RUNNING BACK: Starter -- RB Mike Anderson, FB Kyle Johnson. Backups -- RB Tatum Bell, RB Ron Dayne, FB Cecil Sapp. Anderson had a solid season, but he isn't guaranteed to be the starter next season. He will be 33 years old in September. In a perfect world the Broncos would like a franchise back who can carry the ball 25 times a game. Those aren't easy to find, however, but the Broncos might look in the draft or free agency. Bell could be that back but he needs to get a bit more consistent and also do some little things better like receiving and blocking. Dayne is a free agent but the Broncos want him back. He fits Denver's style very well and could have a big season if given the chance. Johnson is a solid fullback who catches the ball well. Sapp is a jack of all trades who is a good special teams player.
Alexander was the starter all season because he is better in the running game than Putzier. Putzier is a very good receiver and if he could become a bit better on running downs he could be one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Duke is a very interesting player. He played college basketball but has natural skills and a great build for the position. He will go to NFL Europe and could be a breakout player in 2006.
Smith had a fantastic season. He was consistent all season and made the Pro Bowl. Lelie started to make some underneath catches at the end of the season, but he might never become more than a dangerous deep threat. Adams is solid but not spectacular. The player to watch for next season is Terrell. He's a former high draft pick who will get every chance to play. The Broncos continue to publicly support Watts, a 2004 second-round pick who fell out of favor and wasn't active for the final three months of the season. Watts needs to improve a lot in the offseason on his consistency and hands, or he might not be with the team next season.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Matt Lepsis, LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT George Foster. Backups -- G Taylor Whitley, T Cornell Green, G/C Chris Myers. Returning injured backups -- G Dwayne Carswell, G/T P.J. Alexander.
The Broncos want to re-sign free agents Nalen and Lepsis. If Nalen leaves, Hamilton would move over to center and the Broncos would have to find a new left guard. Replacing Lepsis would be very difficult. He has had two good seasons since making the transition from right tackle to left tackle. Green could be the successor if nobody else is found. The line played well once again. Foster had some struggles but the rest of the unit clicked. There isn't much depth. Carswell was involved in a car accident during the season and had surgery for major internal injuries, but wants to come back next season.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- SDE Courtney Brown, DT Gerard Warren, DT Michael Myers, WDE Trevor Pryce. Backups -- DE Marco Coleman, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, DT Monsanto Pope, DT Demetrin Veal, DE John Engelberger.
The Broncos' line played much better than most people expected after four linemen were acquired from the Browns last offseason. But Warren had a very good season, Brown stayed healthy, Myers was a constant in the middle and Ekuban was valuable off the bench. The unit also got a big boost when Pryce came back from a back injury that limited him for most of 2004. Warren is a free agent and the Broncos want him back, but he could get a very nice deal on the open market. Brown has an option bonus that will be due and there's no guarantee he'll be back either. There isn't much young talent waiting in the wings.
The Broncos have one of the best linebacker trios in the NFL. Gold, who started his career in Denver, was a great addition after spending a season in Tampa Bay. Wilson had a very good season. He is the leader on the defense and he understands the game much better than he did early in his career. Williams was lost in the mix a little bit. He had a great rookie season but had his playing time cut in 2005 because Gold and Wilson were Denver's linebackers in the nickel defense. Burns came back after a season in Tampa Bay, like Gold, and he was Denver's best special teams player. Green is also a very valuable special teamer.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Champ Bailey, SS Nick Ferguson, FS John Lynch, RCB Darrent Williams. Backups -- CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Karl Paymah, CB Roc Alexander, S Hamza Abdullah, S Sam Brandon, S/CB Curome Cox. Injured returning backups -- S Brandon Browner, CB Jeff Shoate, S Chris Young.
Bailey had a top-notch season, really turning it on after dealing with hamstring and shoulder injuries in the first half of the season. Lynch also had a good season and was being used in many different roles on defense, including sometimes lining up in a three-point stance to blitz the quarterback. Williams and Foxworth were rookies who had very impressive seasons. Foxworth was picked on in the AFC Championship Game but he should bounce back. Williams was hampered with a groin injury the last month of the season. Paymah was the third cornerback Denver drafted last April, and he developed slower than Williams and Foxworth. The team still thinks he can be a contributor. The team has done a good job building depth in the secondary, which was a problem the last couple years.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters -- K Jason Elam, P Todd Sauerbrun, LS Mike Leach. Elam and Sauerbrun could be the best punter-kicker combination in the NFL. Elam had a good season after a tough first half. Sauerbrun was a great addition from the Panthers last offseason. He didn't create any problems and punted very well. He also handled kickoffs. Leach is a solid long-snapper. Darrent Williams looks like he could be a good punt returner for many years.
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