2004 Denver Broncos Season Preview

<b>Head Coach: </b> Mike Shanahan (106-68) <br><br><b>Last Season's Record: </b> 10-6 (2nd in AFC West) <br><br><b>Last Play Off Appearance:</b> Jan. 4, 2004 v. Indianapolis Colts L 10-41

09/12/04 Kansas City
09/19/04 @Jacksonville
09/26/04 San Diego
10/03/04 @Tampa Bay
10/10/04 Carolina
10/17/04 @Oakland
10/25/04 @Cincinnati
10/31/04 Atlanta
11/07/04 Houston
11/21/04 @New Orleans
11//28/04 Oakland
12/05/04 @San Diego
12/12/04 Miami
12/19/04 @Kansas City
12/25/04 @Tennessee
01/02/05 Indianapolis
Safety John Lynch #47 of the Denver Broncos looks to improve the Broncos defense. Lynch hopes to bring his hard hitting style to a under-performing defense.
Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr.

Key matchup(s): Sun Sep.12 KANSAS CITY ESPN, Sun Oct.10 CAROLINA FOX, Sun Dec.19 at Kansas City CBS, 16 Sat Dec.25 at Tennessee ESPN, 17 Sun Jan. 2 INDIANAPOLIS CBS

Star Power: Jason Elam, K 5' 11" 200 12th (Yr), Tom Nalen, C 6' 3" 286 11th (Yr), Jake Plummer, QB 6' 2" 212 8th (Yr), Trevor Pryce, DE 6' 5" 295 8th (Yr), Rod Smith, WR 6' 0" 200 10th (Yr), Al Wilson, LB 6' 0" 240 6th (Yr)

Notable Additions: Champ Bailey, CB 6' 0" 192 6th (Yr), Washington Redskins, Marco Coleman, DE 6' 3" 270 13th (Yr), Philadelphia Eagles, Luther Elliss, DT 6' 5" 318 10th (Yr), Detroit Lions, Garrison Hearst, RB 5' 11" 215 12th (Yr), San Francisco 49ers, Raylee Johnson, DE 6' 3" 272 12th (Yr), San Diego Chargers, John Lynch, S 6' 2" 220 12th (Yr), Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notable Subtractions: Clinton Portis, RB; John Mobley, LB; Steve Beuerlein, QB; Deltha O'Neal, CB; Ed McCaffrey, WR; Shannon Sharpe, TE; Bertrand Berry, DE; Keith Burns, LB; Ephraim Salaam, T; Chris Cole, WR.

Notable Returnees: Reuben Droughns, RB 5' 11" 207 5th (Yr), Mario Fatafehi, DT 6' 2" 300 4th (Yr), Quentin Griffin, RB 5' 7" 195 2nd (Yr), Kenoy Kennedy, S 6' 1" 215 5th (Yr), Micah Knorr, P/K 6' 2" 199 5th (Yr), Ashley Lelie, WR 6' 3" 200 3rd (Yr), Matt Lepsis, T 6' 4" 290 8th (Yr), Dan Neil, G 6' 2" 285 8th (Yr), Donnie Spragan, LB 6' 3" 239 3rd (Yr), Lenny Walls, CB 6' 4" 192 3rd (Yr)

Offensive Overview: Throughout the Mike Shanahan era the Denver Broncos have been primarily known as an offensive team, and 2004 should be no exception. The loss of Clinton Portis, Shannon Sharpe and Ed McCaffrey will prove hard, but not impossible, to overcome, as the focus now shifts to the younger side, with third-year veteran Ashley Lelie and rookie Darius Watts being asked to step in. Lelie, a former first round draft pick, struggled during the 2003 season and has yet to find a comfortable rhythm with QB Jake Plummer. Considered to be on a short leash, Lelie finds himself in a make or break year with the Broncos and will quickly need to prove his value to remain on the roster. Watts, who had a tremendous training camp and preseason, could very well be Plummer's "go to guy" behind ten-year veteran Rod Smith. A second round pick out of Marshall, Watts has shown great speed and ability to hold onto the ball, but is still prone to rookie mistakes. His ability to overcome these mental errors will be a major key in Denver's offensive production. Without Portis in the backfield, the Broncos will turn to Quentin Griffin to lead the running attack. At only 5'7" 195 lbs., Griffin has shown an uncanny ability to elude tacklers and break up field quickly. While he may not be able to completely fill Portis' shoes, he is expected to join Denver's ever expanding list of 1000-yard rushers by seasons end. While the passing game may be in question, expectations are still high for the team to reach, and advance through, the postseason. Since the departure of John Elway, Denver has yet to win a single playoff game, having appeared in only two.

Defensive Overview: The Broncos made huge strides on defense during the off-season and expect the dividends to pay off quickly. Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and five-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch will undoubtedly shore up Denver's weak secondary, while defensive ends Raylee Johnson, Marco Coleman and defensive tackle Luther Ellis add depth to an already strong defensive front line. The core of the Broncos defense lies with it's captain, sixth-year veteran linebacker Al Wilson, who's vocal leadership is the cornerstone to coordinator Larry Coyer's philosophy. Wilson's abilities to blend this group of veterans and rookies together is essential for Denver's success, and if early indications ring true, he's on the right path. First round draft pick D.J. Williams has shown a great deal of promise through the preseason, leading the team with fifteen tackles through five exhibition games. At 6'1", 247 lbs. he's the prototypical linebacker, with both speed and strength. Currently listed in the second spot behind Donnie Spragan on the teams' depth chart, it would not be surprising to see him move into the starting unit by mid-season. With the combination of a solid draft and off season signings, the Broncos have secured themselves a spot among the league's best defensive units.

Special Teams Overview: For the twelfth consecutive year Denver's special teams will be led by kicker Jason Elam, who signed a new long-term contract with the team last year. Elam ranks among the NFL's elite kickers having scored more than 100 points in each of his first 11 seasons, and currently holds all franchise records for total points with 1,313. His accuracy from both long and short range has kept Denver in a majority of the their games over the past few seasons, and should the offense struggle inside the red zone, Elam's a sure bet. Throw in kick returners Reuben Droughns and Triandos Luke and the Broncos have the makings of a fairly strong special teams unit.

The Denver Broncos will advance in the playoffs for the first time in the post Elway era, provided they can stay relatively healthy. This year's talent, desire and abilities combine to give the Broncos a legitimate shot at reaching the big dance.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview
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