Bell, a rookie last season, took some time to get comfortable in the offense after suffering through a number of injuries. But Bell rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns against Miami late in the season, even though his breakout game ended with him on the sideline with a separated shoulder.
Bell played a partial role for the rest of the season because of the shoulder injury and showed more flashes of his ability in those games. Bell will have to compete with Mike Anderson and Quentin Griffin for the starting job, but he has the inside track.
"I'm approaching every drill, every team function as the starter," Bell said. "I'm not, but that's my mind frame now. If (Droughns) was here or not, I was going to go out and compete (for the starting job) anyway."
Bell answered one question late in the season, and that was his ability to play with pain. Bell missed time in preseason and early in the regular season with hamstring, finger and rib injuries, but playing four games with a third-degree separated shoulder opened some eyes.
"He definitely proved his toughness," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I was proud of his production, his toughness considering everything that was involved."
Bell said he wants to add to his frame -- he played at 205 pounds last year -- in preparation of being Denver's featured back in 2005.
"This year I'm going to take the offseason more serious and get a little stronger and not lose my speed, and be more prepared for next year," Bell said. "I want to get at 215 and hold up the whole year."
--The Broncos increased ticket prices for the second straight season at Invesco Field at Mile High. All tickets in the lower bowl will be more expensive this season, which will probably keep the Broncos among the 10 highest average ticket prices in the NFL.
"You're trying to put the best team on the field and there is a high demand for these seats," Broncos spokesman Jim Saccomano said. "We don't want to have the highest price (in the NFL), and we don't want to have the lowest price."
--The Broncos had left the door open for linebacker John Mobley to return if his neck injury improved, but that didn't happen and Mobley retired from the NFL recently. Mobley suffered a bruise on his spine in a 2003 game against Baltimore and never played again. The Broncos released him before the 2004 season.
"The doctor has told him he can't play,' Mobley's agent Brian Mackler said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "(Denver's coaches) never said that (Bell is the starter), they just said 'How you came along at the end of the season, we wish we had gotten you in earlier.'" -- RB Tatum Bell, speaking about the holdout and injuries that set him back early in his rookie season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos should have more salary-cap space than expected when free agency opens up if they are successful trading defensive end Trevor Pryce, who would have the highest salary-cap number on the team this season.
The Broncos' first priority is re-signing three of their own unrestricted free agents: safety Kenoy Kennedy, end Reggie Hayward and guard Ben Hamilton. All three are young starters who are at key positions for the team and coming off strong seasons.
The Broncos could use more depth at receiver, cornerback and on the offensive and defensive line. They will also be searching for players to fit in a 3-4 scheme that the team is expected to use at least part of the time this season.
1. Defensive line. Even before the team decided to trade Trevor Pryce, defensive line was a priority. They need players who can beat offensive linemen in a one-on-one situation and get to the quarterback.
2. Offensive line. The tackle spots are set with Matt Lepsis on the left side and George Foster on the right side, but the interior is thin. Ben Hamilton is a solid, young guard and could take over for center Tom Nalen when Nalen retires, but Hamilton is a free agent. The Broncos need to find a guard that is capable of contributing right away.
3. Defensive back. The Broncos could lose either Kelly Herndon or Lenny Walls, both restricted free agents, which would leave their cornerback depth thin. That has been a problem in playoff losses each of the past two years at Indianapolis.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: P Jason Baker; OG Cooper Carlisle; DE Marco Coleman; DT Luther Elliss; OG Ben Hamilton; TE Patrick Hape; DE Reggie Hayward; RB Garrison Hearst; S Kenoy Kennedy; TE Mike Leach; LB Donnie Spragan.
Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board