Scouting: Denver Broncos

JagNation takes another angle of looking at the Denver Broncos

COACHING: Mike Shanahan, 15th year, 13th with Broncos (131-81, 123-69 with Broncos).

REMEMBERING: 2006 record: 9-7; missed playoffs.

PREDICTING: 2007 regular season record 10-6 (2nd in AFC West); lose in AFC wild-card playoff.

CURRENT RECORD: 2-0, last week 23-20 overtime victory over Oakland.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Defensive end Elvis Dumervil had 8.5 sacks last year, and the Broncos know he will be an effective pass rusher. They are apparently going to let Dumervil prove he can be an every-down player. Although Dumervil is short and stocky -- one of the reasons he slipped in the draft -- the Broncos have seen progress from him this preseason.

"Elvis can do some things and help us on first and second down," defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. "He doesn't have to be a specialist. He's a good football player that can do some things."

--The Broncos played only one preseason game with their preferred top three receivers -- Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley. Marshall and Stokley each had injuries that caused them to miss time in training camp and preseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler said he wasn't too worried about the lack of time with those three.

"A lot of them have been in and out," Cutler said. "We did a lot of stuff this summer though. So I have a good feel for them."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm pleased with the way he has handled himself, they way he has played." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, on QB Jay Cutler.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER TO WATCH: DT Amon Gordon -- Gordon was waived by Cleveland after the 2005 season, then spent last year on the Broncos practice squad and had knee problems. Basically forgotten, he earned a starting job during the preseason. The Broncos promoted him when they decided to trade tackle Gerard Warren, and Gordon played very well with the first-team defense.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Round 1/17, DE Jarvis Moss, Florida -- Moss will play right away on passing downs. Because of a season-ending injury to Ebenezer Ekuban, Moss might have to play some on first and second down as well.

Rd. 2/56, DE Tim Crowder, Texas -- Crowder was impressive in the first few weeks of camp. He picked up the defense quickly and played like a veteran. An ankle injury slowed his progress some, but he will still be heavily involved in the defensive line rotation this year.

Rd. 3/70, OT Ryan Harris, Notre Dame -- Harris had back surgery and will miss the first few weeks of the season. The Broncos weren't heavily relying on Harris as a rookie, but he could provide depth late in the season.

Rd. 4/121, DT Marcus Thomas, Florida -- Thomas looked rusty at times but made some plays. He didn't play much last year after being kicked off Florida's team. He could be a part of the defensive line rotation as a rookie.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jay Cutler. Backup -- Patrick Ramsey.

Cutler had some rough moments in the preseason but generally played well. He should have some big games in his second year, but could also struggle in a few. He has only five NFL games under his belt. However, the Broncos love his talent and demeanor. Ramsey is a solid backup. He picked up the offense quickly and probably would be a capable fill-in if Cutler misses any time.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Travis Henry, FB Kyle Johnson. Backups -- RB Cecil Sapp, RB Mike Bell, RB Selvin Young, FB Paul Smith.

Travis Henry is currently leading the NFL in rushing. Sapp and Bell were fighting for the backup position behind Henry, and Sapp will probably enter the season in that role. Sapp played well, and Bell missed some time with a hip injury. Young, an undrafted rookie, performed well in the preseason when given the chance. Johnson will start at fullback once again. Smith will be a valuable special-teams player.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Daniel Graham. Backups -- Tony Scheffler, Stephen Alexander, Nate Jackson.

Graham will be steady for the Broncos all season. He's a great blocker and will catch a few passes. He could be a red-zone target. Scheffler spent the first few weeks of camp recovering from a broken foot, and Jackson took advantage. He had a great camp, catching everything thrown his way. Jackson could start the season as the No. 2 tight end. Alexander could provide veteran depth and leadership.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall. Backups -- Brandon Stokley, Brian Clark, Domenik Hixon, Quincy Morgan, Rod Smith.

Walker is another year removed from an ACL injury he suffered in 2005, and should have a big year. Walker is currently tops in the NFL with 17 receptions through two games. He can catch the short passes on third down or stretch the field with his speed. Marshall has a load of talent. If he keeps maturing on and off the field and stays healthy, he could have a big year very soon. Stokley will be an ideal slot receiver if he can stay healthy. That's a big if. He's coming off a torn Achilles' tendon and missed most of training camp with a quadriceps injury. Clark, Hixon and Morgan each had their moments in training camp and the preseason. Smith is still recovering from offseason hip surgery and will start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Matt Lepsis, LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Montrae Holland, RT Erik Pears. Backups -- G Chris Myers, T Adam Meadows, T Ryan Harris, G Chris Kuper.

Lepsis showed in the preseason that he's back from a knee injury that ended his season last year. Hamilton could miss some time in the regular season as he recovers from a concussion, and Myers would likely fill his spot. Holland took over at right guard when Kuper struggled a bit. Meadows appeared to be on the verge of taking Pears' spot when he got hurt before Denver's second preseason game, so Pears keeps the spot for now.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Elvis Dumervil, DT Sam Adams, DT Amon Gordon, DE John Engelberger. Backups -- DE Tim Crowder, DE Jarvis Moss, DT Jimmy Kennedy, DT Alvin McKinley, DT John Browning, DT Marcus Thomas.

The line took a hit when Ebenezer Ekuban was lost for the season. Dumervil could get the first crack at taking his starting spot, but many others will be considered. Crowder, a rookie who injured his ankle a couple days before Ekuban went down, could quickly be a big factor at end. He played well before he got hurt. Moss should help Denver's pass rush right away. Engelberger and Gordon are unheralded, but the Broncos like what they've done. Adams can't play every down anymore, but he can clog up the middle. The Broncos think they have good depth.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Ian Gold, MLB D.J. Williams, SLB Nate Webster. Backups -- D.D. Lewis, Louis Green, Wesley Mallard.

Williams is one of the keys to the defense. He's learning middle linebacker on the fly. He struggled at times in the preseason, but has great athletic ability and will be given the chance to succeed. Webster is energetic and won the competition to start on the strong side. He could also move back to the middle if Williams falters. Gold is consistent, and might have to make some plays for the defense to improve this year. Lewis is probably the top backup.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Champ Bailey, SS Nick Ferguson, FS John Lynch, CB Dre Bly. Backups -- CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Jeff Shoate, CB Karl Paymah, S Hamza Abdullah, S Curome Cox.

Bailey and Bly should be fun to watch. Bailey is at the top of his game, a true shutdown corner. Bly could see a big spike in his interception total. He'll get many chances. Lynch and Ferguson are getting older, but still effective. Abdullah could eventually get in the starting lineup. He has caught Lynch's eye, and made some plays in the preseason. He and Cox are Denver's top two backups at safety. Foxworth is a good nickel cornerback. The Broncos will play more dime this year than they have in previous years, but will likely do so with an extra safety instead of four cornerbacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Elam, P Todd Sauerbrun, LS Mike Leach, KOR Quincy Morgan, PR Domenik Hixon.

Elam and Sauerbrun should each be among the best at their position this year. Leach is reliable. The Broncos need to improve on special teams this year, under new coach Scott O'Brien. The Broncos like Morgan and Hixon as their returners. Morgan finished last season strong. Hixon is unproven, but quick.


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