This offseason the Denver Broncos revamped their defensive line, added a talented linebacker from their past, lost a couple of defensive backs and drafted a bunch to replace them.
Denver lost end Reggie Hayward, safety Kenoy Kennedy and cornerback Kelly Herndon in free agency, and had to take some chances to bolster their defense. The riskiest moves were bringing in four former Browns defensive linemen -- ends Ebenezer Ekuban and Courtney Brown and tackles Gerard Warren and Michael Myers.
Brown and Warren have talent -- each was a top five draft pick -- but never panned out in Cleveland. Brown couldn't stay healthy and Warren never lived up to his lofty draft status.
Brown has the most potential of the group, as a former first overall pick. But he has played only 31 games over the past four seasons because of knee, biceps, ankle and foot injuries, and was limited in Denver's offseason camps until its minicamp in early July.
"I think everybody knows what type of ability he has and how hard he works," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "So hopefully he stays healthy this year. He's done everything you could possibly do during this offseason to give himself a chance."
Ekuban and Myers were acquired in a trade for running back Reuben Droughns, and because the Broncos felt they had addressed their dire need on the defensive line by acquiring the former Browns, they used the draft to build the secondary.
Denver drafted cornerbacks Darrent Williams, Domonique Foxworth and Karl Paymah with its first three picks in April's draft. Williams will see action right away as the team's punt and kickoff returner, and all three will have a chance to win the team's nickel cornerback job.
Denver's first move in free agency was to bring back outside linebacker Ian Gold, who started his career with the Broncos but left to Tampa Bay via free agency last year. He adds speed and talent to a linebacker corps that already included Al Wilson and D.J. Williams.
The Broncos upgraded their special teams by trading for controversial punter Todd Sauerbrun in May. Sauerbrun was acquired from Carolina for Jason Baker and a 2006 seventh-round pick, and if he stays out of trouble Sauerbrun could be a huge addition for Denver, which struggled to punt the ball consistently all last year.
"It can be the difference between winning and losing," Shanahan said. "(Punter) one the reasons why we have been average on special teams the last couple of years."
-- Ends Ebenezer Ekuban and Courtney Brown were finally back to being full participants in practice when the team had a minicamp in early July. Ekuban had been rehabbing after knee and shoulder surgeries and Brown was recovering from foot surgery, and they were limited in the team's previous offseason camps.
"Of course I was going to be smart," Ekuban said after his first practice. "It was just the first time out here after taking a long time off, through the surgery. So I worked hard and worked smart."
-- Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has given up his dual role of coaching linebackers, which he has done since 2000. Kirk Doll will coach the linebackers this season. Coyer will oversee the entire defense during practice.
"I think the time was right for the new approach," Coyer said. "There were times a year ago when I felt like I might have cheated the linebackers a little bit trying to do both jobs."
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.
--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.
--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).
--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.
Denver Broncos Team Report 7/9/05
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