Broncos Unit by Unit Analysis

Take a look at how each unit of the Denver Broncos shapes up as they head into the 2005 training camp.

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jake Plummer. Backups -- Danny Kanell, Matt Mauck, Bradlee Van Pelt.
Plummer took every snap for the Broncos last year, so the backup position never was an issue. But it will be looked at closely during training camp this year. Kanell has experience and comes into camp as the No. 2 quarterback. Mauck, a seventh-round pick last year, impressed the coaches with a solid camp last year and Van Pelt has the best athletic ability of the group. Kanell took a pay cut this offseason to help his chances of winning a job. Plummer's ups and downs are well known. He can be inconsistent and make bad decisions, but he set some franchise single-season passing records last season and has the full support of Mike Shanahan.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Tatum Bell, FB Kyle Johnson. Backups -- RB Mike Anderson, RB Quentin Griffin, RB Ron Dayne, RB Maurice Clarett, FB Cecil Sapp.
Bell and Anderson split first-team reps in the offseason. Bell has the most potential of the five tailbacks that are competing for the starting job and is the favorite, but he's not a lock to start. Anderson is fully recovered from a season-ending groin injury last year and was playing very well in the preseason last year before he got hurt. He's tough and reliable. Griffin is still recovering from knee surgery last year. Clarett and Dayne each are downhill runners that fit Denver's system. Johnson was a pleasant surprise for the Broncos last year. Sapp, a successful college tailback, opened some eyes when he filled in for an injured Johnson late last season.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jeb Putzier. Backups -- Patrick Hape, Stephen Alexander, Nate Jackson, Mike Leach. Putzier signed an offer sheet with the New York Jets this offseason, and the Broncos matched because they love Putzier's potential in their offense. Putzier can stretch the field and is one of the best deep threats at the position in the league. He is a former college receiver who creates matchup problems. He'll need to become a more consistent blocker. The Broncos hope teaming Putzier and Alexander in dual tight-end sets creates additional problems for defenses because both players have similar abilities and can line up anywhere on the field. Hape is a solid performer and always seems to find his way on the roster. Jackson is converting from receiver to tight end, where his size-speed combination might be a better fit.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie. Backups -- Darius Watts, Jerry Rice, Triandos Luke, Charlie Adams, B.J. Johnson.
Smith and Lelie each gained 1,000 yards last year, in much different ways. Smith is Plummer's go-to guy on underneath routes, and he's showing few signs of slowing down. He keeps his body in great shape. Lelie is one of the best deep threats in the league, but he hasn't helped the Broncos much across the middle in his two years as a starter. Watts started strong and faded last year, and this year he has Rice looking over his shoulder. Watts will probably be the third receiver but he has to show some consistency in camp. Luke had a few bright moments last year and goes into camp as the favorite to win the No. 5 receiver spot on the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Matt Lepsis, LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT George Foster. Backups -- T Anthony Clement, T Dwayne Carswell, T Cornell Green, C Josh Sewell, C/G Chris Myers, G Tim Stuber, G Cameron Spikes, G Tyson Clabo.
The only starter who might get pushed in camp is Carlisle. He was supposed to get some competition from P.J. Alexander but Alexander hurt his knee in an off-road vehicle accident and is out for the season. Former Cardinal Cameron Spikes could push for a starting job, but Carlisle should hold him off. Denver's tackles, Lepsis and Foster, are underrated. Lepsis is athletic and had a good year after switching from right to left tackle last year. Nalen is still the anchor of the line and the team likes Hamilton -- it signed him to a multi-year deal when he became an unrestricted free agent. There isn't a lot of depth.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- SDE Courtney Brown, DT Gerard Warren, DT Mario Fatafehi, WDE Trevor Pryce. Backups -- DE Ebenezer Ekuban, DE Anton Palepoi, DT Monsanto Pope, DT Dorsett Davis, DT Luther Elliss, DE Marco Coleman, DE Chukie Nwokorie, DT Michael Myers, DE John Engelberger, DE Raylee Johnson.
Pryce is back and he's switching from the strong side to the weak side end position, which could mean a boost in his sack total. Denver's last two weak-side ends, Bertrand Berry and Reggie Hayward, posted big seasons and cashed in as free agents. The Broncos want to see what Brown can do if he's healthy. Warren seems motivated after a tough stint in Cleveland. The Broncos are hoping the four former Browns -- Brown, Warren, Ekuban and Myers -- thrive in a new environment. The Broncos will have to cut a few players who have NFL experience because they have so many coming to camp.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Ian Gold, MLB Al Wilson, SLB D.J. Williams. Backups: MLB Patrick Chukwurah, SLB/MLB Terry Pierce, OLB Jashon Sykes, MLB Keith Burns, OLB Louis Green, OLB Markus Steele.
Gold, Wilson and Williams give the Broncos one of the best linebacking units in the NFL. Gold and Williams are both natural weak-side linebackers so how the Broncos use them bears watching. Williams had a fantastic rookie season last year but has never played the strong side. Wilson is a stalwart in the middle, one of the best in the game. He is Denver's emotional leader on defense as well. The team hasn't figured out a place for Pierce, a 2003 second-round pick who has played very little on defense. Chukwurah got some playing time as a rush end in passing situations last year because he is very explosive off the snap. Burns is back for his third tour with the Broncos -- he's a special-teams ace and a good presence in the locker room.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Champ Bailey, CB Lenny Walls, SS Nick Ferguson, FS John Lynch. Backups -- CB Darrent Williams, CB Karl Paymah, CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Roc Alexander, CB Jeff Shoate, S Sam Brandon, S Chris Young, S Jeremy LeSueur, S/CB Brandon Browner.
The Broncos feel good about their starting corners, Walls and Bailey. Although Bailey had some tough games during first season in Denver, he's still one of the best in the league. Walls has potential but last year was a waste because of injuries. He played well two years ago as a starter. Ferguson will step in for Kenoy Kennedy, who signed with Detroit this offseason. Ferguson is a reckless tackler who has performed well when he has been a starter the past two seasons. Lynch is a good leader and is still solid although he's not as athletic as he was early in his career. Denver will try to find a nickel cornerback in training camp. That was a problem last season and the Broncos drafted corners with their first three picks in April to at least provide much needed depth. All three rookie cornerbacks have blazing speed.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Elam, P Todd Sauerbrun, KR/PR Darrent Williams, LS Mike Leach, LS Chris Myers, P/K Paul Ernster.
Sauerbrun and Elam give the Broncos one of the top kicker-punter combos in the NFL. Sauerbrun has been involved in plenty of off-field controversy, but is one of the best punters in football and should be a big help to the Broncos' mediocre special teams. Williams could provide similar help. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he wants Williams to be the top punt and kickoff returner. Denver doesn't have many great options after him, so his development in camp will be important.

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