Broncos Update Insider - Thursday, Jan. 20

The most watched offseason issue the Denver Broncos have might be the trade request of running back Reuben Droughns. Droughns, who led the Broncos with 1,240 yards last season, and his agent Drew Rosenhaus were given permission to seek a trade. Droughns, who has two years left on his contract, is seeking a pay raise.

The Broncos started fast, were mediocre in the middle and finished their 2004 season with a thud.

Broncos fans should be used to that pattern, considering the team also started well in 2002 and 2003, but couldn't win a division title or a playoff game.

The Broncos were 5-1 after six games in 2004. They won five of their next 10 games and made the playoffs, but for the second straight year they were blown out at Indianapolis in a wild-card playoff game.

And, like the two previous seasons, the Broncos lamented close losses that could have put them in a better position. Denver's losses against Jacksonville, Oakland, San Diego came down to the final minute.

That feeling of being close to a special season means the Broncos won't have a major overhaul in the offseason.

"We still had a chance to win 13 football games and we didn't do it," coach Mike Shanahan said. "So you go back and say, 'Hey, why didn't we get it done?' And the bottom line is you either get it done or you don't.

"People say we are a long way away from playing football at that level with some of the guys we didn't have and were counting on. I think they don't know what they are talking about."

The most watched offseason issue the Broncos have might be the trade request of running back Reuben Droughns. Droughns, who led the Broncos with 1,240 yards last season, and his agent Drew Rosenhaus were given permission to seek a trade. Droughns, who has two years left on his contract, is seeking a pay raise.

Droughns insisted late in the season, after he hired Rosenhaus, that he would not hold out.

"I'm not that type of guy," Droughns said. "I'm in a deal right now and I got to accept that."

The Broncos' tailback situation will be intriguing, especially if Droughns is not traded. Tatum Bell and Droughns would be the favorites to start. Mike Anderson and Quentin Griffin, each of whom are coming off of injury, will also compete for the job.

The Broncos running game wasn't a big problem in 2004, and whoever starts at tailback is usually productive in Shanahan's offensive system. Denver's main problems were their lack of a playmaker inside the 20-yard line on offense, quarterback Jake Plummer's inconsistency, special teams woes and defensive end Trevor Pryce's injury, which cost him 14 games and left the Broncos without their best pass rusher.

The Broncos will have to make sure they're not stuck in the same position next year -- starting the playoffs on the road against a tough matchup -- and to do so they'll have to not taper off in the middle of the season.

"We had a chance not to play (at Indianapolis) if we would've done things right earlier in the season," Shanahan said. "We could've hosted a playoff game here. So, if you go back to the chances you had and you build. So, there's not just one answer."

NOTES, QUOTES --Coach Mike Shanahan, who hasn't won a playoff game in six seasons, has no inclination to change a lot about the team going into next season.

"I think he has his core nucleus of guys and Mike is a loyal guy," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "Mike is one of those guys that's 'Here is my guys, we're going to war with these guys. These guys I picked.' I think his pride makes him do that."

--The Broncos' biggest priority in the offseason might be adding a pass rusher, either through the draft or free agency. Shanahan said he knows that won't be easy.

"If somebody doesn't say they need a top pass rusher in the National Football League, they're lying," Shanahan said. "You just can't find them all the time. They're at a premium."

Denver first needs to re-sign defensive end Reggie Hayward, who had 10.5 sacks last season.

--Shanahan insisted all season that the blockbuster trade between Washington and Denver last offseason, which sent Clinton Portis to the Redskins for Champ Bailey and a second-round pick (which the Broncos used to pick running back Tatum Bell) was good for both teams.

"I feel good about that trade," Shanahan said. "Also, I feel good about a guy like Tatum Bell being part of that trade. I'm not saying Clinton Portis is not a great back because I loved Clinton Portis being here, very productive and he's going to be a great back for years to come, but so is Champ. There can be a win-win situations in a trade and I think it's that situation for both teams."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whether it was deja vu or not, it was a different year, and we didn't get it done again." -- QB Jake Plummer on Denver losing at Indianapolis in the playoffs for the second straight season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos' key unrestricted free agents this offseason are guards Ben Hamilton and Cooper Carlisle, defensive end Reggie Hayward and safety Kenoy Kennedy. Linebacker Donnie Spragan, long snapper Mike Leach, defensive end Marco Coleman and tight end Patrick Hape are other important free agents who the Broncos will probably retain. Denver probably won't have a lot of room under the salary cap, especially if it can re-sign its main free agents. "We're going to continue to try and put our best product on the field," Shanahan said. "We're going to spend the cap. But sometimes even if you want something you can't do that."

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jake Plummer. Backups -- Danny Kanell, Matt Mauck.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- RB Reuben Droughns, FB Kyle Johnson. Backups -- RB Tatum Bell, RB Mike Anderson, RB Quentin Griffin, TE/FB Patrick Hape, FB/RB Cecil Sapp, FB Brandon Miree.
TIGHT END: Starter -- Jeb Putzier. Backups -- Dwayne Carswell, Patrick Hape.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie. Backups -- Darius Watts, Triandos Luke, Charlie Adams, Nate Jackson.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Matt Lepsis, LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT George Foster. Backups -- T P.J. Alexander, G Dan Neil, T/G Tyson Clabo, T Cornell Green, T Tim Stuber.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Marco Coleman, DT Mario Fatafehi, DT Monsanto Pope, DE Reggie Hayward. Backups -- DE Trevor Pryce, DT Ellis Johnson, DT Dorsett Davis, DE Raylee Johnson, DE Anton Palepoi, DE Demetrin Veal.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB D.J. Williams, MLB Al Wilson, SLB Donnie Spragan. Backups -- Terry Pierce, Patrick Chukwurah, Louis Green, Jashon Sykes.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Champ Bailey, CB Kelly Herndon, FS John Lynch, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups -- S Nick Ferguson, S Sam Brandon, S Chris Young, CB Lenny Walls, CB Willie Middlebrooks, CB Roc Alexander, CB Jeff Shoate, CB Jeremy LeSueur.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters -- K Jason Elam, P Jason Baker, LS Mike Leach.

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