The Broncos were criticized for not trying harder to re-sign Elam, the team's all-time leading scorer, this past offseason. Among the critics were cornerback Champ Bailey, who openly wondered if the Broncos were making the right move.
Behind the scenes, Elam was helping Matt Prater. The two will kick on opposite sides on Sunday in Atlanta, but were teammates for the last two games last year.
When Prater was signed, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said it wasn't because of Elam's upcoming free agency. Elam said he realized Prater wasn't just signed as a kickoff specialist, but the Broncos were making plans in case he left.
Elam did what he could to help Prater, teaching him nuances of kicking in the NFL, understanding he might be his replacement.
"I feel like kicking is just kind of something that I do," Elam said. "It doesn't consume me. It's not like I wish ill will on anybody. The other thing is, I have a real appreciation for how good he is."
Prater had the talent to become a successful kicker in the NFL, but getting tips from Elam didn't hurt. Prater was under a lot of pressure to replace Elam, so it meant something when Elam called him after signing with Atlanta and wished him luck.
"A guy like Jason, a Hall of Fame kicker, saying that 'You've got a lot of potential, a lot of talent,' means a lot," Prater said. "Coming from a guy that obviously knows what he's doing, what he's talking about, means a lot to me."
Prater has turned in a season not many expected from him. He was 1-for-4 for his career going into the season, but is 16 of 19 this year. He has been at his best at long range, which wasn't one of Elam's strengths late in his Broncos career. Prater has made all five attempts from 50 or more yards.
Elam has no bad feelings toward the Broncos. He said he was pleased that all of his relationships with coaches, teammates and the front office were intact during the amicable breakup. Although the Broncos didn't increase their offer in a last-minute attempt to re-sign him, Elam said he understood that was the business.
"I couldn't be the kicker for the Broncos forever," Elam said. "This was bound to happen sooner or later. I couldn't think of a better guy, a more talented guy, to come in and take a shot at it. He's done a great job."
--The Broncos needed help at tailback, and decided to give Tatum Bell another chance. Bell, a 2004 second-round pick of the Broncos, was out of football since being cut by the Lions and being accused of taking running back Rudi Johnson's bags.
Bell said he worried that accusation -- which he claims was a misunderstanding -- might have kept him out of the NFL.
"I wasn't getting any interest, any calls -- I think it was because of that," Bell said. "I'm going to leave Detroit in Detroit and move on."
--There are 45 tackles in the NFL that have started all nine games for their respective teams this season. Four have not given up a full sack this season, and two are first-year starters with the Broncos.
Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris have each given up only a half of a sack, according to STATS, Inc. Indianapolis' Charlie Johnson and Tennessee's Michael Roos are the only tackles to have given up no sacks.
Harris and Clady have a challenge this week. Each will spend some time against Atlanta's John Abraham, who lines up at different places along the line and is tied for second in the NFL with 11 sacks.
--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan likes playing on Thursday night, because he views it as a second bye week for his team. Denver got three extra days of rest and recovery after winning last Thursday at Cleveland.
"It was very helpful for us because we were banged up a little bit," Shanahan said. "To get that extra day of practice and get a few more days of recovery time really helps."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2-0 -- The Broncos are 2-0 against the NFC this season, and have won three straight games against the NFC dating back to last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm blessed. I'm grateful." -- Broncos RB Tatum Bell, on getting signed by the Broncos after being out of football for two months.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Signing Tatum Bell, who was out of football for two months after being released by the Lions, doesn't immediately solve Denver's problems at tailback. The Broncos have four tailbacks on injured reserve and a fifth, Selvin Young, will probably miss this week's game with a groin injury.
Bell knows the offense but will take some time to get back in football shape. He can probably contribute some right away but it would be tough to ask him to carry a full load. Most likely, Bell will spell Peyton Hillis at tailback.
--RB Peyton Hillis thinks as he gets more practice repetitions at tailback, he'll improve at the position. He was recruited out of high school as a tailback before settling in as a fullback at Arkansas, so he has a little bit of experience at the position. He should get first crack at the tailback job, which is wide open because of injuries.
--CB Josh Bell has done well as Denver's nickel cornerback the past couple of games. Bell is a rookie who was on the practice squad, but was promoted right to the nickel spot when he was signed to the active roster.
--LB Jamie Winborn is having a solid season for the Broncos and is coming off a 12-tackle game against Cleveland. He will be a starter the rest of the year if he stays healthy, and should have a chance to put up good tackle numbers the rest of the way.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban leads the Broncos with four sacks. His comeback from an Achilles tendon injury last season has been great for the Broncos defense, which not only needed his contributions on the field, but his leadership off of it.
--RB Alex Haynes could be looked at as more of a fullback than tailback with Tatum Bell in the mix. Haynes can play both. The Broncos said they would look at him as a tailback, but with normal fullback Peyton Hillis expected to play tailback they need some fullback depth as well.
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