Denver Post columnist and Around the Horn
panelist Woody Paige predicted last year that the Broncos would go 16-0, all the way to a Super Bowl victory. As it turned out, the Broncos ended up
with a modest ten wins, but an embarrassing 41-10 first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts sealed their fate, and now they're
back to square one. Easily, the most significant move the Broncos made this off-season was trading RB Clinton Portis for CB Champ Bailey, and although
losing a star like Portis would hurt most teams, it may not have that same impact on Denver.
After all, head-coach Mike Shanahan is a genius when it comes to playing successful running backs, as proven in the past with Portis, Terrell Davis,
Mike Anderson, and now he hopes to do the same with RB Quentin Griffin, since Anderson is out for the year. The Broncos offense may also suffer from
the retirements of WR Ed McCaffrey and TE Shannon Sharpe, but QB Jake "The Snake" Plummer has other competent targets like WR Rod Smith and TE Byron
Chamberlain. Defensively, the Broncos are deep as well, sporting the league's 4th-ranked defense, and it only gets better with the additions of S John
Lynch and DT Luther Elliss. Chances are they'll be back in the postseason.
The ghost, John Elway, wore the No. 7 jersey for
16 glorious seasons in the Mile High City, and recently took his rightful place alongside the other immortals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Though
Elway hasn't taken a snap since leading his team to a win in Super Bowl XXXIII, his aura continues to haunt an organization that hasn't won a playoff
game since his departure following the 1998 season. Bronco fans are restless enough that head coach Mike Shanahan's two Super Bowl rings will no
longer serve as a form of employment credit. The franchise's decision to trade Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis for Redskins corner Champ Bailey
will receive a wealth of scrutiny, and quarterback Jake Plummer, in his second year as a Bronco, will also be under the microscope. Shanahan, Plummer,
and company know it's time to perform, as Elway won't be returning from the football grave to rescue the organization ever again.
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)
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
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.
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)
Considering he was playing in a new system in 2003, the fact that Jake Plummer put together the best passer rating and highest completion percentage
of his career has to be encouraging for the Broncos. After throwing more than 20 interceptions in four of his six years in Arizona, Plummer reduced
that total to just seven last season, although he missed five games with shoulder and knee injuries. He is at his best when he is out of the pocket,
so look for the Broncos to move him around a lot again this year. Durability does become a concern with his style of play, but he struggles when
forced to be a pocket passer, so it's kind of a catch-22 situation.
The Broncos always seem to have success in the
running game no matter who they put back there, but make no mistake... The loss of Portis is a huge one. Quentin Griffin has shown the ability to
start, but he is undersized and it's not known whether he can hold up for a full season as the feature back. He has speed and elusiveness, and he
catches the ball well out of the backfield, but the Broncos will have to keep him fresh to keep him healthy. Rookie second rounder Tatum Bell will
push 33-year-old veteran Garrison Hearst, who was brought in as a free agent during the off-season, for playing time behind Griffin. Hearst is
obviously on the downside of his career, but he brings a lot of experience and coming out of the West-Coast system in San Francisco he obviously has
good receiving skills. Bell has good speed and a great burst through the line, so he should be a good fit for this offense, but he must hang onto the
ball better than he did in college. Hybrid fullback Mike Anderson was lost for the season to a groin injury, so Reuben Droughns will take over
starting duties. He is a versatile player who can carry the ball and is a very good receiver, but he doesn't have Anderson's blocking ability.
Despite the loss of big names like Portis, Sharpe, McCaffrey, and O'Neal, the Broncos have a good chance of bettering their 10-6 record of a year ago.
A full season with Plummer at the controls will be key, and having Griffin as a consistent force in the lineup will be important as well. The biggest
question could be at receiver, where either Lelie or the rookie Watts must take some pressure from Rod Smith's shoulders. Defensively, Denver could
have one of the most dominant units in football, unless the green linebackers are a disaster. The addition of Bailey and Lynch, with their history of
strong play and leadership, will be huge. Denver will challenge Kansas City for the AFC West crown, and also has a better-than-even chance of getting
that first playoff win since 1998.
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]