Broncos Update Insider - Sunday, July 9

The Denver Broncos will be without punter Todd Sauerbrun, who will be suspended for the first four games of the NFL season. Sauerbrun's absence will hurt the Broncos but they could use Paul Ernster to fill in. Ernster was a seventh-round pick last year .

The Broncos will be without punter Todd Sauerbrun, who will be suspended for the first four games of the NFL season.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Sauerbrun tested positive for the banned substance ephedra, which is an automatic four-game suspension. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he wouldn't comment on the situation until Sauerbrun's appeal is heard.

"We will deal with that after the appeal goes through," Shanahan said. "At that time I'll address it."

Sauerbrun's absence will hurt the Broncos. They could use Paul Ernster to fill in. Ernster was a seventh-round pick last year and began the season as the Broncos' kickoff specialist. He was also an effective punter in college.

But Ernster struggled in his only NFL game, last year's season opener at Miami. And he missed most of the season and is still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Because Jason Elam hasn't kicked off in years, the team likely needs to replace Sauerbrun at punter and on kickoffs. Ernster could handle both roles. The team could also look for a veteran among the available free agents.

"I think our upstairs management and the coaches have done enough to cover the bases as far as the guys we have out here and the best guy will probably win that job," linebacker and special teams captain Keith Burns said. "Whoever that is, we expect them to come in and do the job Todd would have done if he was here." Sauerbrun was a major addition for the Broncos last year. Denver struggled for years on special teams, but Sauerbrun keyed a big improvement last year. He was eighth in the NFL with a 43.8-yard gross average.

Burns said Sauerbrun's suspension was a blow because of his talent and because he was well liked in the locker room last year. Burns said Sauerbrun, who caused plenty of controversy in Carolina when he was with the Panthers, would be accepted back when he was eligible to return.

"It's not the first time a guy has been suspended for four games and came back," Burns said. "You welcome him with open arms and it's business as usual when he comes back."

--The Broncos will return 10 of 11 starters on defense, which followed their offseason plan perfectly.

The Broncos wanted to retain as many of their key free agents as possible after going 13-3 and winning the AFC West last season, and the biggest question was whether defensive tackle Gerard Warren would be back. He did re-sign shortly after free agency started, solidifying the middle of Denver's line.

The only change will be at the weak-side defensive end position, where long-time Bronco Trevor Pryce played last year. Pryce was released in March. He had a huge salary-cap figure and had one of the quietest seasons of his career coming off a back injury that kept him out for most of 2004, so the Broncos decided to part ways with him.

Ebenezer Ekuban is the favorite to start in Pryce's place. Ekuban played a lot last year in Denver's rotation and is solid against the run and the pass. If free-agent acquisition Kenard Lang can fill Ekuban's role as the top backup at defensive end, the Broncos don't think the loss of Pryce will hurt much.

Lang was the team's biggest acquisition in free agency. The Broncos hope Lang, who has 44 career sacks, can provide a pass rush. Denver didn't have many sacks in 2005, and Mike Shanahan has already challenged his defensive line by saying the team won't blitz as much this season after relying heavily on sending extra linebackers and defensive backs to generate a pass rush last year.

Denver's starting linebacking corps stays the same, although some depth was added with Nate Webster. Webster, who has been bothered by knee injuries the past couple years, can back up at all positions.

In the secondary, there could be a change at the cornerback spot opposite Champ Bailey, but it won't be a major change. Darrent Williams started most of his rookie season, with fellow rookie Domonique Foxworth playing a lot in the nickel defense. When Williams went down with a groin injury late in the season, Foxworth stepped into the starting lineup.

Foxworth will get the chance in training camp to win the starting job outright. It might not make a big difference who is the starter because they will both play a lot. They could rotate with the starting defense, and if not, the Broncos use their nickel package frequently.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Wide receiver Ashley Lelie, as expected, skipped the Broncos' mandatory minicamp. Coach Mike Shanahan is frustrated with Lelie's holdout and questioned why the receiver wouldn't come in and compete for the No. 1 job he covets.

"It's one of those situations where if you want to compete and be the No. 1 guy, why not be here in camp?" Shanahan said. "If you're afraid of competing against the No. 1 guy who is 35 years old (Rod Smith, who is actually 36), I don't think you're going to find a better scenario than what he has here."

Shanahan said the Broncos have tried dealing Lelie, but there hasn't been a lot of strong interest in him.

"It would be different if people were beating down the walls to get him, but they're not," Shanahan said. "Why not come in here and try to do what you can do and make a name for yourself in a place that drafted you No. 1?"

-- Fullback Cecil Sapp spent the minicamp working with the first-team offense, ahead of last year's starter Kyle Johnson. Coach Mike Shanahan said Sapp would be given the opportunity to win the job outright in training camp.

"Cecil is a guy that I feel is talented enough to be the starting fullback or starting tailback, he's that kind of athlete," Shanahan said. "Obviously he's done a good job at the fullback position. There's great competition there at that position and we'll let these guys compete and find out who wins the position."

Broncos receiver Javon Walker participated in many drills during the minicamp, but none against the defense. Walker is coming along on schedule in his recovery from a knee injury that kept him out most of last year, and the Broncos don't want him to re-injure the knee.

That Walker did run some routes during the minicamp was an encouraging sign, however.

"Just to get out there and run routes and do everything at the same pace as everyone else felt pretty good," Walker said.

--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan recently spoke at a motivational seminar at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gen. Colin Powell were among the other speakers there. Shanahan is a good public speaker who does less than 10 speaking engagements per year because of his schedule.

Shanahan said he enjoys public speaking but wouldn't consider doing it regularly once his coaching career is done.

"That's not me," Shanahan said. "I would do it in certain situations, but that's not my personality to do a bunch of them. I do a few and try to do a real good job."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They know it's a process. You've got to get better day-by-day. If you, you have a chance to make something happen." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The two major issues the Broncos still need to attend to are signing their rookie class and figuring out what to do with disgruntled receiver Ashley Lelie.

Although none of the rookies are signed, it shouldn't be a major problem to get them all in by the time camp starts. The Broncos have an excellent track record of getting rookies into training camp on time.

Lelie is a tougher dilemma. Lelie is upset because he wants the chance to be a No. 1 receiver and has shown no indication he will be at Denver's mandatory minicamp on July 6-8 or show up to training camp on time. Lelie could be traded to add depth at another position of need.

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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