Two things we learned while at the Broncos' training camp this
1) The biceps tendon, according to quarterback John Elway, is
nothing more than extraneous gristle. After rupturing that
tendon in his right arm during a preseason game against the
Dolphins, the medical pioneer and future Hall of Famer
determined that the injury actually reduced persistent pain in
his throwing shoulder and cost him little zip on his passes.
2) Coach Mike Shanahan prefers movies with happy endings.
Halfway through the premiere of the team's 1996 highlight video,
Shanahan slipped out. (He did return later for an encore
showing.) Perhaps he couldn't bear the sight of Jaguars
quarterback Mark Brunell dancing effortlessly around Denver
defenders, leading Jacksonville to scores on each of their final
six possessions and a 30-27 victory in the AFC divisional
playoffs--the most stunning postseason upset in years.
The Broncos' inability to lay a finger on Brunell, coupled with
the fact that they had only nine sacks over their last seven
games, convinced Shanahan that he had to upgrade the team's pass
rush. He hired John Teerlinck, a longtime NFL assistant who has
gained notoriety for the inordinately high number of
quarterbacks his players have knocked out of games. (Last
season, as a member of the Lions' staff, Teerlinck was called in
for a four-hour meeting with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to
discuss complaints from other teams that he was teaching illegal
August 31, 1997
Then when the Chiefs informed 31-year-old free-agent defensive
end Neil Smith that he no longer figured in their plans, the
Broncos signed him as well as his underrated linemate,
28-year-old Keith Traylor, a 6'2", 315-pound tackle who was
described by one Broncos official as "a Coke machine with a head
on it." Obscured in Kansas City by such stars as Smith and
linebacker Derrick Thomas, Traylor is due for a breakout season.
What everyone wants to know is, How much petrol does Smith have
left in his tank? He has 86 1/2 career sacks but had just six
last year, including 2 1/2 in the final nine games. Meanwhile,
Thomas had 13 sacks and was re-signed by the Chiefs for $30
million over seven years. "They gave him the house," says Smith,
with a dollop of bitterness. "I wasn't surprised." Smith was
responsible for covering two gaps in Kansas City's defense but
will be covering just one in Denver. "Plus," he says, "I'll be
moving up and down the line of scrimmage, which will make it
harder for teams to scheme me."
Even after signing Smith, the Broncos used their first-round
draft pick on Trevor Pryce, a 6'5", 285-pound defensive tackle
from Clemson. Teerlinck, the former Chiefs, the rookie--isn't it
a bit of overkill? "Not at all," says defensive coordinator Greg
Robinson. "In a 4-3 alignment you're only as good as you are up
front." Those newcomers to the line join a pair of Pro Bowl
players: end Alfred Williams and tackle Michael Dean Perry.
All of which leaves the Broncos chafing for another shot at the
Jaguars in the postseason. "Here's what I want," Williams says.
"I truly hope that Brunell [out until early October with a knee
injury] comes back healthy, because I love to watch the guy
play--and because I'd love to play them again with the stakes
Should Williams be careful what he wishes for? Not if the
defensive upgrade pans out; if running back Terrell Davis, who
finished 15 yards shy of the NFL rushing title last year, comes
back as strong as he looked in the preseason; and if Elway's
biceps tendon remains ruptured, which he assures us is a good
Denver appears to be the AFC's most talented team and could go
all the way. If that happens, you can bet that Shanahan will
watch the '97 highlight video without interruption.