Around the League - Monday, June 26

The Denver Broncos have two interesting second-year quarterbacks, each of whom could be the team's No. 2 quarterback or be back on the practice squad, depending how they do in training camp. Denver drafted Matt Mauck and Bradlee Van Pelt with two of its seventh-round picks last year. Each of them could end up being draft-day steals.

Philadelphia and Minnesota are widely considered two of the favorites in the NFC heading into the 2005 season, and that's without considering key offensive weapons each played without for most of 2004.

The Eagles are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and are loaded with high-profile talent, while the Vikings brought in a slew of new talent to offset the loss of Randy Moss. Each team possesses depth a key positions and superstar quarterbacks.

One of the Eagles' biggest concerns is keeping 5-foot-8 running back Brian Westbrook healthy through the regular season and fresh going into the playoffs. Westbrook has never started more than 12 games in a season, and while Dorsey Levens was a suitable backup last year, the offense took a hit when Westbrook was unable to go.

That's because Correll Buckhalter missed his second full season in two years following a preseason knee injury. Buckhalter participated in the team's recent passing camp, and said he feels great as he competes with rookie Ryan Moats for carries behind Westbrook this season.

"I actually feel faster than I did before I injured the knees," he said. "I feel more explosive. I feel brand new again."

The Vikings had plenty of depth at running back last season, but they were without one of the top outside run blockers in the league after tight end Jim Kleinsasser tore his ACL in last year's season opener.

Without Kleinsasser, the Vikings didn't run outside nearly as much as they wanted to, and often abandoned the running game altogether. Along with running back Michael Bennett apparently regaining his world class speed, Minnesota is counting on the return of their big-play running game.

"I never worry about who (running backs coach Dean Dalton) has in at running back because they all bring certain talents," said Vikings offensive coordinator and line coach Steve Loney. "Having Jimmy back is going to be tremendous for us in the running game. He's a real positive there."

If the Eagles and Vikings face each other in the playoffs next January, you can bet their running games played a big role in each team getting there.

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DENVER BRONCOS
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HOT TOPIC

The Denver Broncos have two interesting second-year quarterbacks, each of whom could be the team's No. 2 quarterback or be back on the practice squad, depending how they do in training camp.

Denver drafted Matt Mauck and Bradlee Van Pelt with two of its seventh-round picks last year. Each of them could end up being draft-day steals.

Mauck, who won a national title at Louisiana State in 2003, was particularly impressive last year in training camp. He picked up the offense very quickly and played well enough that he had an outside chance to unseat Danny Kanell as Jake Plummer's backup.

Mauck struggled a little bit in preseason games and spent most of the season on the practice squad, but he said he feels much more comfortable with the offense this season and is ready to take the next step.

Mauck also said his skills match what Denver asks of its quarterbacks.

"I feel like I'm a fairly good athlete and move around a little bit a little bit like what Jake does," Mauck said. "So I think it fits real well."

Van Pelt, who is popular in Denver because he played at Colorado State, is a different case. He is more raw than Mauck, but has great athleticism. He also has plenty of confidence, which he showed last season in his only preseason appearance, when he led the team to a touchdown.

He spent the entire season on the practice squad, but his athletic skills make him an intriguing prospect.

"I have to become a better practice player, and they've said that before and I know it too," Van Pelt said. "But when I get into a game I feel as loose as anyone out there."

Because the team isn't completely sold on Kanell as its backup -- Denver pursued Jeff Garcia and Gus Frerotte in free agency this offseason -- the two young quarterbacks will have a chance to win the No. 2 job with a great performance this preseason.

"Is the second string wide open? They've alluded to, yeah, let the best man win," Van Pelt said. "Veterans always get the benefit of the doubt so you can say Danny is probably penciled in at No. 2 and that's fair. But as these minicamps go on into the preseason, that's when that'll be determined."

NOTES

--Punter Todd Sauerbrun wasn't at the Broncos most recent offseason team camp, but Denver coach Mike Shanahan said he does expect Sauerbrun to be at Denver's mandatory minicamp in early July. Sauerbrun wants a new contract.

The Broncos traded a seventh-round pick next year and punter Jason Baker to Carolina for Sauerbrun in May. The Broncos don't have much experience at punter on the roster aside from Sauerbrun. Seventh-round pick Paul Ernster might top the depth chart if Sauerbrun holds out.

--Denver had two players on the all-NFL Europe team. Tackle Tyson Clabo and defensive tackle Aaron Hunt were each honored. Clabo and Hunt played for the Hamburg Sea Devils.

Hunt was drafted as a defensive end in 2003, and had a decent camp as a rookie but didn't make the team or the practice squad. Clabo is the kind of player Denver covets on the offensive line, because he is athletic and can play guard or center.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--RB Garrison Hearst didn't play poorly when he was called upon last year, but the Broncos don't have much use for him with their crowded backfield.

--DT Ellis Johnson is a productive pass-rushing interior lineman and the Broncos would love to get him back for another season.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--S Sam Brandon: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--T/G Cooper Carlisle: UFA; $2M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--DE Marco Coleman: UFA; terms unknown.
--DT Dorsett Davis: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--DT Luther Elliss: UFA; terms unknown.
--OG Ben Hamilton: UFA; $16.25M/5 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.
--TE Patrick Hape: UFA; terms unknown.
--TE/LS Mike Leach: UFA; terms unknown.
--DE Anton Palepoi: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--DT Monsanto Pope: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--TE Jeb Putzier: RFA/matched Jets offer; $12.5M/5 yrs, $2.5M SB.
--CB Lenny Walls: RFA; $1.43M/1 yr.
--S Chris Young: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--TE Stephen Alexander: UFA Lions; $4.2M/3 yrs, $1M bonuses.
--DE Courtney Brown: FA Browns; terms unknown.
--LB Keith Burns: UFA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OT Anthony Clement: FA Cardinals; terms unknown.
--RB Ron Dayne: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban (trade Browns).
--LB Ian Gold: FA Buccaneers; $25M/6 yrs, $5.75M SB/$2.5M RB '06.
--DT Michael Myers (trade Browns).
--WR Jerry Rice: FA Seahawks; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--P Todd Sauerbrun (trade Panthers).
--OG Cameron Spikes: UFA Cardinals; terms unknown.
--DT Gerard Warren (trade Browns).

PLAYERS LOST
--OG P.J. Alexander (injured).
--P Jason Baker (trade Panthers).
--RB Reuben Droughns (traded Browns).
--DE Reggie Hayward: UFA Jaguars; $25M/5 yrs, SB unknown.
--CB Kelly Herndon: RFA Seahawks; $15M/5 yrs, $3.6M SB.
--S Kenoy Kennedy: UFA Lions; $14M/5 yrs, $4M SB.
--OG Dan Neil (released).
--LB Donnie Spragan: UFA Dolphins; $1.9M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.

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