At the conclusion of the Broncos' team camp, coach Mike Shanahan singled out receiver Darius Watts as the player who stood out the most over the past few weeks of organized team activities.
The proclamation was surprising for a couple of reasons. First, Shanahan very rarely singles out players for their practice performances. Second, Watts was all but forgotten during Denver's run to the AFC Championship Game last season.
Watts was a second-round pick in 2004, and he excited Denver with his ability to get open. The problem was he would drop too many passes, some at critical moments. When he started training camp last year with some drops, he was demoted from his job as the team's third receiver. He never got that job back, and the last time he was active for a game was Week 6 last year.
When the Broncos started talking up former Bears first-round pick David Terrell and traded for Javon Walker, Watts seemed to be slipping even further down the depth chart, but his play during the team's offseason practices has apparently helped his standing.
"He really stood out," Shanahan said. "He showed a lot more confidence, he was very consistent catching the ball."
Watts has benefited from Ashley Lelie's absence. Lelie is holding out from all team activities this offseason because he is upset with his role on the team. If Lelie continues to hold out into the season or is traded, Watts would have a chance to be Denver's third receiver.
"Darius can always get open," Shanahan said. "He's got unbelievable quickness. He's as quick a guy as I've ever been around. It was just he was a little inconsistent."
If Watts plays well through the season he can boost a Broncos receiving group that already has good depth. Walker and Rod Smith are slated to start and Lelie is expected to be the third receiver if he reports. Terrell and Watts could fight for the third receiver spot if Lelie isn't with the Broncos, or they could give Denver plenty of weapons in four-receiver sets.
--Tight end Wesley Duke suffered a knee injury in team camp practice that needs nine months of recovery time. The Broncos waived Duke, and then had to put tight end Landon Trusty on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his knee.
The Broncos still have tight end Stephen Alexander, rookie Tony Scheffler and Nate Jackson, a former receiver who converted to tight end last year but was injured or inactive most of the season. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he thinks the Broncos have enough depth at tight end as long as there are no more injuries.
--Wide receiver Javon Walker continues to rehab his injured knee. He tore the ACL in Green Bay's first game last season, but the Broncos traded for him during the NFL Draft because they felt Walker would be ready by training camp. Walker has done some minor drills running straight ahead, and he should be ready for training camp. Walker will probably be held out of Denver's minicamp July 6-8.
--Rookie receiver Domenik Hixon sat out of Denver's first offseason camp because he was recovering from a broken bone in his leg. Hixon participated in some of Denver's team camp June 6-8. Hixon could compete for kickoff or punt returner duties this season.
Coach Mike Shanahan said Hixson should be ready for Denver's minicamp in early July.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's had great camps thus far and hopefully he can keep it going when the lights turn on."
-- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on receiver Darius Watts.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): S Chris Young.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: WR Charlie Adams; LB Louis Green.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: S Sam Brandon; LB Keith Burns; LB Patrick Chukwurah; RB Ron Dayne; DE John Engelberger; LS/TE Mike Leach; OT Matt Lepsis; DT Demetrin Veal; DT Gerard Warren.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Kenard Lang; CB Willie Middlebrooks; WR Javon Walker; LB Nate Webster.
PLAYERS LOST: RB Mike Anderson; DE Marco Coleman; TE Wesley Duke; DT Monsanto Pope; DE Trevor Pryce; TE Jeb Putzier.
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