Broncos Update Insider - 12/13

For years the Denver Broncos have figured they can find a tailback to fit their system, plug him in and have success, but this might be the extreme test.

When Peyton Hillis suffered a season-ending hamstring injury last week, the Broncos found themselves down to their seventh option at tailback for Sunday's game at Carolina. Five tailbacks are on injured reserve and a sixth, Selvin Young, has only one carry since injuring his groin eight weeks ago.

Still, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan seemed unfazed.

"We'll still be all right," Shanahan said.

Right now the Broncos have four tailbacks on the roster. Tatum Bell has the most experience, was Hillis' primary backup and played the entire second half after Hillis was injured against Kansas City. Bell did have a 1,000-yard season for the Broncos in 2006, but he also spent two months out of football this season.

Bell did have 52 yards against the Chiefs, although 28 came on one fourth-down carry. Shanahan said Bell has done well in his opportunities.

"I'm ready," Bell said. "They've been getting me ready in case this situation happened. When they need me, I'm ready for it."

Bell is very unlikely to take a large majority of the carries, even if he is the starter. The Broncos split up carries between Young, Andre Hall and Michael Pittman early in the season, usually with nobody getting many more than 10 carries, and they could employ a similar approach with their remaining backs.

Young did start the first five games of this season, but has been largely forgotten about during his injury. Shanahan said he was close to playing last week. Young could need some time to get back into football shape after missing more than two months.

P.J. Pope and Cory Boyd have four career carries between them, all by Pope. But Hillis had three carries before being pressed into service as a tailback and he was successful before his injury, so nobody can be ruled out.

Pope did have 35 yards on those four carries against Atlanta, but didn't have a carry in the three games that followed. Boyd was added from the practice squad, and Shanahan said the team liked him coming out of college. His biggest challenge is learning the offense. He was signed to the practice squad in early November so he hasn't been with the Broncos long.

Shanahan thinks the remaining backs have talent, which is a credit to the front office. "For us to feel good about our tailbacks and where we are at with six backs being down and this being our seventh guy, really says a lot about what we have been doing in the personnel department," Shanahan said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has expressed a desire to make the AFC's Pro Bowl team, and his latest performance probably helped his cause. Marshall had 11 catches and a pair of touchdowns against Kansas City.

"That was big for him," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "As a team we can function whether he has 10 catches or two catches, but this will help him a lot. He looked good today and had a good attitude."

Marshall hasn't had a lot of big games since early in the season, but his overall numbers are good. Marshall has 83 receptions for 1,033 yards and six touchdowns.

--Cory Boyd says he's ready if ready if needed. The rookie tailback was brought up from the practice squad to the active roster after Peyton Hillis suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. He was signed to the Broncos' practice squad in early November and said he is getting to understand the offense.

"I feel much more confident as days go on and practices go on," Boyd said.

--The Broncos re-signed tight end Jeb Putzier, who was with the Broncos from 2002-05. He had 572 yards receiving in 2004 and had 37 catches in 2005, so the Broncos know he can make plays if he's needed.

"Jeb can make plays and obviously with Nate being out and having some guys banged up, we thought we needed some more depth at the tight end position," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. The Broncos released safety Herana-Daze Jones and signed running back Steve Baylark to the practice squad.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- NFL teams that have never beaten the Broncos. The Arizona Cardinals are 0-7-1 against Denver, Carolina is 0-2. The Broncos play at Carolina on Sunday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been up and down, but the guys stuck together and we won some tough games and we battled through it." -- QB Jay Cutler.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Champ Bailey could return from a groin injury this week, but he hasn't played since Oct. 20 and it would be a lot to ask him to match up with Panther WR Steve Smith even if he does play. The Broncos would likely use Dre' Bly on Smith for most of the game.

"As a competitor you have to thrive in situations like that and look forward to it," Bly said. "If you don't, you won't last in this league."

Bly has played some of his best games with Denver since Bailey has been out. In the six games the Broncos have played without Bailey, they are 4-2 and have allowed 18 fewer passing yards per game.

"He's playing physical, playing the run game better than he has and doing very well in his coverage, so we're very pleased with how he stepped up," Broncos defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said.

--The Broncos released safety Calvin Lowry, who started three games this season, in part because of rookie safety Josh Barrett's emergence. Barrett gives the Broncos some flexibility in their defensive packages. Against the Jets, Barrett was roving behind the line for most of the game. He has the size to play a linebacker type role in any "big nickel" type of defensive package.

Barrett can also cover physical tight ends. He did well against Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez last week. Barrett is big and runs well for his size. He is inexperienced -- he was signed off the practice squad three weeks ago -- but he has the physical ability to be a playmaker.

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Jarvis Moss has gone five games without a sack since getting a pair against Miami. He plays a lot in passing situations and if he could get hot late in the season, it would help Denver's pass defense.

--C Casey Wiegmann has been a savior for the Broncos' line. He was signed in the offseason and became very valuable when the Broncos lost Tom Nalen for the season because of knee problems. The durable Wiegmann hasn't missed a snap since the start of the 2001 season.

--TE Daniel Graham continues to play well in the passing game. He has nine catches in his last two games and his confidence appears to be growing. He already has as many catches as he did last season and more yards and touchdowns.

--WR Darrell Jackson hasn't had a big role this season but had a pair of catches in Denver's last game. If Brandon Stokley misses Sunday's game or is limited, Jackson's playing time will increase.

--G Pat Murray was signed off of Seattle's practice squad. Murray was out of football last season after being cut by the Packers before the start of the regular season.



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