STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Broncos entered the 2006 season with lofty expectations following a 13-3 finish
in 2005. While most felt the team had the makeup of a potential Super Bowl
contender, there were questions that had to be answered first.
Could Tatum Bell handle the punishment as a feature back in the NFL? Could
the defense put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks? And most importantly, could
Jake Plummer repeat his career-best 2005 performance?
After the Broncos raced out to a 7-2 start, the answers seemed promising. The defense
drew comparisons to several of the NFL’s all-time best, Bell ranked among the league’s
leading rushers and Plummer was doing just enough to win. But after the Broncos lost the
next four games and eventually missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, the answer to all three
questions morphed into a resounding no.
The once impenetrable defense crumbled
down the stretch, Bell battled turf toe injuries,
and Plummer finally played his way
out of the starting job.
The second-half collapse led to an active
offseason for the Broncos. The onslaught
of moves really began when Jay Cutler
took over the starting quarterback job
in Week 13, and the overhaul continued
after the season when a flurry of coaching
changes was highlighted by the firing of
defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.
The Broncos hope new defensive coordinator
Jim Bates is successful in resurrecting
the team’s dormant pass rush, and
if he is, the defense could resemble the
one that allowed just 44 points in the first
six games of 2006. Miami’s Jason Taylor
and Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman had breakout seasons under Bates, and the Broncos
hope his presence will have a similar effect on Elvis Dumervil and the rest of the youthful
defensive line, which will likely be one of the team’s biggest question marks.
The Broncos were forced to release veteran middle linebacker Al Wilson due to salary
and health issues, but D.J. Williams, Ian Gold, and free agent addition Warrick Holdman
still leave the team fairly strong at the position. Furthermore, the addition of Dre’ Bly
opposite Champ Bailey gives the Broncos one of the best cornerback tandems in the
While addressing the defense was a priority, the team made its biggest moves on
offense. After dealing Tatum Bell to the Lions, the Broncos signed new feature back Travis
Henry to a five-year contract. The team also added Daniel Graham, who figures to see a lot
of time in two-tight end sets with Tony Scheffler. The addition of Brandon Stokley could
give the Broncos valuable depth at receiver behind Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall and
Rod Smith -- if he’s fully recovered from an Achilles’ tendon injury. And if Cutler develops
as the organization hopes, the Broncos should have enough offensive weapons to make it to the playoffs.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (17) Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida
Dominant pass rusher who should be
instant contributor on passing downs.
1. Jay Cutler’S DEVELOPMENT
Cutler wasn’t spectacular during his five-game audition at the end of the 2006 season,
but he wasn’t terrible, either. He gained confidence each week, and although he posted
just a 2-3 record, he finished with over 1,000 yards passing, nine touchdowns and just five
interceptions. Getting a chance to run the offense last year should help his development,
but it remains to be seen if he can handle a full season as an NFL quarterback. If he has
developed as quickly as the Broncos think he has, it could be a deep playoff run for the
team. If he hasn’t, it could be another inconsistent season.
Rising: Elvis Dumervil recorded 8.5 sacks
last season, but could explode in 2007 under
new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who is
known for developing defensive ends.
1. Champ Bailey, CB
Opposing quarterbacks won’t be able to shy
away from him anymore with Dre’ Bly on the
Article first appeared 6/16/07