Broncos Update Inside Slant - November 13

Jake Plummer's in and Mike Anderson's out. Ryan McNeil is in and Deltha O'Neal may be out. Lots of personnel moves as well as game strategy, key matches and much more in today's Broncos Update Inside Slant.

Injuries have taken their toll on the Broncos in recent weeks, but now the team has to see if it can overcome another major hurdle -- the substance-abuse suspension of starting fullback Mike Anderson.

The Broncos have a solid replacement in Reuben Droughns, even if he's about 25 pounds lighter. But it remains to be seen if the negative publicity takes a toll on the players, who already were reeling after losing three straight games going into the bye.

Bigger than the loss of Anderson, though, is the return of quarterback Jake Plummer, who gives the team an instant spark and an added dimension.

"We know if Jake's playing well, good things normally happen," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "He was playing as well as he could before he went down. We know there's going to be some rust or a missed read here or there, but we just hope we can get this thing back on track before it's too late. Jake gives us that best opportunity to do that."

Without him, Denver went 1-3, and struggled in both the running game and passing game. Though his left foot, which he broke a month ago, is still tender, look for him to play the way he always plays -- full-tilt.

"There's a few things running around that I feel when I practice. But in the game the adrenaline is pumping and I'm not going to be running away from Marcellus Wiley worrying about my foot. I'm going to be running away from him worrying about him smashing the rest of my body," he said.

The bigger question mark may be on defense, where the Broncos go with a makeshift linebacking corps now that Ian Gold and John Mobley are done for the season. Both were healthy the last time the two teams met, and LaDainian Tomlinson still managed 93 yards and 5.8 yards a carry. With Doug Flutie in the Chargers lineup, Denver's linebackers have to be wary of him scrambling.

SERIES HISTORY: 88th meeting. Broncos hold a 48-38-1 advantage and are 31-11-1 at home vs. the Chargers. Denver won the last meeting, 37-13 in San Diego.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Unlike with Dale Carter a few years ago, the Broncos are standing behind fullback Mike Anderson, who has been suspended for four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Anderson admitted that he tested positive for marijuana, but insists that he inhaled only second-hand smoke, and that his levels were so low it wouldn't even be deemed a positive test in the state of Colorado.

"I've known Mike Anderson since the day he was drafted, and he's been nothing but a stand-up, outstanding person," Broncos GM Ted Sundquist said

Anderson, in a prepared statement that the Broncos helped him write, said, "I want to apologize to my fans and the entire community for this humiliating and embarrassing situation."

--Cornerback Ryan McNeil was released by San Diego at the end of training camp as part of the team's youth movement. Now he may get a chance to face his former team after signing a one-year deal with the Broncos.

"The Chargers made a decision to go in a different direction, which is fine. They had that right," said McNeil, now on his sixth team in 11 years. "Anybody who was on the team when they traded Junior (Seau) realized no one is untouchable."

Before he faces the Chargers, he'll have to show coaches he knows enough of Denver's defense before being activated. Lenny Walls and Kelly Herndon will remain the starting corners, but expect McNeil to push embattled Deltha O'Neal for playing time in Denver's nickel packages. O'Neal has given up at least five touchdown passes this year, and his mental lapses are wearing on Broncos coaches.

Asked if signing McNeil was a direct reflection on O'Neal, Shanahan bluntly said, "Yes." Don't be surprised to see O'Neal not play a down on defense this week.

--Is Shanahan getting more paranoid? For the first time in nine years he's closed practices during the regular season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 598 -- Receptions by WR Rod Smith. Needs two more to become the 30th player to record 600 in a career.

9 -- passes Jake Plummer completed in the first meeting against San Diego, for a paltry 94 yards. But three of the passes went for touchdowns.

19 -- Doug Flutie's age when Broncos running back Clinton Portis was born.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're excited to have him back. But I can tell you this, if we play the way we've played the last three games, it doesn't matter who we have at quarterback, we're not going to win." -- Tight end Shannon Sharpe, on getting QB Jake Plummer back.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos signed veteran cornerback Ryan McNeil to provide depth, and challenge nickel back Deltha O'Neal for playing time. McNeil signed a one-year deal. The other roster spot, created by the suspension of Mike Anderson, was used to sign linebacker Johnny Rutledge.

Denver still could make another roster move late in the week if Jason Elam can't kick because of a groin injury.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--QB Jake Plummer remains listed as questionable but he has been taking all the reps at practice and will start.

--K Jason Elam tested his groin by kicking a few balls Wednesday and though coaches are optimistic, he will need to continue to progress.

--WR Ed McCaffrey returned to the practice field on a limited basis but he is still doubtful for Sunday's game because of a quadriceps tendon injury. That means more playing time for Ashley Lelie and Chris Cole.

--LB Donnie Spragan practice and likely will start as his sprained ankle is much improved.

--LT Ephraim Salaam has been practicing all week and will start Sunday after missing two games.

--FB Mike Anderson is out because of a four-game substance-abuse suspension. That moves Reuben Droughns into the starting lineup. The suspension also will force some changes on special teams as Anderson was a big part of that as well. He also was a tailback at times, spelling Clinton Portis, so look for Quentin Griffin to get those duties this week.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos are a more complete offense with Jake Plummer back on the field, and his mobility should keep the Chargers off-balance. In the first meeting, play-action to Clinton Portis set up all three of his touchdown passes. Look for the Broncos to run the ball a lot. Defensively, the key always is to stuff LaDainian Tomlinson. He got his share of yards in the first meeting, (93 on 16 carries) but the Chargers fell so far behind they had to go away from the run. Denver will have to keep Doug Flutie contained, or he'll have a field day like he did against Minnesota.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers QB Doug Flutie vs. Broncos DE Bert Berry and Trevor Pryce. They'll need to keep the mobile Flutie in the pocket because once he gets outside, he can do some damage.

--Broncos RB Clinton Portis vs. Chargers 24th-ranked run defense. Portis carried only 12 times in the first meeting, as he suffered a bruised chest but he racked up 129 yards, including a 58-yard burst. If he gets going early, he'll be unstoppable.

--Chargers WR David Boston vs. Broncos CB Lenny Walls. Boston sat out the last meeting between the teams, but he figures to give the 6-4 Walls all he can handle. Walls starts at left corner, but he might flip-flop and follow Boston everywhere as he has done with certain big receivers earlier this year.

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