Broncos Update Insider - Thursday, Nov. 11

The Broncos are set up pretty well for the last two months of their season. The Broncos are 6-3 and tied with the San Diego Chargers for first place in the AFC West. Denver only plays two teams that currently have a winning record the rest of the season, a road game against the Chargers -- who Denver has beat in 12 of the past 14 meetings -- and a home game against Indianapolis to end the season.

Denver only has one serious lingering injury but it is a major one, to defensive end Trevor Pryce. Pryce, who has only played in one game this season, has an unresponsive nerve in his hip. His back, which was operated on Sept. 22, feels fine but he can't play until the nerve is better. Pryce is scheduled to be re-evaluated by his doctor in December, and the Broncos hope he can return for at least the final few games of the regular season.

But other than Pryce, the Broncos are pretty healthy. Safety John Lynch, who had a stress fracture near his tailbone, could return for Denver's first game after the bye at New Orleans, and Denver doesn't have any other injuries that would cause anyone to miss that game.

Denver has been hit by injuries this season, but has found replacements with no dropoff in production. Running backs Quentin Griffin and Mike Anderson are out for the season, but those injuries opened up a spot for Reuben Droughns at tailback, and he has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season. Droughns has four 100-yard games in five starts at tailback.

Cornerback Lenny Walls, a starter last year, has not been fully healthy all year, but Kelly Herndon has played well as a starter and the Broncos have been pleased by the progress of nickel back Willie Middlebrooks.

"The thing I have been pleased with is that we have had guys come in and step up and play, and that is what you have to have," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

The most surprising thing about Denver's stretch run is not that they will be challenged for the division title, but which team is keeping pace with the Broncos. Kansas City, last year's division champ, is 3-5 and would need a blistering second half of the season to get back in the race.

But the Broncos are in a battle with the surprise team of the NFL, the Chargers. Denver beat San Diego 23-13 in Week 3, but since then San Diego has won five of six games and has set up an interesting race with the Broncos for the rest of the season.

"It didn't surprise me at all," Shanahan said of San Diego's record this season. "I think the people that are surprised is the media. You can see the talent and you can see the team coming together. Marty Schottenheimer has been very successful every place that he's been. All of a sudden, you start coming with a lot of young players and a lot of talent."

NOTES AND QUOTES

Rookie running back Tatum Bell was an interesting draft pick by the Broncos, because his talent and Denver's long history of producing 1,000-yard running backs seemingly put Bell in a good position to succeed right away in the NFL.

But Bell held out for a few days at the beginning of training camp, missed most of camp with a broken finger and has missed more time with rib and hamstring injuries. Bell is Denver's third tailback now and has only 14 carries this season.

"It's been hard," Bell said. "I'm trying to stay positive. I study my plays and stay into it and just trying to find my place on the team where I can help out."

--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said the biggest mental break the players get during the bye week is not having to learn an offensive or defensive game plan for the upcoming game, which can be a grind on the players.

"They get a chance, even though they are going to have to practice, they get a chance to sit back and just practice and not have to study film and go through a normal game plan, after they have been doing it for about 13 weeks," Shanahan said.

The Broncos practiced once on their bye week, on Wednesday morning.

--Fullback Kyle Johnson, who hadn't played in a NFL game in his first two seasons before sticking on the Broncos active roster this year, scored his first NFL touchdown last week against Houston on a 23-yard reception.

"I was just excited," Johnson said. "I thought of my dad. I'm going to give him a call when I get out of here. He's my inspiration. I know he was watching the game at home and probably losing it."

BY THE NUMBERS
34 -- Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer is on pace to throw 34 touchdown passes this season. The franchise's single-season record is 27, set by John Elway in 1997.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"I have never played for stats; I've always played for the wins." -- WR Rod Smith, who was reluctant to talk about setting franchise records in catches and touchdown receptions in last week's game against Houston.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos decided to shake up their coaching staff on the bye week. Defensive backs coach David Gibbs was fired, and Jimmy Spencer and Kirk Doll will replace him. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan refused to give specific reasons for the move.

Gibbs was in his fourth season with the Broncos after spending four years as the defensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota. Although the Broncos rank second in the NFL in passing defense, their lack of interceptions over the past three years is troubling. Denver has three interceptions this season, and 21 in its last 41 games.

Spencer is popular among the players because he was one of them before this season. Spencer became the first player-coach in the NFL since 1971 last year, and retired as a player before this season. Doll, a longtime college assistant, is in his first season with the Broncos and his first season in the NFL.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--TE Jeb Putzier could be a big contributor for the Broncos in the second half of the season. After a slow start, Putzier has had at least 40 yards receiving in five of Denver's last seven games, and could be in for some big games down the stretch.

--DE Anton Palepoi has been highly praised by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan since the Broncos signed him a few weeks into the season. Palepoi has impressed the Broncos with his speed as a pass rusher and could find himself in Denver's long-term plans.

--OT Matt Lepsis is quietly having a productive year after switching from right tackle to left tackle. The Broncos were confident enough in Lepsis' ability to make the switch that they let Ephraim Salaam go in the offseason, and Lepsis has fit in well on the left side. Lepsis' athleticism made him a natural for the switch.

--CB Lenny Walls hasn't been healthy all season. Walls had a breakout season last year, but has seen his playing time reduced because of injuries this season. Walls could still be a major contributor in the second half of this season if he can stay healthy.

--LB Al Wilson hasn't had a huge season statistically this year, but he is still the heart of Denver's defense. Wilson has helped rookie D.J. Williams to adjust to the pro game, and Wilson remains the biggest hitter on the defense and its emotional leader.

INJURY IMPACT
S John Lynch, who has a stress fracture near his tailbone, is making steady progress in his recovery. Lynch was hopeful he wouldn't have to miss any games and could return after missing only one. One consideration will be how playing on the artificial turf in New Orleans might re-aggravate the injury.

Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board


Mile High Huddle Top Stories

\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Denver only has one serious lingering injury but it is a major one, to defensive end Trevor Pryce. Pryce, who has only played in one game this season, has an unresponsive nerve in his hip. His back, which was operated on Sept. 22, feels fine but he can't play until the nerve is better. Pryce is scheduled to be re-evaluated by his doctor in December, and the Broncos hope he can return for at least the final few games of the regular season.

But other than Pryce, the Broncos are pretty healthy. Safety John Lynch, who had a stress fracture near his tailbone, could return for Denver's first game after the bye at New Orleans, and Denver doesn't have any other injuries that would cause anyone to miss that game.

Denver has been hit by injuries this season, but has found replacements with no dropoff in production. Running backs Quentin Griffin and Mike Anderson are out for the season, but those injuries opened up a spot for Reuben Droughns at tailback, and he has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season. Droughns has four 100-yard games in five starts at tailback.

Cornerback Lenny Walls, a starter last year, has not been fully healthy all year, but Kelly Herndon has played well as a starter and the Broncos have been pleased by the progress of nickel back Willie Middlebrooks.

\"The thing I have been pleased with is that we have had guys come in and step up and play, and that is what you have to have,\" Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

The most surprising thing about Denver's stretch run is not that they will be challenged for the division title, but which team is keeping pace with the Broncos. Kansas City, last year's division champ, is 3-5 and would need a blistering second half of the season to get back in the race.

But the Broncos are in a battle with the surprise team of the NFL, the Chargers. Denver beat San Diego 23-13 in Week 3, but since then San Diego has won five of six games and has set up an interesting race with the Broncos for the rest of the season.

\"It didn't surprise me at all,\" Shanahan said of San Diego's record this season. \"I think the people that are surprised is the media. You can see the talent and you can see the team coming together. Marty Schottenheimer has been very successful every place that he's been. All of a sudden, you start coming with a lot of young players and a lot of talent.\"

Rookie running back Tatum Bell was an interesting draft pick by the Broncos, because his talent and Denver's long history of producing 1,000-yard running backs seemingly put Bell in a good position to succeed right away in the NFL.

But Bell held out for a few days at the beginning of training camp, missed most of camp with a broken finger and has missed more time with rib and hamstring injuries. Bell is Denver's third tailback now and has only 14 carries this season.

\"It's been hard,\" Bell said. \"I'm trying to stay positive. I study my plays and stay into it and just trying to find my place on the team where I can help out.\"

--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said the biggest mental break the players get during the bye week is not having to learn an offensive or defensive game plan for the upcoming game, which can be a grind on the players.

\"They get a chance, even though they are going to have to practice, they get a chance to sit back and just practice and not have to study film and go through a normal game plan, after they have been doing it for about 13 weeks,\" Shanahan said.

The Broncos practiced once on their bye week, on Wednesday morning.

--Fullback Kyle Johnson, who hadn't played in a NFL game in his first two seasons before sticking on the Broncos active roster this year, scored his first NFL touchdown last week against Houston on a 23-yard reception.

\"I was just excited,\" Johnson said. \"I thought of my dad. I'm going to give him a call when I get out of here. He's my inspiration. I know he was watching the game at home and probably losing it.\"


34 -- Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer is on pace to throw 34 touchdown passes this season. The franchise's single-season record is 27, set by John Elway in 1997.


\"I have never played for stats; I've always played for the wins.\" -- WR Rod Smith, who was reluctant to talk about setting franchise records in catches and touchdown receptions in last week's game against Houston.

The Broncos decided to shake up their coaching staff on the bye week. Defensive backs coach David Gibbs was fired, and Jimmy Spencer and Kirk Doll will replace him. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan refused to give specific reasons for the move.

Gibbs was in his fourth season with the Broncos after spending four years as the defensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota. Although the Broncos rank second in the NFL in passing defense, their lack of interceptions over the past three years is troubling. Denver has three interceptions this season, and 21 in its last 41 games.

Spencer is popular among the players because he was one of them before this season. Spencer became the first player-coach in the NFL since 1971 last year, and retired as a player before this season. Doll, a longtime college assistant, is in his first season with the Broncos and his first season in the NFL.

--TE Jeb Putzier could be a big contributor for the Broncos in the second half of the season. After a slow start, Putzier has had at least 40 yards receiving in five of Denver's last seven games, and could be in for some big games down the stretch.

--DE Anton Palepoi has been highly praised by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan since the Broncos signed him a few weeks into the season. Palepoi has impressed the Broncos with his speed as a pass rusher and could find himself in Denver's long-term plans.

--OT Matt Lepsis is quietly having a productive year after switching from right tackle to left tackle. The Broncos were confident enough in Lepsis' ability to make the switch that they let Ephraim Salaam go in the offseason, and Lepsis has fit in well on the left side. Lepsis' athleticism made him a natural for the switch.

--CB Lenny Walls hasn't been healthy all season. Walls had a breakout season last year, but has seen his playing time reduced because of injuries this season. Walls could still be a major contributor in the second half of this season if he can stay healthy.

--LB Al Wilson hasn't had a huge season statistically this year, but he is still the heart of Denver's defense. Wilson has helped rookie D.J. Williams to adjust to the pro game, and Wilson remains the biggest hitter on the defense and its emotional leader.


S John Lynch, who has a stress fracture near his tailbone, is making steady progress in his recovery. Lynch was hopeful he wouldn't have to miss any games and could return after missing only one. One consideration will be how playing on the artificial turf in New Orleans might re-aggravate the injury.

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