I’ve always been a fan of Broncos head coach, Mike Shanahan and, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season, the Broncos have to be considered one of the favorites in the AFC in 2006.
If the Broncos offseason additions can make an impact – and quarterback, Jake Plummer can avoid the mental breakdown he suffered in last season’s AFC Championship contest, then the Broncos could make their first Super Bowl appearance since you-know-who retired eight years ago.
I know I’ve ripped Jake Plummer quite a few times for many of the inexplicable mental errors he is prone to make at any given moment, but I have to give credit where credit is due.
Plummer actually had a fine regular season in 2005, throwing only seven picks, but suffered through a two-pick, two-fumble performance in the AFC title tilt – although I must admit that the Broncos on the whole, were outplayed that day.
First round draft pick, Jay Cutler is the heir apparent to Plummer and could see some action this season should Plummer falter. Overall, I’d have to say that the Broncos quarterback situation is better than most teams in the league – and a strength for the Broncos because of Shanahan’s acumen as an offensive genius who knows how to develop quarterbacks.
The unheralded Mike Bell has taken over as the starting runnig back for the Broncos this season after Denver decided to part ways with last year’s leading rusher, Mike Anderson.
Although it was widely assumed that either Ron Dayne or Tatum Bell would vie for the starting running back position, Bell surpassed both of them with an excellent training camp that wowed Shanahan.
Let’s be honest though. Shanahan has always had a golden touch when it comes to his starting running backs. Ever year or two, it seems the Broncos plug some “unknown” into their starting position and the guy comes up with a 1,200-yard season.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Simply put, Rod Smith, may be the best draft selection ever at the wide receiver position. Not much was expected out of Smith when he came out of college and all he has done is catch his way to Canton. The Broncos acquired former Green Bay Packers disgruntled wide receiver, Javon Walker, to start on the other side opposite of Smith, while the talented, but underachieving, Ashley Lelie.
If Walker returns to form from his torn Acl, then the Broncos could have their best pass receiving trio in quite a while – if they don’t trade the borderline head case, Lelie first. Offensive Line
I really won’t bother naming the Broncos “nameless” offensive lineman, who routinely are one of the best offensive lines in all of football. Not only does the Broncos offensive line perennially open holes for whomever is in Denver’s backfield, but this group is also excellent at pass protection and gave up only 23 sacks last season.
This unit could be a problem for Denver. The Broncos let veteran Trevor Pryce walk because of salary reasons and will depend upon guys like Ebenezer Ekuban, Corey Jackson, Kenard Lang and Elvis Dumervil in addition to a slew of ex-Cleveland Browns (Gerard Warren, Michael Myers and Kenard Lang).
Someone in this unit had better step forward and have a Pro Bowl caliber season, or the Broncos could give up as many yards on the ground as they usually rush for each season.
I would have to say that this unit is the strength of Denver’s defense. D.J. Williams, Ian Gold and Al Wilson are all competent linebackers who are borderline Pro Bowl caliber players who can make plays all over the field. If any of the three should go down however, the Broncos will be forced to play backups Patrick Chukwurah and Keith Burns – an unimposing pair at best.
Last season, cornerback, Champ Bailey, was everything the Broncos expected and more – and possibly, the best corner in the entire league. Bailey’s play apparently rubbed off on rookies, Darrent Williams Domonique Foxworth as both had fine seasons as well and should be even better in 2006.
Safety John Lynch may not be as physically gifted as he used to be, but he can still lay the big hit on unsuspecting opponents at any time. Safety Nick Ferguson is a tackling machine too, who probably doesn’t get the notice he deserves because of his higher profile defensive backfield brethren. On the whole, this unit is one of the best in all of football.
Everyone knows that kicker Jason Elam is lights out and punter, Todd Sauerbrun is an excellent veteran punter who knows how to get the job done. Williams took over the punt and kickoff returning duties last season and did a more than credible job.
I hate to say that the Broncos aren’t going to miss former offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, but in reality, they won’t. Everyone knows that Shanahan is the mastermind behind the Broncos offense. As Shanahan goes, so go the Broncos – and for the most part – they’ve gone quite well.