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1 Denver Broncos

Sept. 04, 2006
Sept. 04, 2006

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Sept. 4, 2006

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1 Denver Broncos

The AFC runners-up got a big-play threat in Javon Walker, the missing ingredient in their drive to the Super Bowl

THE BELIEF
After reaching last season's AFC Championship Game, the Broncos didn't havemany improvements to make. Wide receiver was one weak spot, so in April theytraded a 2006 second-round pick to the Packers for a big, speedy pass catcher:Javon Walker. The fifth-year veteran, who tore his right ACL in the '05 seasonopener and missed the rest of the year, gives quarterback Jake Plummer theweapon he needs to finally take Denver all the way to the Super Bowl.

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2006 issue Original Layout

THE REALITY
It appears that the Broncos, indeed, got their man. Walker's rehab is ahead ofschedule. From the start of training camp he had no difficulty-and showed nohesitation-in leaping for balls in traffic and cutting sharply on routes,meaning he's already past the biggest mental hurdle of rehab: trusting that hisbody will hold up.

Coach MikeShanahan says Walker "has the complete game," and the wideout can'twait to put it on display. "I'm going to give them exactly what they tradedfor," says Walker, who hooked up with Brett Favre for a Pro Bowl season in2004, catching 89 passes for 1,382 yards. "I want to make big plays. I wantto be a physical blocker in the running game. And I want to change the momentumon any given play. I'm confident I can be that guy again."

The Broncosaren't asking Walker to be their go-to receiver; he just has to fit into anoffense that requires wideouts to run timing routes with discipline. When thegame plan is clicking, the ball gets spread around to everyone. That said, hispresence will make Denver more effective in another area in which they have toimprove: third-down conversions. The Broncos ranked 22nd in the league in thatcategory, converting only 36.2% of their opportunities last season.

Denver alreadyhad one crafty receiver it could depend on, 12-year veteran Rod Smith, butwithout a second reliable target for defenses to worry about, opponents couldkey on Smith in those third-down situations. To understand Walker's potentialimpact, consider that 31 of his 89 receptions in '04 came on third down-and 24of the 31 moved the chains. That season he also made 14 catches that went for25 yards or longer. "You want a guy who makes big plays in bigsituations," says Smith, "and Javon is one of those guys."

The Broncos werehappy to see how quickly Walker fit in with his new team, following thesquabbles he had with the Packers' front office. After his breakout 2004 seasonWalker wanted to renegotiate his contract, but Green Bay refused; Favrepublicly questioned Walker's right to make such a demand after only one ProBowl year. Walker became angry with the team, and after his kneeinjury-suffered when he was tackled on a pass play-he went to Houston forrehab. His one trip to Green Bay after getting hurt came in December, for anend-of-season interview with coach Mike Sherman (who was fired on Jan. 2).

When he reportedto the Denver camp, Walker was eager for a new beginning. He says he's not aselfish, high-maintenance player and wants to use his frustrating experiencewith the Packers as motivation. "I just want to show people why the Broncosgave up a second-round pick to get me," he says. "And I want the peoplein Green Bay to see what they're missing."

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 at St.Louis

17 KANSASCITY

24 at NewEngland

OCTOBER

1 Bye

9 BALTIMORE(M)

15 OAKLAND

22 atCleveland

29INDIANAPOLIS

NOVEMBER

5 atPittsburgh

12 at Oakland

19 SAN DIEGO

23 at Kansas City(T)

DECEMBER

3 SEATTLE

10 at SanDiego

17 at Arizona

24 CINCINNATI

31 SANFRANCISCO

(M) Monday (T)Thursday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH
NFL rank T11
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .516
Games against playoff teams 5

ENEMY LINES
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES-UP THE BRONCOS

> I've neverbeen a Jake Plummer fan, but he played within himself last year. Now he has todo that again-not play better than last year, just play as well.

> I like themove up in the draft to get quarterback Jay Cutler. He's a good prospect whomthey can develop into their guy.

> Strongsafety John Lynch is living off his reputation. He's a good tackler, but he'sonly effective near the line of scrimmage. If you catch him covering somebody,it's like stealing.

> Losingdefensive tackle Trevor Pryce in free agency will hurt. He's a player you hadto account for because of his pass-rushing and run defense. I don't seeCourtney Brown, Gerard Warren or anybody else over there making up forthat.

Al Wilson casts abig shadow on defense. He does everything you want a middle linebacker todo.

BREAKOUTPLAYER
D.J. Williams
LINEBACKER

The presence ofPro Bowl players Champ Bailey, John Lynch and Al Wilson is the only reasonWilliams isn't already the headliner of the Denver defense. At weaksidelinebacker in 2004 he became the second rookie to lead the team in tackles(114). Last year the 6'1" 242-pounder moved to the strong side, where hisrun-stuffing and coverage skills helped the Broncos hold opponents to 16.1points a game. Says one AFC scout, "This guy can cover, blitz and play therun, and he's only going to get better."

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PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH MIKESHANAHAN (122-67 in NFL), 12th season with Denver

OFFENSE

ROD SMITH
POS WR
REC 85
YARDS 1,105
TD 6

MIKE BELL (R)(New Acquisition)
POS RB
RUSH 200
YARDS 952
TD 5

JAKE PLUMMER
POS QB
ATT 456
COMP 277
PCT 60.7
YARDS 3,366
TD 18
INT 7
RATING 90.2

CECIL SAPP
POS FB
RUSH 5
YARDS 21
TD 0

JAVON WALKER (NewAcquisition)
POS WR
REC 4
YARDS 27
TD 0

JASON ELAM
POS K
FG 24-32
POINTS 115

STEPHENALEXANDER
POS TE
REC 21
YARDS 170
TD 1

MATT LEPSIS
POS LT
HT 6'4"
WT 290
G 16

BEN HAMILTON
POS LG
HT 6'4"
WT 283
G 16

TOM NALEN
POS C
HT 6'3"
WT 286
G 16

COOPERCARLISLE
POS RG
HT 6'5"
WT 295
G 16

GEORGE FOSTER
POS RT
HT 6'5"
WT 338
G 16

DEFENSE

IAN GOLD
POS WLB
TACKLES 88
SACKS 3
INT 0

EBENEZEREKUBAN
POS LE
TACKLES 27
SACKS 4

GERARD WARREN
POS LT
TACKLES 19
SACKS 3

MICHAEL MYERS
POS RT
TACKLES 31
SACKS 1

COURTNEY BROWN
POS RE
TACKLES 24
SACKS 2

D.J. WILLIAMS
POS SLB
TACKLES 55
SACKS 0
INT 0

TODDSAUERBRUN*
POS P
PUNTS 72
AVG 43.8

DARRENTWILLIAMS
POS CB
TACKLES 53
INT 2

NICK FERGUSON
POS SS
TACKLES 79
SACKS 0
INT 5

AL WILSON
POS MLB
TACKLES 72
SACKS 3
INT 0

JOHN LYNCH
POS FS
TACKLES 61
SACKS 4
INT 2

CHAMP BAILEY
POS CB
TACKLES 64
INT 8

(R) ROOKIE(college statistics) *Suspended for first four games

2005 RECORD13-3
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 2/18/5 DEFENSE 2/29/15

PHOTOMIKE EHRMANN/WIREIMAGE.COMWILSONPHOTOROBERT BECK HELP ONTHE WAY With Walker on board, defenses won't be able to key on Smith (left) onthird down.PHOTODAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICSTWO PHOTOSPHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BIRKWITZ