Broncos Update Insider - Monday, April 18

Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer has high hopes for the 2005 season. "We know we're going to get to the playoffs this year," Plummer said. "Now it's just a matter of getting past that first round." A lot of Denver's success will ride on Plummer and how consistent he can be this season.

Last season Plummer set single-season Broncos records for passing yards (4,089) and tied the team record for touchdown passes (27). He also threw 20 interceptions and drew the ire of Broncos fans for his poor decisions.

When the Broncos decided to pay Plummer a $6 million option bonus this offseason, that meant Plummer will likely be Denver's quarterback for a few more years.

Plummer said that in a postseason meeting with Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, he was glad Shanahan gave him the vote of confidence but he also said that Shanahan said he wanted a little more out of his quarterback.

"We went in and talked about what we need to do, what levels we need to get to, and kind of raising the bar a little bit higher," Plummer said. "He tells me I'm the leader of the team, get the guys going and do what I can do a little extra to get this thing turned around and get past the first round of the playoffs."

The Broncos hope that Plummer keeps making strides in their offensive system. Plummer has made progress in the offense in each of his two seasons in Denver and said he thinks that the third season will be even better.

"I felt more comfortable last year and (Denver's coaches) are going to keep doing things around here to make sure the system is intact and when I go out there I know what I'm doing," Plummer said. "Going into the third year I'm real comfortable with everyone on this team.

"You have to love the position I'm in and I'll keep working hard to get better."

DRAFT STRATEGY -- The Denver Broncos' draft strategy probably changed after a flurry of moves to rebuild their defensive line over the past month.

When Denver agreed to a restructured contract with end Trevor Pryce, the suspect Broncos' defensive line became a potential strength -- if they can remain healthy along the line. Denver also added Courtney Brown, Ebenezer Ekuban and Michael Myers over the past few weeks, and had traded for tackle Gerard Warren earlier this offseason.

The Broncos could still draft a defensive lineman if they wish, but now they have options. Other needs, such as cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line could be addressed with their four first-day picks.

Denver's biggest focus this offseason has been on defense. Offensively, tight end Stephen Alexander and running back Ron Dayne were the only additions of note, and neither of those players are expected to start. So it would not be surprising to see the Broncos go after an offensive player like a big wide receiver that could help them in the red zone with their first-round pick, No. 25 overall.

A player such as former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones or Northern Colorado's Vincent Jackson, each of whom would be tall, strong and fast targets at receiver for the Broncos, would be intriguing to Denver if they are available in the first or second round.

The Broncos also need to add to their offensive line, and will likely do so. Denver has drafted at least one offensive lineman in nine of the 10 drafts Mike Shanahan has presided over.

A rookie lineman could jump into the competition with Cooper Carlisle and P.J. Alexander for the starting right guard spot, but most likely if the Broncos draft an offensive lineman he will be a non-factor in 2005. Tom Nalen, Matt Lepsis, Ben Hamilton, Dan Neil, Carlisle and 2003 first-round pick George Foster are just some of the players who got almost no playing time as rookies while learning Denver's system but became starters later on.

The Broncos need a cornerback and they need a return man, which could make a player like Clemson's Justin Miller a target for them. Miller returned punts and kickoffs at Clemson and could immediately compete to be Denver's nickel cornerback. However, the Broncos have often taken the best player available in the first round instead of drafting for need, so there's no guarantee they will draft a cornerback -- which might be their biggest need -- with the 25th pick.

The Broncos likely won't ignore the defensive line just because they've added to that position this offseason. Many of their defensive linemen are signed through the 2005 season, so adding a quality lineman or two in the draft would help for the future.

The Broncos have only moved up once in the first round in Shanahan's 10 drafts, but that worked out well for them. Denver moved up last season and ended up with linebacker D.J. Williams, who was one of the team's best players as a rookie. However, Denver doesn't have much ammunition to move up again.

Denver has two third-round picks, but those are both compensatory picks that can't be traded. The Broncos lost their third-round pick because of salary-cap violations in the late 1990s. They also have only two second-day picks, in the sixth and seventh rounds.

With plenty of holes that need to be filled immediately, the Broncos need to hit on more than one of their four first-day picks.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Broncos safety John Lynch went to New York on April 13 to appeal his $75,000 fine for an illegal hit on Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark in Denver's final regular season game. Lynch was fined for improper use of the helmet, and since it was his fourth such fine, the NFL gave him a large fine instead of the usual $7,500.

Lynch was upset because the fine was so much, and he felt the hit was not illegal. The league will decide on the appeal sometime soon.

--Broncos defensive end Courtney Brown said he is progressing well from a foot injury he suffered last season with the Cleveland Browns. Brown had screws inserted in his foot to help torn ligaments heal. The screws came out in February and he should be able to start running soon and hopes to be healthy in about a month.

"Everything feels fine," Brown said. "It's just a process of getting back to football activities."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "After we're holding up that Lombardi Trophy, that will answer all questions and doubts about the guys coming in." -- Broncos defensive tackle Gerard Warren on Denver acquiring four defensive lineman from the Cleveland Browns this offseason.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Marco Coleman; RB Garrison Hearst; DT Ellis Johnson.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Sam Brandon; DE Anton Palepoi.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: P Jason Baker; OG Cooper Carlisle; DT Dorsett Davis; DT Luther Elliss; OG Ben Hamilton; TE Patrick Hape; TE/LS Mike Leach; DT Monsanto Pope; TE Jeb Putzier; CB Lenny Walls; S Chris Young.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: TE Stephen Alexander; DE Courtney Brown; LB Keith Burns; RB Ron Dayne; DE Ebenezer Ekuban; LB Ian Gold; DT Michael Myers; DT Gerard Warren.
PLAYERS LOST: RB Reuben Droughns; DE Reggie Hayward; CB Kelly Herndon; S Kenoy Kennedy.

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