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3 Denver Broncos

Sept. 05, 2005
Sept. 05, 2005

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Sept. 5, 2005

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3 Denver Broncos

In a city where expectations run mile-high, the pressure is mounting on passer Jake Plummer to lead his team deep into the postseason

By Jeff Chadiha

THE PLAY that best sums up Jake Plummer's shaky two years as the Broncos' quarterback is one that put him in the team's record book. During the third quarter of a 33-14 win over Indianapolis on Jan. 2, Plummer threw a 23-yard pass to tight end Jeb Putzier; with the completion Plummer broke John Elway's 11-year-old record for passing yards in a season, but it didn't generate much love from the sold-out crowd at INVESCO Field. Other than the shouts from Plummer's friends, there was only a smattering of cheers following the P.A. announcement of his accomplishment.

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 2005 issue Original Layout

That Plummer can laugh about the incident now says all you need to know about how he has accepted the unenviable task of trying to succeed Elway. "My friends said they couldn't believe how tough this city is, but I realize those are the expectations here," says Plummer, who finished 2004 with 4,089 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, the latter tying a franchise mark held by Elway. "These fans will be the same way five years from now."

In the meantime the fans will be looking for more leadership and consistent play from Plummer. Though the Broncos have won 70.4% of the regular-season games he has started, what jumps out are his interceptions (20 last year, including a total of six in consecutive games in early December) and two wild-card playoff losses, including last season's 49-24 drubbing by the Colts. The fans' scrutiny figures to be even harsher this year.

The general feeling around the organization, however, is that this year Plummer, who spent six seasons with the Cardinals before moving to Denver as a free agent, will have a better understanding of the offense as well as his supporting cast. "I'd be surprised if Jake didn't have a great season," says coach Mike Shanahan. "Now that he's had two years here, he doesn't have to think about what to do in this system. He can just play."

Plummer says he's never felt more comfortable in the Denver offense. This spring he quickly put the rocky moments of 2004 out of his mind--flipping off a fan in a December game at INVESCO, which resulted in a $5,000 fine, was one--and focused on becoming a better quarterback. Most of his off-season prep time was spent studying defenses with quarterbacks coach Pat McPherson and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. The coaches schooled Plummer on the subtleties of some schemes and on reading the movements of linebackers and safeties who roam near the line of scrimmage. Plummer had done similar homework in the past, but this time he was probing more deeply into how the defenses work and considering various options to avoid making mistakes.

On the practice field his attention to detail appears to be paying off. Instead of forcing passes into coverage, Plummer is throwing the ball away more often. "You can see that he's trying to not be perfect," wide receiver Rod Smith says. "That's a hard thing for him, because when he was in Arizona, he spent so much of his career forcing things. But he's learning that he doesn't have to do that here."

If Plummer can correct his bad habits and not suffer a relapse during the season, the Denver offense will flourish. Though the Broncos ranked fifth in the league in total offense, they were terrible in two key categories: red-zone efficiency (28th in the NFL, scoring touchdowns on only 45.3% of their opportunities inside the 20) and turnover margin (tied for 24th, at -9). Plummer got most of the blame for those lousy stats, to the point that some in the Denver media speculated late last season about whether Shanahan would pay the $6 million bonus the quarterback was due in March or let him leave as a free agent.

Shanahan says that bringing back Plummer was never a question. But everybody, including Plummer, knows that it's time for the quarterback to live up to his $40 million contract and his reputation as the crafty Snake. "I'm still geared to make plays, and you can't take that away from me," Plummer says. "But I know that I have to pick my moments now. I've learned that I can't be Superman." --J.C.

PLAYMAKER

If it weren't for the Ravens' Ray Lewis and the Bears' Brian Urlacher, Al Wilson would be the middle linebacker everybody talks about. A seventh-year player who has been known to knock ballcarriers silly, the 6-foot 240-pounder has tremendous speed and instincts. Wilson has gone to the Pro Bowl three times, and in 2004 he had one of his typical years: 105 tackles, 21/2 sacks and two interceptions.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
ENEMY LINES

I like Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell. Anderson has been injury-prone, but he's still an effective runner who gets tough yards. Bell has explosive speed, and he reminds me of a younger Terrell Davis.... They have above-average talent at wide receiver. Rod Smith is 35, but he can still play. He runs great routes and doesn't drop many balls. Jerry Rice can still contribute; he just can't be a threat on every down anymore. The key to this group is how much Darius Watts and Triandos Luke develop.... Their biggest problem is going to be on the offensive line. I don't think they have the kind of continuity they've had in the past.... It looks like they want to solve their defensive-line problems by throwing a lot of guys in there. By acquiring all those guys from Cleveland [Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Michael Myers and Ebenezer Ekuban], they're hoping that half of them pan out.... I like their decision to bring Ian Gold back. It means D.J. Williams has to move from the weak side to the strong side, but he's athletic enough to handle that. The linebackers will be the strength of their defense again.... Todd Sauerbrun is going to be a great weapon for them.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

MIKE ANDERSON*
POS. -- RB
PVR -- 86
ATT. -- 70
YARDS -- 257
AVG. -- 3.7
REC. -- 12
YARDS -- 53
AVG. -- 4.4
TDs -- 5

JAKE PLUMMER
POS. -- QB
PVR -- 82
ATT. -- 521
COMP. -- 303
% -- 58.2
YARDS -- 4,089
TDs -- 27
INT. -- 20
RATING -- 84.5

KYLE JOHNSON
POS. -- FB
PVR -- 310
ATT. -- 0
YARDS -- 0
AVG. -
REC. -- 9
YARDS -- 126
AVG. -- 14.0
TDs -- 2

JASON ELAM
POS. -- K
PVR XPs -- 183
MADE XPs -- 42
ATT. -- 42
FG MADE -- 29
FG ATT. -- 34
PTS. -- 129

ROD SMITH
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 77
REC. -- 79
YARDS -- 1,144
TDs -- 7

STEPHEN ALEXANDER (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- TE
PVR -- 298
REC. -- 41
YARDS -- 377
TDs -- 1

MATT LEPSIS
POS. -- LT
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 290
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

BEN HAMILTON
POS. -- LG
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 283
GMS. -- 16
STARTS  -- 16

TOM NALEN
POS. -- C
HEIGHT -- 6'3"
WEIGHT -- 286
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

COOPER CARLISLE
POS. -- RG
HEIGHT -- 6'5"
WEIGHT -- 295
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 4

GEORGE FOSTER
POS. -- RT
HEIGHT -- 6'5"
WEIGHT -- 338
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

ASHLEY LELIE
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 60
REC. -- 54
YARDS -- 1,084
TDs -- 7

DEFENSE

D.J. WILLIAMS
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 106
SACKS -- 2
INT. -- 1

COURTNEY BROWN (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- RE
TACKLES -- 2
SACKS -- 0

MICHAEL MYERS (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- RT
TACKLES -- 34
SACKS -- 1

AL WILSON
POS. -- MLB
TACKLES -- 105
SACKS -- 2 1/2
INT. -- 2

GERARD WARREN (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- LT
TACKLES -- 19
SACKS -- 4

TREVOR PRYCE
POS. -- LE
TACKLES -- 2
SACKS -- 0

IAN GOLD (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 71
SACKS -- 1/2
INT. -- 1

LENNY WALLS
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 21
INT. -- 0

NICK FERGUSON
POS. -- SS
TACKLES -- 15
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 0

JOHN LYNCH
POS. -- FS
TACKLES -- 65
SACKS -- 2
INT. -- 1

CHAMP BAILEY
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 81
INT. -- 3

TODD SAUERBRUN (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- P
PUNTS -- 76
AVG. -- 44.1

2004 RECORD: 10-6

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 4/6/5
DEFENSE 4/6/4

COACH: Mike Shanahan; 11th season with Denver (109-71 in NFL)

NEW ACQUISITION
*2003 stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
11 at Miami
18 SAN DIEGO
26 KANSAS CITY (M)

OCTOBER
2 at Jacksonville
9 WASHINGTON
16 NEW ENGLAND
23 at N.Y. Giants
30 PHILADELPHIA

NOVEMBER
6 Open date
13 at Oakland
20 N.Y. JETS
24 at Dallas (T)

DECEMBER
4 at Kansas City
11 BALTIMORE
17 at Buffalo (S)
24 OAKLAND (S)
31 at San Diego (S)

JANUARY
(M) MONDAY (T) THURSDAY (S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T10
Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .523
Games against playoff teams: 5

Jerry Rice can still contribute; he just can't be a threat on every down anymore.
PHOTOMICHAEL MARTIN/WIREIMAGE.COMMIXED REVIEWS Plummer's record-setting performances were offset by inconsistency. PHOTOERIC LARS BAKKE/WIREIMAGE.COMWILLIAMSPHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM