Looking to the future

The Denver Broncos don't feel they're far away from being where they were in 2005, which is AFC West champs and in the conference title game, especially with talented quarterback Jay Cutler having some experience under his belt. There are some questions, such as if they will invest a high draft pick or free agent dollars on a tailback or another offensive playmaker.

The Denver Broncos don't feel they're far away from being where they were in 2005, which is AFC West champs and in the conference title game, especially with talented quarterback Jay Cutler having some experience under his belt. There are some questions, such as if they will invest a high draft pick or free agent dollars on a tailback or another offensive playmaker, but overall the nucleus of the team is set. Only two starters are free agents.

COACHING CAROUSEL: Mike Shanahan is not in danger of losing his job, even though the Broncos started 7-2 and didn't make the playoffs. Owner Pat Bowlen has always responded to criticism of Shanahan by saying he can be the Broncos' coach as long as he likes.

There could be a shakeup on special teams, which struggled all year and was led by Ronnie Bradford. Broncos tight ends coach Tim Brewster has been linked to a couple of college head coaching jobs and could eventually be lured away.

FREE AGENT UPDATE: The Broncos only have a couple of key free agents. Starting guard Cooper Carlisle is one, but the Broncos have young guards Chris Myers and Chris Kuper behind him if he goes elsewhere. Starting defensive tackle Michael Myers, who has played well as a plugger the last two seasons, is also unrestricted. Backups like end Patrick Chukwurah and linebacker Keith Burns are also up for free agency.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Broncos will have the 21st pick in the first round, and plenty of needs. They will take the best player available at that spot. Denver would probably be thrilled if a top-flight defensive lineman fell, but that's not usually the case. Running back, offensive line and defensive back are a few other top needs.

TEAM NEEDS Defensive line: The Broncos would like to add a superior pass rusher on the line, although almost every team has that same desire. Denver's pass rush with the front four was good in some games but disappeared in others. Offensive line: The Broncos had problems after left tackle Matt Lepsis went down with an injury. Erik Pears, his replacement, should be better off because of the experience, but the Broncos would still like to bolster the line. Center Tom Nalen is aging, although effective. The Broncos like smaller, athletic linemen, so they can usually wait until the middle rounds for that position.

Defensive back: Safety was a problem for the Broncos late in the year, after Nick Ferguson and Sam Brandon went down with injuries. John Lynch is still playing well, but he is 35. And although the Broncos are still dealing with enormous grief over the tragic death of cornerback Darrent Williams, football-wise his death will affect the team. MEDICAL WATCH: S Nick Ferguson should be back to 100 percent by the time the team starts its offseason workouts. He had knee surgery in November and his timetable for recovery was about the end of the playoffs.

--OT Matt Lepsis should be fine for next season. He tore his ACL, but should be able to recover and return to play at his usual high level.

--S Sam Brandon tore his ACL in November. He is a key backup, and the Broncos will probably take it slow with him as he returns.

--DE Courtney Brown, who missed the season because of knee surgery, is a major question mark. He has had physical problems his entire career, and it's uncertain if he can return and be effective.



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