Broncos Update Insider - Friday, Dec. 30

Quarterback Jake Plummer will play this week, but he said he doesn't need the playing time to stay sharp for the playoffs.Read about preparations for the final regular season game against the Chargers in today's edition of "Broncos Update Insider."

Quarterback Jake Plummer will play this week, but he said he doesn't need the playing time to stay sharp for the playoffs.

The Broncos have clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs and have the option of resting some key starters. Coach Mike Shanahan has said that the starters can expect to play Saturday against San Diego, and while many backups likely will see some time, Shanahan has maintained the starters should prepare to be in the whole game. That includes Plummer, perhaps the player Denver can least afford to get injured.

"I'm not going to say definitely he'll play the whole game, but that's the plan going in," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said defensive end Courtney Brown, linebacker Al Wilson, running back Mike Anderson and cornerback Darrent Williams would be held out because of injuries.

Plummer said he agreed with whatever Shanahan decided to do. But he wasn't worried about being rusty for the playoffs if he doesn't play the whole game this week.

"If you get rusty, that means you just sat on a couch for two straight weeks," Plummer said. "We're going to be out here practicing and doing stuff. The thing, getting rusty and coming out flat, that's just terms and words people use to explain why you would come out if you were to lose."

Most Broncos fans would love to see backup Bradlee Van Pelt get some playing time against San Diego. Van Pelt played in college at Colorado State and is a fan favorite because of his reckless style of play and outspoken personality. When he came into last week's game against Oakland to hand the ball off a few times in a blowout win, he got a loud ovation. Van Pelt had played only one snap this season before last week.

Shanahan insisted that he didn't need to see Van Pelt play in a game. He has been impressed with Van Pelt's progress in practice and has confidence in him based on that.

"I know that he has been getting better and better, so I feel very good about him," Shanahan said. "Whether he plays or doesn't play, if we were presented with a situation where Jake went down in the postseason, I would feel pretty good."

Van Pelt said he hoped to play but wasn't going to be disappointed if he didn't. He is raw, having spent last season on the practice squad and all but four snaps on the bench this season, but he said he has been pleased with how he has picked up the offense.

Van Pelt said he trusts that Shanahan knows what is best for him, but he would like to get some game experience.

"I think you eventually need to play in a game," Van Pelt said. "I think the game-time experience, under pressure, having to perform ... and executing time in and time out, I think you can get some of that in practice, but you can't get that real game experience."

Van Pelt also said that he was told by the coaches not to expect any playing time, although chances are the coaches don't want the starters to lose focus in practice this week and will make substitutions at least in the second half.

"They made it clear to me ... that it's going to be just like any other week for the offense," Van Pelt said. "Jake's starting, and if you get called in, deal with it. As the plan is right now, I'm not going in."

SERIES HISTORY: 84th meeting. The Denver Broncos lead the San Diego Chargers 51-31-1. The Chargers lost 20-17 earlier this season at Denver. Last year at Qualcomm Stadium, Jake Plummer threw four interceptions and San Diego won, a pivotal game in the Chargers' AFC West championship season.

NOTES, QUOTES

HOT TOPIC

Tatum Bell has gotten more playing time than most backup tailbacks in the NFL, but he still hasn't gotten much of a chance to prove he can be an every-down back for the Denver Broncos.

Bell should get that opportunity on Saturday against San Diego. Bell likely will start with Mike Anderson out with an ankle injury. That would be the first start of Bell's NFL career. Bell might get pulled early so he can rest for the playoffs and Ron Dayne could get some carries, but Bell probably will get a fair share of attempts. His career high in carries is 17.

"I want to prove to the coaches and my teammates I can carry 25 times and still come out of a game healthy," Bell said.

Bell struggled earlier this year when Anderson went down in the first quarter against Miami. He got 13 carries and gained 47 yards, 30 of which came on one run, and he failed to score near the goal line in the first quarter. Bell said he thought that might have set him back in the eyes of the coaches.

"I felt like I had a decent training camp and preseason and all that stuff, but I think they lost confidence in me the first game," Bell said. "Hopefully I can bring that confidence back."

One knock on Bell is he hasn't stayed healthy. Bell dealt with finger, rib, shoulder and hamstring injuries last year. He missed one game this season with a bruised chest.

Bell, who needs 131 yards to get 1,000 for the season, could eliminate some of the questions about him with a solid game against San Diego.

"He's got a great opportunity," coach Mike Shanahan said.

--Broncos safety John Lynch played with a broken thumb in the playoffs last season, but he thinks linebacker Al Wilson won't have as tough of a time as he did. Lynch didn't have time to have surgery, as Wilson did this week. Wilson had pins and screws put in his thumb. Lynch said that will make a big difference.

"I played with a cast prior to surgery, and it hurt," Lynch said. "I tried to block the pain, I had painkillers, but it affected me."

Lynch said he played in the Pro Bowl after surgery and felt much better. He said Wilson might have some problems trying to catch the ball, but he should be able to do everything else normally. Wilson won't play this week but will return for Denver's first playoff game.

"In terms of your ability to play, you're a lot better off (having surgery), so I think he did the right thing," Lynch said.

--With 131 yards against San Diego, running back Tatum Bell would reach 1,000 for the season and would help the Broncos make some history. Mike Anderson has 1,014 yards, so Bell and Anderson could be the fourth set of teammates in NFL history to each rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Anderson won't play this week because of an ankle injury, so Bell should get some extra carries.

"It's realistic," Bell said. "It's going to be a hard game, and they've got the best run defense in the league, but we run the ball real good. I don't think we'll miss a beat with Mike being out."

--Cornerback Darrent Williams did some half-speed drills in practice this week, which is a good sign in his recovery from a groin injury. Williams said he hopes to be back for Denver's first playoff game.

"It's going pretty good," Williams said. "They're like, 'Other guys have had this injury and haven't progressed this fast.'"

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Division titles for Mike Shanahan, who has won two Super Bowl championships in his 11 seasons as the Broncos' head coach.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The people that say we should play the starters the whole game, then when somebody gets hurt, they change their mind and say, 'You guys are dummies, you played a guy and got him hurt.'" - Coach Mike Shanahan on his decision to either play or rest his starters in a meaningless regular-season finale.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos have been in a position before where they have faced regular-season games with their playoff position wrapped up and a bye in their future. In 1996, Denver sat many starters over the final weeks of the season because they clinched home-field advantage on Dec. 1. Then the Broncos lost to Jacksonville in a heartbreaking playoff opener. In 1998, the Broncos were in the same position and played their starters deep into the fourth quarter of the meaningless regular-season finale. They ended up winning the Super Bowl.

So the Broncos could play their starters for most of Saturday's game, to avoid getting rusty. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan risks being criticized if one of his key starters gets injured, but he said he realizes that no matter what decision he makes, it will be second-guessed if it negatively affects Denver's playoff run.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Keith Burns likely will start in Al Wilson's place at middle linebacker this week. Wilson will miss the game with a broken thumb. Burns is Denver's best special teams player but has rarely played on defense.

--LB Louis Green could see some playing time on defense. He is a solid special teams player, and with Al Wilson out of the lineup, he could get some time at outside linebacker against San Diego.

--LB Ian Gold was added to the injury report with a groin strain. Gold could get an early hook against San Diego because the Broncos can't improve their playoff seed.

--DE Ebenezer Ekuban will start in place of Courtney Brown, who is out with shoulder and knee injuries. Ekuban has played well off the bench all season, mostly in pass-rushing situations.

--C Tom Nalen and the rest of the offensive line can't expect to get too much rest this week. The Broncos have only two backup offensive linemen on the roster, so they can't substitute very liberally on the line. If anyone gets an early rest, it probably will be Nalen, 34. Ben Hamilton could slide over to center.

--TE Wesley Duke was inactive last week because the Broncos wanted to have an extra defensive lineman available, but Duke could play in the playoffs. He is inexperienced but is a tough matchup problem because of his size and athleticism, especially near the goal line.

--WR David Terrell hasn't been active all season for the Broncos. There is a chance he could be active against San Diego. The Broncos could choose to rest Ashley Lelie, who had 14 stitches for a gash on his right arm, or Rod Smith in the second half. Terrell could be a factor at wide receiver for the Broncos next season.

--FB Cecil Sapp has become a valuable player for the Broncos. He is a solid special teams player, has filled in at fullback, and can play tailback in a pinch. Sometimes the Broncos choose to activate only two tailbacks because they know Sapp can carry the ball if needed.

--WR Darius Watts faces an important off-season. Watts, a 2004 second-round pick, fell out of favor for inconsistent play in training camp and never got out of the doghouse. He hasn't been active for a game since Oct. 16. Watts has to get stronger and simply catch the ball better if he wants a spot on the team next year.

--CB Domonique Foxworth has played well since taking Darrent Williams' spot in the starting lineup. Foxworth and Williams will probably battle for a starting spot in training camp next season. Foxworth is technically sound, strong and very fast. He also is not overwhelmed by being in the NFL.



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