb Haygood and Charlie Adams and former CFL player Damon Hodge. Add in fifth-round pick Adrian Madise and former Colorado State star Frank Rice and it's a logjam.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Bertrand Berry is listed as starter at right defensive end, but he is rotating first-team reps with Reggie Hayward. Berry has been impressive rushing the passer, even picking off an attempted Jake Plummer screen pass. But Hayward also has shown some smarts in coverage and rushing. Who ends up playing better rush defense may decide who wins this battle.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Second-year wide receiver Ashley Lelie has been nothing short of spectacular. He continues to make acrobatic catches, and is showing off some chemistry with new quarterback Jake Plummer. Lelie is the No. 3 guy now, but it will be hard to keep him off the field this year, even if veteran Ed McCaffrey is the official starter.

ROOKIE REPORT: OT George Foster missed an entire week of practice with a sprained foot, but will make the trip to Houston...LB Terry Pierce, a fierce hitter, finally got a chance to show what he can do when players put on full pads this past week ... RB Quentin Griffin still has his broken leg in a walking boot and will be out another 4 weeks with the injury ... DE Nick Eason went AWOL for three days after experiencing some personal problems associated with being a rookie. But after a talk with coach Mike Shanahan he was welcomed back to the team ... WR Adrin Madise hit the rookie wall about five days into camp, but he has regained some energy in his battle to make the team ... C Ben Claxton continues working with the second team and is getting some valuable experience with the first unit when Tom Nalen only practices once a day ... DE Aaron Hunt continues to show speed off the edge ... DE Clint Mitchell remains a favorite to make the team but he is slowed by a torn MCL ... RB Ahmaad Galloway has lost valuable practice time with a sprained knee.

INJURY REPORT: LT Ephraim Salaam underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 1 to remove loose cartilage in his right knee. He will back in action Aug. 25.

DT Daryl Gardener vows to return for the regular season opener but doctors aren't as optimistic, and predict he will miss the first two games after wrist surgery.

OT George Foster missed one week with a foot sprain but should return Aug. 4.

RB Quentin Griffin is out another 5 weeks with a broken leg.

WR Ed McCaffrey is day to day after tearing scar tissue in his groin.

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