Around the League - Monday, July 25

The Broncos were fortunate when defensive end Trevor Pryce (in photo) agreed to a restructured deal that kept him in Denver. However, Pryce has a few questions surrounding him. Read about Pryce and other hot Denver Broncos topics in this week's edition of "Around the League."

This is the time of year when predictions are tossed around like Frisbees in a park. You think you know where the thing is headed, but the reality is it could land anywhere.

How true that is of the National Football League. Training camps are opening and optimism is high virtually everywhere. Yet, there are so many factors that will eventually determine which teams succeed and which ones don't.

Signing draft picks is part of the equation, and currently there are no first-round selections signed and just a handful of second- and third-round picks.

However, the one facet of the game that no one can predict is injuries. In a sport of attrition, the teams that stay healthy have a much better chance of being standing six months from now.

One need look no further than the featured camp players to watch included in these pages. About 25 percent of those players discussed have injury issues from last season that could affect this season. Of course, that doesn't begin to account for the injuries that will begin to happen when the doors of camps open.

Will Jets quarterback Chad Pennington be sufficiently recovered from shoulder surgery? What about Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, who had sternum surgery in the offseason and hasn't often experienced an injury-free season? Much of the Bears' hopes for improvement revolve around the recovery of quarterback Rex Grossman.

Running backs with question marks hanging over their head entering camp include Jacksonville's Fred Taylor, Carolina's Stephen Davis and Arizona's Marcel Shipp. There has been a great deal of optimism surrounding the Cardinals' fortunes this season, but the team's running back situation has to be stable for the expected improvement to occur.

The Baltimore Ravens changed offensive coordinators from Matt Cavanaugh to Jim Fassel, but will that matter if tight end Todd Heap has another season curtailed by injury?

All the best-laid plans of teams after a long offseason of work can be squashed quickly when a major injuries occur. And we know it will happen. We just don't know when or who will be the unlucky ones.

DENVER BRONCOS HOT TOPICS

Players to watch in training camp:

--Defensive end Trevor Pryce: The Broncos were fortunate when defensive end Trevor Pryce agreed to a restructured deal that kept him in Denver. However, Pryce has a few questions surrounding him.

Pryce played sparingly in only two games last season because of a back injury. He had surgery on Sept. 22, and tried to come back for the regular-season finale. However, he was ineffective and didn't play in Denver's playoff game.

Pryce said he feels strong and fully recovered from the injury. He wasn't limited in any of Denver's offseason camps. But the Broncos haven't put pads on yet, which will be a test for Pryce's back.

If Pryce returns and has no lingering problems with his back, he could have a big season. He's being moved from strong-side end to weak-side end, which has been a productive position for the Broncos.

--Cornerback Darrent Williams: Denver made Williams its top pick in the second round of April's draft because he can fill two big needs immediately, and maybe a third.

Williams will step into Denver's kickoff and punt returner jobs. He was successful as a returner at Oklahoma State and the Broncos hope that he has a quick adjustment.

Williams was also a solid cornerback in college and could end up being the answer to a pressing problem Denver has, which is finding a nickel cornerback. Denver also drafted rookies Karl Paymah and Domonique Foxworth to battle for that spot.

The Broncos don't have any experienced veterans in the mix for the nickel cornerback job, so there's a good chance one of the rookies will end up in that spot.

--Wide receiver Jerry Rice: There will be plenty of interest surrounding Rice, although he's much closer to being on the roster bubble than the starting lineup. Rice begins camp as Denver's fourth receiver but he is the most notable name in camp.

The future Hall of Famer put off retirement for another year to play for the Broncos and Mike Shanahan, who was San Francisco's offensive coordinator from 1992-94 when Rice was there.

Rice had a 145-yard game last year with Seattle and might still have something left at age 42. If not, Shanahan will face a tough call at the end of camp. At very least, the Broncos are hoping Rice's experience and work habits rub off on their younger players.

--Running back Maurice Clarett: Clarett was the biggest name in the NFL draft, although he didn't get taken until the last pick of the first day. He has said all the right things dating back to the scouting combine in February, but his controversial past won't be easy to put behind him.

On the field there might be even more questions about Clarett. He had a very good freshman season at Ohio State, but that was 2002 and he hasn't played since then. He then ran poorly at the combine, bringing up even more questions.

But the Broncos think Clarett would have been a top 10-15 pick had he had a normal college career and think he fits their system perfectly. He'll make the second halves of Denver's preseason games interesting to watch.

NOTES

--The Broncos don't plan on using many 3-4 defensive looks this season, although they looked into it this offseason.

"A little bit, not much," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "It will factor in. We got pieces and bits."

--The Denver Broncos let safety Kenoy Kennedy sign with Detroit when Kennedy was an unrestricted free agent this offseason. When the bidding got too high, the Broncos were content to let Kennedy go and turn to Nick Ferguson to replace him.

"A lot of times you're looking at the salary cap on this kind of player and you're trying to decide where the money is best spent," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Even though we would have liked to have Kenoy we have the utmost confidence in Nick Ferguson."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos will have plenty of defensive linemen coming to camp. They had 13 linemen with significant NFL experience coming to camp, and made it 14 when they traded cornerback Willie Middlebrooks to San Francisco for defensive end John Engelberger.

Even before the Broncos acquired Engelberger, defensive end Trevor Pryce was wondering which linemen would make the cut.

"I sitting there today trying to figure it out," Pryce said during team's July minicamp. "I was saying 'I think he's on board, I think I'm going to be on the team but I'm not sure, this dude is good.' I think it's the deepest we've ever been as far as talent."

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