Denver Has Interesting Dilemma

The Denver Broncos may be closer to going back to the Super Bowl than many of the other AFC teams think, and an interesting dilemma at the running back position has much to do with that.

The Denver Broncos may be closer to going back to the Super Bowl than many of the other AFC teams think, and an interesting dilemma at the running back position has much to do with that.

With Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, and Olandis Gary, the Broncos have three successful running backs who could start for most any team. The problem is that only one can start, and decisions will have to be made as to whether the Broncos can keep all three talents on their roster this year.

Head coach Mike Shanahan and the rest of the Broncos' staff will get a chance to assess their running back situation on Aug. 20, when the Broncos battle the Packers in a Monday night exhibition at Lambeau Field.

While Davis opened training camp with a reported tight hamstring, he says he is fine and fully recovered from serious injuries over the past two seasons. Anderson was one of the great stories for the Broncos during their 11-5 season a year ago when he rushed for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in the absence of Davis and Gary. He lost more than 10 pounds in the off-season and does not look like he is ready to give up his starting spot. He still is a load to bring down at 230 pounds.

Davis was limited him to just nine games last year. He restructured his contract in late July to help the team save money under the salary cap for the coming year and is poised for a training camp battle with Anderson and Gary. Just three years ago, Davis was on top of the world, garnering Super Bowl XXXII MVP honors against the Packers and rushing for over 2,000 yards in the regular season.

Finally, Gary may be the long shot of the trio as he recovers from a surgically repaired knee. He, too, however, is a 1,000-yard rusher, having done so in 1999.

Griese looking good: Quarterback Brian Griese showed Brett Favre-like guts and determination when he played through a separated shoulder to lead the Broncos to a thrilling Monday night victory over the Raiders last year. The injury would be too much for Griese to overcome in the following weeks, however, and it forced him to the sideline. It cut short a phenomenal season for the fourth-year pro out of Michigan, who threw for 19 touchdowns against just four t of Michigan, who threw for 19 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He also completed 64% of his passes.

Successful post-season surgery has Griese being mentioned as an MVP candidate, and he has done nothing to indicate otherwise in practice. His throws have been accurate, and he has two great targets in 100-catch receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. Along with staying healthy, a revamped offensive line may provide Griese with his most significant challenge.

The Broncos secured their quarterback position by signing the much-coveted Steve Beuerlein in the off-season. They also have quarterbacks Gus Frerotte, Jarious Jackson, and Mike Van Raaphorst competing.

Rhodes returns: Former Packers coach Ray Rhodes will return to Lambeau Field on Aug. 20 for the first time since he was fired by the team at the end of the 1999 season. That season the Packers were 8-8 in Rhodes' only season as head coach in Green Bay.

Rhodes is now the defensive coordinator for the Broncos, aiming to improve on one of the NFL's worst defenses of a year ago. He chose to step down as Redskins' defensive coordinator last year, but not before helping Washington's defense improve from 30th in the league to fourth overall last season.

As indicated to the media earlier this training camp, Rhodes wants to stay away from the spotlight this year. His most success as a coach has come as defensive coordinator, and Shanahan believes he can help the Broncos like he did the 49ers when both men coached there together.

Among the Broncos' agenda for improving on defense, according to Rhodes, is better tackling and limiting big plays. Both areas killed the Broncos last season, even through a run to the playoffs.

Battles/Players to watch: Rookies Nick Harris and Kevin Kasper have been especially impressive in training camp and are seriously pushing for roster spots. Harris, a fourth-round pick, is challenging incumbent Tom Rouen for the punting position, and Kasper is battling for a backup receiver spot. The latter's chances may be improved by an explosive ability to return kicks as well.

"Kevin Kasper has the look of being a big-time player," wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell told the Denver Post.

The Broncos are again hoping to hit sixth-round gold on Kasper, as they did with running backs Davis and Anderson in years prior. The former Iowa wide receiver has drawn comparisons to friend and current San Diego Charger Tim Dwight, also an Iowa alumnus.

In the secondary, the Broncos have aimed to improve a weakness by signing two free agents, Tyrone Poole, Denard Walker, Eric Davis and first-round pick Willie Middlebrooks out of Minnesota. Poole, however, decided to retire on Aug. 3 because he "just didn't feel into it," according to Shanahan.

Perhaps the biggest two off-season signings, however, were defensive tackles Leon Lett and Chester McGlockton. Both were, for primary reasons, salary-cap casualties by their former teams, but have Pro Bowl ability. They will help to offset the loss of former starter Keith Traylor.


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