Denver Broncos Hot Topics - Sunday, July 16

Punter Todd Sauerbrun created controversy in Chicago and Carolina, but after the Denver Broncos acquired him last season he stayed pretty quiet, did his job very well and was accepted easily by his teammates. So when Sauerbrun was informed he would be suspended four games for violating the league's policy on steroids and related substances, it was a tough blow to the team.

"I think this is going to hurt a lot of the veteran guys because I think he was becoming a guy who was well-liked in the locker room," special teams captain Keith Burns said.

Sauerbrun hasn't commented on the suspension, but he will appeal it.

"I feel bad for him," kicker Jason Elam said. "We'll have to do the best we can do make up for him, because he is a difference maker."

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan didn't have much comment on the suspension, saying he'll wait until Sauerbrun has his appeal. He did say that the staff talked to the players about the dangers of supplements "quite extensively."

The Broncos players said they would have no problems welcoming back Sauerbrun when his suspension is up. They do need him on their special teams.

Sauerbrun had a 43.8-yard average on punts last year and kicked off. The Broncos had struggled for years in the kicking game, mostly because they didn't have anyone with Sauerbrun's ability to punt or kick off.

While Sauerbrun is out, the Broncos could sign a veteran fill-in. Elam hasn't kicked off in many years and although he can punt in a pinch, he might not be a great option for four weeks. Ernster can punt and kick off, but the Broncos would be taking a chance by using someone with such little experience for a quarter of the season.

PLAYER NOTES

--Second-year player Paul Ernster might benefit from Todd Sauerbrun's upcoming four-game suspension. Ernster was on the active roster at the start of last year as a kickoff specialist but struggled. After being demoted to the practice squad he tore his ACL.

But Ernster tore the ACL in his kicking leg, which is better than his plant leg. He is recovering fine and could be Denver's punter and kickoff specialist while Sauerbrun is out.

--The Broncos went bowling on the last day of minicamp as a reward for a solid offseason. Many of the players knew the way to the lanes because they usually bowl together once a week. This year, they even started a league among themselves.

"It's just guys coming out and building camaraderie and having fun at the bowling alley," special teams captain Keith Burns said.

Receiver Darius Watts is probably the team's best bowler, with an average of about 195 and a high score of 279.

--The Broncos aren't concerned that none of their draft picks were signed two weeks before camp. Many picks are coming in slow because of the discrepancy between the rise in the overall salary cap and the rise in the rookie pool cap.

It is imperative the Broncos get their players in on time, especially quarterback Jay Cutler, a first-round pick who needs as much practice time as he can to learn the system.

--The Broncos signed linebacker T.J. Hollowell, a third-year player who has appeared in six regular-season games in the NFL. Hollowell will compete for a backup spot.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos' main unresolved matter is Ashley Lelie's impending holdout. They are willing to trade Lelie, but won't give him away and nobody has made a strong offer. Lelie would work well as a third receiver with Rod Smith and Javon Walker, but he wants to be a No. 1 receiver and doesn't appear willing to take a lesser role.

If the Broncos trade Lelie, they could acquire some depth at tailback or tight end.



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