Broncos Update Insider - 5/23

An area of focus for the Denver Broncos entering the 2009 season is special teams. That improvement became an immediate priority for the new coaching staff.

Denver's special teams consistently ranked low under Mike Shanahan. New coach Josh McDaniels didn't want that to be a weakness that hdld back his first team.

"We have so much room to improve on special teams," McDaniels said. "We were 32nd in the league in field position, so anybody that can help us on a kicking unit, I'd love to have them in a Bronco uniform."

One of McDaniels' first moves, and one of the most curious, was signing former Patriots long-snapper Lonie Paxton early in free agency. The Broncos had Mike Leach, one of the most consistent long-snappers in the game, but Leach was cut after Paxton signed.

Even if the move seemed unnecessary, it showed Denver wanted players who could improve the special teams. They got some help on special teams in the draft as well.

Cornerback Alphonso Smith can return kicks and played special teams in college at Wake Forest. Notre Dame safety David Bruton was selected in the fourth round, and was the second free safety Denver took in the draft, but they mainly took him because of his special-teams ability.

Bruton played all of the special teams at Notre Dame before he became a starter, and was a standout in all areas, which should help the Broncos right away.

"He's one of the finest special teams players in the draft, period," McDaniels said.

The Broncos will likely have kicker Matt Prater and punter Brett Kern return to those duties for a second season. Denver has options in the return game, with Eddie Royal returning after a good year returning punts and kickoffs, and free agent signee J.J. Arrington capable of helping out on kickoff returns.

--It might take a while for the Broncos to figure out their best mix of players at the linebacker position.

The position became more vital when Denver introduced a new 3-4 defense. There are options for most positions, although the Broncos could end up with a few players learning new positions as they transfer away from the more familiar 4-3.

The Broncos' strength will be in the middle, where D.J. Williams will play weak-side inside linebacker. Veteran Andra Davis is the likely starter on the strong side and has experience in a similar scheme. Second-year players Wesley Woodyard and Spencer Larsen have also played inside during recent minicamps.

Outside linebacker is a bigger piece of the puzzle, and perhaps a greater mystery, for the Broncos. During initial minicamp sessions, Darrell Reid, a converted defensive lineman, and Elvis Dumervil, a 4-3 end and pass-rushing demon his entire career, lined up at the outside positions. Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss, two highly-drafted ends in 2007, also played outside linebacker.

The transition won't be easy for the former linemen. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said the team will use the players' strengths in the best way possible. That probably means a player like Dumervil will rush the quarterback more often than he drops in coverage, but he will also have to learn how to play passing lanes in coverage.

Boss Bailey is a wild card because he is an athletic, versatile linebacker who has played the outside most of his career, but he's recovering from a major injury. He had season-ending microfracture knee surgery last year and has a history of knee problems. If he comes back healthy, he should factor in the mix at outside linebacker.

Another possibility is rookie first-round pick Robert Ayers. Ayers will play both end and outside linebacker, although it appears his first priority is learning end, a major need position for the Broncos. He could end up at outside linebacker in certain situations and has the athletic ability to play there regularly.

Denver's linebackers will be under plenty of pressure this season. The Broncos are still rebuilding the line, so the linebackers should make a lot of tackles for a defense that is trying to improve from its ranking of 29th overall last season.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Broncos have already held two minicamps, and will have another passing camp in May. Their mandatory minicamp will come in early June. The Broncos will start training camp in the last week of July. They train at their own headquarters near Denver.

--The Broncos aren't among the teams that have gotten an early jump on signing any draft picks. None of their picks were signed in the few weeks after the draft. Denver has two first-round picks for the first time in history, which will be a unique challenge for the front office in getting all their picks into camp on time.

--Broncos coach Josh McDaniels has said he and general manager Brian Xanders will continue to explore all opportunities to improve the team. Most likely, the team will keep an eye on defensive linemen who are cut or can be acquired cheaply in a trade. In the draft, Denver used only one pick for help on the defensive line, which remains a need for the team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just trying to execute whatever package we're in. Just try to get myself in good shape and condition and be mentally ready as well." -- Elvis Dumervil on switching from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker this season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Tatum Bell.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban.
--WR Darrell Jackson.
--S Marlon McCree.
--C Tom Nalen.
--RB Michael Pittman.
--WR Edell Shepherd.
--LB Nate Webster.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)
--RB Andre Hall (not tendered as ERFA) has played well at times and should get a shot to make the team in training camp.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--DL Kenny Peterson: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Jeb Putzier: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--RB J.J. Arrington: UFA Cardinals; $10M/4 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--RB Correll Buckhalter: UFA Eagles; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Andra Davis: UFA Browns; $5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--S Brian Dawkins: UFA Eagles; $17M/5 yrs, $7.5M guaranteed; can void to $9.5M/2 yrs.
--DT Ronald Fields: UFA 49ers; $5M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
--WR Jabar Gaffney: UFA Patriots; $10M/4 yrs, $3M guaranteed.
--CB Andre' Goodman: UFA Dolphins; $25M/5 yrs, $10M guaranteed.
--OT Brandon Gorin: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
--LB Nick Greisen: FA Ravens; terms unknown.
--S Renaldo Hill: UFA Dolphins; $10M/4 yrs, $3M guaranteed.
--P Dirk Johnson: FA Redskins; terms unknown.
--RB LaMont Jordan: UFA Patriots; $2.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--OG Matt McChesney: FA Dolphins; terms unknown.
--QB Kyle Orton (trade Bears).
--DT J'Vonne Parker: Not tendered as ERFA by Panthers; terms unknown.
--LS Lonie Paxton: UFA Patriots; $5.38M/5 yrs, $1M SB.
--DT Darrell Reid: UFA Colts; $6.8M/3 yrs, SB unknown.
--QB Chris Simms: UFA Titans; $6M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB; 2009 cap: $2.71M.
--RB Darius Walker: FA; terms unknown.
--OG Scott Young: UFA Browns; terms unknown (subsequently retired).

PLAYERS LOST
--RB Anthony Alridge (released).
--TE Adam Bergen (released).
--CB Dre' Bly (released).
--QB Jay Cutler (traded Bears).
--DE John Engelberger (released).
--QB Darrell Hackney (released).
--RB Alex Haynes (released).
--TE Nate Jackson (released).
--LB Niko Koutouvides (released).
--LS Mike Leach (released).
--S Marquand Manuel (released).
--TE Chad Mustard (released).
--CB Karl Paymah: UFA Vikings; $1.55M/1 yr.
--OT Erik Pears: Not tendered as RFA/Raiders; terms unknown.
--FB Andrew Pinnock (released).
--RB P.J. Pope (released).
--QB Patrick Ramsey: UFA Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Dewayne Robertson (released).
--WR Cliff Russell (released/failed physical).
--DT Josh Shaw (released).
--LB Jamie Winborn (released).
--RB Selvin Young (released/failed physical).





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