Broncos Inside Slant - August 28

The Broncos knew they were getting a quarterback with exceptional mobility, charisma and leadership. But the rap against Jake Plummer was his inconsistency, and knack for being brilliant one minute, bumbling the next.Read more about Plummer in our weekly report on the Broncos with notes, quotes, anecdotes, personnel moves, player of the week, player to watch and how the draftees are doing.

Well, he has lived up to his reputation.

In three preseason appearances, he has tossed two touchdowns, and made some spectacular plays on the run. But he's also tossed two interceptions, fumbled twice, and missed some wide-open receivers.

And Denver's offense, as was a problem last season, has bogged down in the red zone.

"Obviously you want to be perfect," Plummer said after a 28-23 loss to Indianapolis. "There's always a few plays you want back. We've moved the ball, but we keep finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot."

In the third preseason game, the Broncos were 0-2 in the red zone.

What is most disheartening are the penalties, which are on the rise - from 5 to 10 to 12 in the first there preseason games.

The majority of missteps aren't being made by reserves, but by players who will be logging the most playing time come Sept. 7.

The first-team offense has been called for nine penalties in nine series the past two games.

"In my opinion, they're not major things," said Mike Anderson, the fullback who lost his fumble on a clean helmet-to-football hit. "But they can come back to haunt you later in the season if you don't get them cleaned up now."

Defensively, the Broncos have generated a decent pass rush in Larry Coyer's new system, but more consistency is needed.

Denver's young secondary, meanwhile, hasn't really been tested.

Lenny Walls won the starting left corner job early in training camp, and Kelly Herndon is pushing Deltha O'Neal at the other corner. The real test will come when the regular season opens and opposing quarterbacks target Denver's youngsters.

On a positive note, two players expected to play big roles in Denver's offense - Clinton Portis and Ashley Lelie - look primed for the regular season already.

Portis, despite adding some weight, looks as elusive as ever. And Lelie has made a dramatic jump between his first and second year - about as dramatic as his acrobatic catches.

If Portis continues to average 4-5 yards a clip, the pressure will be off Plummer.

"I'm ready and I'm looking forward to Cincinnati. I think there are some things I can improve on, but I feel comfortable with where I'm at," Plummer said.

COACHING: Mike Shanahan, 11th year, 9th with Broncos (89-59).

REMEMBERING: 2002 record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West); did not qualify for playoffs.

PREDICTING: 2003 regular season record 10-6 (2nd in AFC West); lose in divisional game.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Steve Herndon hardly looks like a rap star, with his shaved head and thick offensive lineman's body.

But with childhood friend Bubba Sparxxx on top of the urban music charts, Herndon can be spotted in various rap videos.

"If I wasn't playing football, I'd probably be on the road. I'd be the manager. I'd run the show, be on the stage doing my little dance," Herndon said. "But it's really been neat, because we both had an opportunity at the same time to fulfill our dreams, because we both grew up saying, 'I want to play in the NFL. I want to be a rap star.'

"I mean, two white kids from a small town in La Grange, Georgia? You're kidding me. You've got a better chance of winning the lottery.

"So that's been the neatest thing for us, just to be able to stay in touch and talk about everything he's experiencing and I'm experiencing."

Herndon is a backup guard for the Broncos.

All through training camp Reggie Hayward and Bert Berry have battled for the starting right defensive end job. Though Berry has the edge going into the preseason finale, both expect the battle to continue through the regular season.

BY THE NUMBERS:
24 -- how many more interceptions than touchdowns Jake Plummer has thrown in his career.
6 -- consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for wide receiver Rod Smith.
3 -- defensive coordinators under Mike Shanahan in the past four years.
0 -- number of playoff wins for Broncos since John Elway retired.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were sloppy." -- Coach Mike Shanahan on his team's performance in the most important preseason game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos got their fifth-round draft pick for defensive tackle Lional Dalton, but it is conditional upon him playing at least 40 percent of the defensive snaps in Washington.

At least that pick will make up for having to cut current fifth-round pick Ben Claxton, a guard-center who struggled in Denver's system.

Denver also picked up a conditional seventh-round pick for trading Aussie punter Mat McBriar to Seattle.

PLAYER TO WATCH: CB Lenny Walls -- He's the tallest starting corner in the NFL, and he's come a long way since going undrafted out of Boston College in 2002. After playing mostly on special teams last year, he has worked hard to earn the starting left corner job. There's no question quarterbacks will go at him early to test him, but Walls is a feisty competitor who doesn't discourage easy.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK:
Rd. 1/20, OT George Foster, Georgia -- After missing the first two weeks of camp with a sprained foot, Foster has been getting extensive work at right tackle. For now, he's only a backup, until he learns the system.
Rd. 2/51, LB Terry Pierce, Kansas State -- He's the future at middle linebacker. He's a punishing hitter, and solid run-stopper. Just needs work on pass coverage, though he's showed flashes there. Will work mostly on special teams for now.
Rd. 4/108, RB Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma -- Turned heads in mini-camp but has missed most of preseason with broken leg. Still, his elusive style and speed impressed coaches, and he'll get a chance to spell Clinton Portis once healthy.
Rd. 4/114, DT Nick Eason, Clemson -- Coaches like his non-stop motor. Currently running second string, but could earn role in defensive line rotation if he continues to improve.
Rd. 4/128, DE Bryant McNeal, Clemson -- Has shown speed off the edge. But he needs to bulk up, and add about 20 pounds for next season to earn playing time.
Rd. 5/158, WR Adrian Madise, TCU -- He is strong, with good hands and downfield blocking skills. The type of receiver Broncos coaches like. If he shows more consistency, he'll make team as fifth receiver.
Rd. 6/194, DE Aaron Hunt, Texas Tech -- Vying for final roster spot, but has shown enough potential as pass-rusher to stick.
Rd. 7/227, DE Clint Mitchell, Florida -- Has good size, and works hard. If he doesn't earn roster spot, is good candidate for practice squad.

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