Broncos Update Insider - 2/14/09

The Denver Broncos made some headway in clearing up their running backs situation by releasing three a couple weeks before the free agency period begins.

Alex Haynes, Anthony Alridge and P.J. Pope were let go by the Broncos. Haynes was signed very late in the year strictly because injuries ravaged Denver at tailback, but Alridge and Pope had shown some signs of being able to contribute in the NFL.

Alridge, a fast but small, undrafted rookie, had 110 yards in Denver's preseason finale at Arizona. He tore a ligament in his foot and was placed on injured reserve. He could have been a change-of-pace back prospect, but the Broncos decided not to bring him back.

Pope looked good when he started in Denver's second-to-last game, getting 42 yards on five carries in the Broncos' first drive against Buffalo. But he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury on his next carry and is now out of Denver's plans as well.

Alridge and Pope had impressed under the old Broncos coaching regime, which didn't help them going forward. The Broncos fired Mike Shanahan and hired Josh McDaniels this offseason.

Running backs coach Bobby Turner is one of the few holdovers on the staff, but the Broncos' tailback situation is still very unpredictable. They had seven tailbacks suffer season-ending injuries, and none are the clear-cut favorite to be a workhorse in 2009.

Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis, two rookies from last year, appear to have a shot at getting significant playing time if healthy. Torain will be returning from a torn ACL and Hillis suffered a season-ending hamstring injury late in the year.

Michael Pittman is a free agent that wants to return, and Selvin Young is another back coming off a season-ending injury. Denver could also choose to invest a high draft pick at tailback, something that was rarely done in Denver under Shanahan, or sign a free agent.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Broncos ownert Pat Bowlen on Thursday announced the appointment of Brian Xanders as general manager.

Bowlen said, "In evaluating the work of our football operations department over the past several weeks, it has become clear to me that Brian Xanders is the right person to step into our general manager's job. I am confident he will work in tandem with Head Coach Josh McDaniels to re-establish our football team at the level we desire."

Bowlen also announced that both Jim Goodman and Jeff Goodman have been dismissed from the organization. Jim Goodman had been vice president of football operations and Jeff Goodman had been assistant general manager, sharing that post with Xanders.

Xanders said, "This appointment comes with unfortunate circumstances as I have enjoyed working with Jim and Jeff over the last year. Nevertheless, I am humbled by this opportunity and accept it as a great challenge on behalf of our fans, our community, Mr. Bowlen and the organization. I am excited to work together with coach McDaniels and put our collective resources into winning football games."

McDaniels said, "I want to thank Jim and Jeff for their contributions to the Denver Broncos. I'm excited for Brian and look forward to working with him hand-in-hand well into the future."

--The Broncos released tight end Chad Mustard, who was always on call for the old coaching staff. Mustard was needed when tight end Nate Jackson was lost for the season with a hamstring injury. He is a solid blocker who knew the old playbook well.

--Receiver Cliff Russell was released by Denver. Russell had a good preseason but suffered a scary neck injury playing special teams, and that injury ended his season. Russell just turned 30.

--Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler made his first career Pro Bowl appearance. He had a chance to rally the AFC late in the game but threw four straight incompletions with his team trailing. Overall Cutler was 7-of-15 for 48 yards and an interception.

--WR Brandon Marshall caught five passes for 44 yards at his first Pro Bowl. He was a starter for the AFC opposite Andre Johnson after posting a second straight 100-catch season. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want this team to be tough, smart and prepared to play well under pressure." -- Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos know their top priority in the offseason is fixing the defense, but how to do that - while also making some improvements to an already-good offense - is the challenge. The Broncos weren't willing to spend a lot of money in free agency last year and might avoid handing out any huge contracts again.

If the Broncos don't try to sign one of the top free agents on the board, they will have to fix the defense through a few shrewd signings on defense and improve heavily via the draft. Denver also has a few areas on offense, including running back and depth on the defensive line and at receiver, that could be addressed.

TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY

The Broncos don't have many of their own free agents that will be a high priority to re-sign. The team took care of its biggest potential issue, re-signing linebacker D.J. Williams, when they got him to agree to a new deal before the 2008 season started.

Denver has a few veterans to make decisions on, most notably cornerback Dre Bly, but should be in good shape heading into free agency. The team will then work to start rebuilding its downtrodden defense.

TOP THREE TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive line: There is a lot of room for improvement along the defensive line. If the Broncos go to a 3-4 this season, there will be an emphasis on finding pieces that fit that system. Denver could use multiple picks on linemen.

2. Safety: Denver's safeties might have been the worst in the NFL last year. There was constant change trying to find two reliable starters. The position needs to be overhauled in the offseason, although 2008 draft pick Josh Barrett played decently late in the season when given the chance.

3. Linebacker: The Broncos have some decent players here but could use a true middle or inside linebacker. They'll also have to figure out where to play D.J. Williams, but that could depend on who else is acquired in the offseason.

MEDICAL WATCH: RB Ryan Torain tore his ACL in November, although the team figures he will be healthy before training camp.

--RB Peyton Hillis finished last season with a torn hamstring, but should be fully healed before the offseason conditioning program.

--LB Boss Bailey finished 2008 on injured reserve after having microfracture surgery on his knee. Microfracture surgery is difficult to bounce back from, so Bailey's progress this offseason is worth monitoring.

--TE Nate Jackson tore his hamstring late in the season. He should be healthy for the offseason workouts. --RB Michael Pittman's season ended with a neck injury, but before the season ended the free agent-to-be said he felt 100 percent.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Tatum Bell finished the season with a good game against San Diego, but with a lot of tailbacks on the roster he is no sure bet to return.

--DE Ebenezer Ekuban played well in 2008 but it remains to be seen how he fits into the new staff's plans.

--WR Darrell Jackson didn't contribute much in 2008 and appears unlikely to return.

--S Marlon McCree didn't play in the final eight games of the season, remaining inactive even after recovering from a high ankle sprain. He doesn't appear to be in Denver's plans.

--C Tom Nalen is likely on his way to retirement after sitting out 2008 with a knee injury.

--CB Karl Paymah was demoted a couple of times during the season and will likely hit the open market.

--DT Kenny Peterson provided some depth along the line for the Broncos, although the Broncos will try to upgrade their line.

--RB Michael Pittman played pretty well before a neck injury sidelined him, but he said he feels good and wants to play in Denver again. The new coaching staff will make a decision whether to bring him back.

--TE Jeb Putzier.

--QB Patrick Ramsey is a solid backup for Jay Cutler and despite finishing on injured reserve with an arm injury last year, could be re-signed.

--WR Edell Shepherd was out all last year with a knee injury.

--LB Nate Webster started last year and played well at times. The new staff will have to decide how he fits in their defense.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--OT Erik Pears finished the season on physically unable to perform because of an appendectomy. He has experience at both tackle spots and could provide depth.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--RB Andre Hall has played well at times and should get a shot to make the team in training camp.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--OG Matt McChesney: FA Dolphins; terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST

--RB Anthony Alridge (released).
--RB Alex Haynes (released).
--TE Chad Mustard (released).
--RB P.J. Pope (released).
--WR Cliff Russell (released/failed physical).
--DT Josh Shaw (released).


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