Broncos v. Rams Game Snapshot

Which Bell, Tatum or Mike, starts at running back for the Denver Broncos might not be known right up until kickoff, but both figure to get significant carries. Check out our complete preview of the Denver Broncos season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

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Denver Broncos (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0) ================================

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF:
Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/10/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: The Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams have split their 10 meetings. Denver is 2-1 since the Rams moved to St. Louis after the 1994 season. The last meeting was at Denver in 2002 and the Broncos won 23-16. The home team has won the last six contests.
2005 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 5th (2nd rush, 18th pass); defense 15th (2nd rush, 29th pass). Rams: offense 9th (22nd rush, 4th pass); defense 30th (28th rush, 23rd pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 27-21
KEYS TO THE GAME: Which Bell, Tatum or Mike, starts at running back for the Broncos might not be known right up until kickoff, but both figure to get significant carries. The Rams have three new starters in the secondary, including rookie free safety O.J. Atogwe. If Denver has success on the ground, it will set up the play-action pass for QB Jake Plummer to test that secondary with new deep threat WR Javon Walker. The Rams will counter with an increased focus on their own ground game led by RB Steven Jackson, who was underutilized by Mike Martz. New coach Scott Linehan wants to use a strong running game to set up a quick passing attack, and Jackson must have a productive opener because Denver's goal entering the season is to limit its blitzes and rely heavily on a push from the front four.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Coach Mike Shanahan is 8-3 in season openers. ... Have an NFL-best 106-54 (.663) record the past 10 seasons. ... WR Rod Smith needs three receptions to become the 15th player all-time with 800 for his career. Rams: Are 9-2 in their past 11 home openers. ... Linehan will make his head coaching debut. ... QB Marc Bulger is 8-4 against the AFC.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Broncos:

--DE Courtney Brown practiced again on Thursday and the chances of him playing Sunday are looking better. Brown has been out with a knee injury.
--WR Brandon Marshall said he is ready to play this week. Marshall, a rookie, sat out most of the preseason with a knee injury, but he had a good grasp of the offense before suffering the injury.
--QB Jay Cutler had a great preseason, but he won't play unless Jake Plummer gets hurt. Cutler is the quarterback of the future but the Broncos' best chance to win now is with Plummer.
--RB Mike Bell said he doesn't know if he'll start, but at the very least he will get a chance to get plenty of carries. Bell started all four preseason games and was effective most of the time.
--DE Kenard Lang would start if Courtney Brown is out with an injury. Lang had a good preseason. He was very active and could help rush the quarterback.

Rams:
--WR Shaun McDonald will open the season as the punt returner. Said coach Scott Linehan, "I've watched his returns, and maybe it's nothing to write home about as far as his average, but I think his return against Seattle a couple of years ago changed the game. Seeing that, you could see the potential. That's one of those things that you can't go out there and do part-time; it's got to be your role. He accepted that from the very beginning. We talked about that right after I got the job and he said that he wanted to do it. It's like blocking as a receiver. It's 10 percent technique, 90 percent desire. I think that's part of this return thing. I think he embraced that, like I've said. I think it'll be much better for him because he knows that it's something that's expected."
--WR Kevin Curtis could be used on kickoff returns if recently-signed J.R. Reed struggles in his fiorst regular-season game since the 2004 season.
--DE Anthony Hargrove was able to practice with contact Thursday after taking off the red shirt (no contract) he wore the day before. Hargrove has an incision on his elbow from having an infection drained.
--LB Jamal Brooks practiced well after having his leg drained because of an infection.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Broncos:
Jake Plummer had a career year in 2005, and he wants to improve on it this year.

Plummer had only seven interceptions and led the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game. But he diligently worked in the off-season to stay on top of his game because he knows a repeat isn't guaranteed.

"Obviously it's not just going to happen because it happened last year," Plummer said. Plummer and the coaches reviewed his good and bad plays from last season. As expected, they saw a quarterback who was under control and made the offense run smoothly.

But Plummer has a few areas he wants to improve. The offense as a whole has to get better in third-down efficiency and in the red zone. He also envisioned making more big plays, something that will be helped by the addition of Javon Walker in the off-season.

"We didn't have a lot of big, big plays last year for touchdowns," Plummer said. "We'd like to pick it up there, which scores more points. It doesn't give our defense a rest, but it scores more points."

Plummer said he felt good about the Broncos this season. They retained most of their roster in hopes of taking the next step to the Super Bowl.

"We have pretty much the same guys coming back and a few improvements," Plummer said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't get into the playoffs and see what happens."

Rams:
As a rookie in 2004, J.R. Reed averaged 23.1 yards on kickoff returns for the Philadelphia Eagles and was in the Super Bowl. A few days later, his world was turned literally upside down when he tried to jump a fence, got caught and fell backward, impaling his left foot on spikes that were protruding from the wrought-iron fence.

There was significant nerve damage, and doctors told Reed he would never play football again.

"It was the worst year of my life," Reed said. "I got hurt three days after the Super Bowl. I was on top of the world, then I went into depression. I thought I was done, I went back to school and got my degree then I had to work my way back up. Everybody told me I couldn't do it, so I couldn't take no for an answer.

"They said I would never play again, that I was done. At first, I believed them."

While Reed has talked about what happened, he has never told the media why he tried to jump the chest-high fence. When he was short of clearing the fence, Reed said he moved backward because he was concerned falling forward might hurt his knee.

But when he moved back, the spike caught behind his knee, and he was hanging upside down, unable to touch the ground. Finally, the magnet on the gate broke, and Reed tried to push up to get the spike out, but it just went in deeper. He finally was able to get off the fence, but there was no feeling in his foot.

"I tried to run and I just fell because my foot wasn't working," Reed said. "I didn't know it wouldn't work, I just tried to run and just fell."

As for what he was doing, Reed would only say, "Nobody knows the story. I don't tell the story (to the media). I was just jumping the fence and I didn't make it. It was a pool-sized fence. It was about chest high. Everybody has different (theories). Some people have dogs, some people have me running from the cops, some people have all kinds of crazy stuff."

What was crazy was that his peroneal nerve was severely damaged. The nerve does regenerate, but it's not a quick process.

"It regenerates, but it's not fast enough for me," Reed said. "I have to work. I have to pay the bills, so I had to find another way. I wasn't going to sit on the sidelines and wait for it to come back."

Reed found Dr. Tom Graham in Baltimore, and he worked on a brace for the foot that allows him to life the foot and run.

"He was kind of the pioneer of it," Reed said. "He's the only one that has done it. They gave me a walking brace like they give to old people and I took that and said, 'We have to work this out; we have to do something.' I found a way. We made it out of a better material and then we cut it so it's nothing like any other brace. I kept saying, 'I need this, I need this.' I am personal friends with him now. I pretty much go back there whenever I need to get tweaked."

After a long rehabilitation, Reed said, "It wasn't until two weeks before minicamps this year that I told (the Eagles), 'Hey, give me a shot. I've got a brace, and you won't even notice that I'm hurt.' (Coach) Andy Reid gave me a chance to show what I could do."

In the preseason, he averaged 21.9 yards on kickoff returns, but was cut when rosters were trimmed to 53 players.

"They said I looked good," Reed said. "So I went through the training camp, I was back, and now I'm here (St. Louis)."

The Rams moved quickly to sign Reed, as they seek someone to provide a spark on kickoff returns.

As coach Scott Linehan said, "He's certainly got every reason in the world not to be able to pass a physical, but there's something about his will and desire and want-to that impressed all of us. I know it was a tough cut for Philly and I think it's to our advantage.

"He's certainly got it inside of him to overcome any questions."

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