Broncos Update Inside Slant - December 11, 2003

Clinton Portis plays with a Rocky Mountain-sized chip on his shoulder, and Sunday against Cleveland will be no different. He'll get a chance in person to show Browns coach Butch Davis what he missed out on when Cleveland comes to town. Read about Denver's game strategy, key matche-ups, the latest personnel updates and notes, quotes and anecdotes in today's Broncos Update Inside Slant.

Clinton Portis plays with a Rocky Mountain-sized chip on his shoulder, and Sunday against Cleveland will be no different. He'll get a chance in person to show Browns coach Butch Davis what he missed out on when Cleveland comes to town.

Instead of choosing Portis, who has rushed for 165, 170 and 218 yards in successive weeks, Davis chose William Green in the 2002 draft. While Portis rushes toward another record season, Green is out the rest of the season serving a substance-abuse suspension.

"You get what you look for," Portis said of being passed over by Davis. "That's all I can say about that. He made his decision. I'm glad he didn't choose me."

But wouldn't he like to put up a big number on Davis.

"It will feel even better to put up a win against him," Portis said. "My numbers really wouldn't mean anything. He knows what I'm capable of. He knows the things I can do. But if we put up a win..."

While Portis can join elite company by becoming only the third back in NFL history to post back-to-back 1,500 yard seasons to start a career, there's no question the Broncos need a win more. Right now they have the sixth and final AFC playoff spot nailed down but one loss and that could change. As coach Mike Shanahan acknowledged, Sunday's big win over Kansas City would be all for naught if they don't beat Cleveland.

The Browns come to Denver with a 4-9 record, a rash of injuries and little to play for. But so did the Chicago Bears three weeks ago. The Bears were 10-point underdogs, had won only three games and were riding a 12-game road losing streak.

Quarterback Jake Plummer, however, vows no letdown.

"They are a scrappy team and we're expecting their best shot coming here," he said. "They'll try to ruin our season and we have to make sure we are ready."

SERIES HISTORY: 20th meeting. Broncos hold 14-5 advantage in regular season and 17-5 all-time. The Broncos have won five straight over the Browns since 1991, including a 44-10 win in 2000 at Mile High Stadium.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Shannon Sharpe still won't use the "R" word as in retirement, but he knows this very well may be his final game in Denver. The Broncos right now are battling for a wild-card spot and the odds that they will host a playoff game slim to none. Sharpe is having one of his best seasons ever. He recorded his 800th career catch last week, and leads the team with 10 touchdown catches. And he is feeling as good as ever.

"The big thing is Mike allowed me to take some time off during the course of the week. Basically I just take the stuff I really need or what mike feels is going to be a big part of the game plan, so I'm not wasting any reps with my legs. That's really helped me."

--An apologetic Mike Anderson rejoined his teammates Wednesday after serving a four-game substance-abuse suspension, and talked openly about the blemish that will forever be on his record.

"It's something that I will always have to live with," Anderson said. "And even when I'm done playing the game, it's something I'm going to have to explain to my kids as they get older -- what daddy did and what happened.

"So it's never going to go away. It's always going to be there. That's the saddest part of the whole thing. It's always going to be there."

The league announced Anderson's suspension Nov. 10. Anderson subsequently admitted he had tested positive for marijuana, but claimed he was exposed through second-hand smoke -- an argument the league rejected as not plausible. A four-game suspension indicates he was in Stage 2 of the league's program -- and that there had been at least one earlier violation. Despite being away from the team for a month and dropping some weight, Anderson said he is ready to go.

"It's a matter of getting back in the swing of things," he said. "I don't want to be the one to take away from what (the team is) doing right now. I want to make sure I'm ready to go, 100 percent and my wind is up there like it needs to be so I can go out there and perform at the level I was performing at before."

With Reuben Droughns hobbled by an ankle injury, Anderson likely will have to step back into his starting fullback job.

BY THE NUMBERS:

5.8 -- Clinton Portis' average per carry. It is tops in the NFL and would be a franchise record.

553 -- Yards rushing by Portis in the past three weeks.

805 -- Career catches for TE Shannon Sharpe. He also is one of only four players in NFL history to have 11 50-catch seasons, and the only tight end.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We know what's at stake here. We're in the same predicament we were a couple of weeks ago when we came off a great performance against San Diego and a team that hadn't won a game one the road in (12) tries beat us. We know what this (Cleveland) team is capable of. If we take care of our business we shouldn't have anything to worry about." -- TE Shannon Sharpe on playing the lowly Browns, three weeks after losing to the lowly Bears.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos put controversial defensive tackle Daryl Gardener on the reserve-non-football list this week so he can seek treatment for personal issues. His season is over, which is not unexpected after his rant against coach Mike Shanahan. While Shanahan said he would decide after the season whether to bring Gardener back, don't count on it, and expect the Broncos to go after Gardener's $3 million signing bonus.

Denver used Gardener's roster spot for fullback Mike Anderson, who is back from a four-game substance-abuse suspension. Anderson likely will get his starting job back because of Reuben Droughns' ankle injury.

Also, look for the Broncos to keep Ed McCaffrey in the starting lineup as Ashley Lelie has struggled and McCaffrey is much better in the running game.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--FB Reuben Droughns was off crutches Wednesday but he still is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. More will be known later in the week. Look for Mike Anderson back from a four-game substance-abuse suspension, to start in his place.

--DE Reggie Hayward didn't practice Wednesday and remains questionable for Sunday's game with a sprained shoulder. If he can't go, look for the Broncos to move Trevor Pryce to the right side in nickel situations.

--WR Rod Smith did not practice Wednesday because of the flu but coaches listed him as probable, which means he will play Sunday.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos will use some of the same strategy employed against Kansas City. Spread out the defense with three and four wide-out sets, feed Clinton Portis the ball, and then look for some big plays off play-action. The key will be in the red zone, where the Browns are ranked No. 2 on defense.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos TE Shannon Sharpe vs. Browns SS Robert Griffith. Sharpe likely will be playing his final game in Denver, and though he won't admit it, will be looking to go out with a bang. Griffith is one of the most experienced members of the Browns, and will have his hands.

--Browns RB Jamel White vs. Broncos No. 3-ranked defense. The Browns are down to their third-string back but White showed he is capable of putting up the numbers. He rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on Monday night, and will be looking for cracks in Denver's defense.

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