Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Broncos II

Our Scout.com experts, Michael John Schon of BroncosUpdate.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Broncos and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Let's wrap up this two-part series with six questions from Lombardo to Schon.

Michael Lombardo: Now that Denver is eliminated from the playoff picture, do you see Mike Shanahan changing up his rotation? Who are some young players that might see more playing time with an eye towards next season?

Michael John Schon: I'd be surprised if Shanahan made any changes in the rotation based on the fact they've been eliminated. At this stage, it's matter of everyone playing for their jobs, so unless it's a legitimate injury, nobody gets the luxury of sitting this one out.

As far as some of the younger players, tight end Tony Scheffler will get the starting nod over injured first stringer Daniel Graham. As disappointing as Graham has been this year, Scheffler is definitely under the microscope and may be a top candidate to move up next season.

Safety Hamza Abdullah is another name that may make some waves over the final two games. Abdullah moved into the starting lineup last month and with Nick Ferguson headed to the injured-reserve list, Abdullah has a golden opportunity to prove himself on a national stage.

ML: How much progress have you seen from Jay Cutler this season? Do you think he will be ready to lead the Broncos back to the postseason next year?

MJS: Cutler has shown a tremendous amount of progress to this point, but on the flip side he's made some typical first-year mistakes as well. He's got the talent and potential to develop into one of the league's best. If Denver can find a way to shore up its defensive line, special teams and maybe even toss in a new coach or two, Cutler may get a crack at the postseason -- but that's a huge if.

ML: How will the Broncos split carries between Travis Henry and Selvin Young? Is Henry in the team's plans beyond this season?

MJS: Look for Young and Henry to get a pretty even split when it comes to carries Monday night. Young is still in the audition stage and Shanahan may be weighing out the possibility of making him the premier back in 2008, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him to get showcased on a national stage.

As far as Henry's plan for the future, I think the jury is still out. He beat the marijuana rap in court, but he's obviously got some issues after fathering nine children with nine different women. Since the Maurice Clarrett fiasco, Shanahan has tightened the reigns on questionable characters and Henry is walking on some pretty thin ice. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out over the offseason.

ML: The Chargers ran all over the Broncos in week five, piling up 214 yards on the ground. What, if anything, has changed with Denver's run defense between then and now? What will they do to slow down a red-hot LaDainian Tomlinson?

MJS: Considering the fact that the Broncos have made absolutely no progress whatsoever shoring up their run coverage since the week-five blowout, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see LT & Co. bust loose for 300-plus yards in this game. This is the Broncos single biggest weakness and it's a no-brainer that a team as strong as the Chargers will try and take full advantage.

The only hope to slow down Tomlinson might be the fact that Sand Diego has clinched it and Turner will more than likely limit his carries as the game goes on. Denver simply doesn't have the manpower to limit LT on their own right now.

ML: What is the status on Denvers special teams? Is that a phase of the game the Broncos can hope to win? Is this the last time the Chargers will have to worry about seeing Jason Elam in a Denver uniform?

MJS: Even though Elam is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season, I wouldn't bank on the fifteen-year veteran heading out anytime soon. Right now, he's the only consistent player the Broncos have on the roster and Shanahan would be crazy to even consider letting him walk. I expect an agreement within the next month.

Other than Elam, it's a flip of the coin when it comes to the special teams -- at times they've looked pretty solid and at other times they've looked completely inept. Punter Todd Sauerbrun got the ax on Tuesday after getting into it with a cab driver in downtown Denver and the team brought back Paul Ernster to fill the gap. You might remember Ernster from last year's highlight reel when he ran out on the field for a last-second punt and forgot he wasn't wearing his helmet. I'd say that pretty much sums it up for the Broncos' special teams.

ML: Which under-the-radar player will be an X-factor in Sunday's game?

MJS: Believe it or not, running back Andre Hall may be a name to watch out for. Although he's spent nearly half of the season on the inactive list, when he has played he has found success. In the eight games he's played in, he's rushed for 206 yards on 41 carries (5-yard average), had two touchdowns (including a 62-yarder), and racked up 327 yards on 13 kickoff returns (25.2-yard average). If Hall can shorten the field in the return game, it might at least give Cutler a fighting chance to keep it close.

Michael John Schon has covered the National Football League and the Denver Broncos for the past ten years. As a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he has published and syndicated columns to both newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and Canada. His syndicated radio broadcast: "Schon Live," airs weekly on various radio stations around the country.


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