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2 Denver Broncos

Sept. 03, 2007
Sept. 03, 2007

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Sept. 3, 2007

SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
2007 NFL Preview
Departments

2 Denver Broncos

An off-season of heartache has taught these players that they've got to seize the day--and hold on to their leads

WHAT'S NEW

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue

> This is ateam in the pennant race in Week 15 every season, and 2007 should be nodifferent, with the acquisitions of Dre' Bly and Daniel Graham filling needs atcornerback and tight end, respectively. The biggest x factor, of course, issecond-year quarterback Jay Cutler, who, after stumbling in his first two NFLstarts in relief of Jake Plummer last fall, looked competent in his last three.The Broncos averaged 28 points a game in their 2-1 finish, and Cutler hashad a full off-season to work with the two players who should be his biggesttargets this year: wideout Javon Walker, in his second season with the Broncos,and tight end Daniel Graham, signed in free agency from New England. Coach MikeShanahan tired of seeing his light-bodied defense get overrun by physicaloffenses as the season wore on (San Diego put up a combined 83 points onDenver in Weeks 11 and 14), so he replaced speed-loving coordinator Larry Coyerwith beef-loving Jim Bates and made an important switch at middle linebacker,supplanting seven-year starter Al Wilson with D.J. Williams, who's more of asideline-to-sideline playmaker.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> As theBroncos get down to the business of football, they must still contend with twopainful losses in the off-season--the deaths of cornerback Darrent Williams,who was killed in a shooting early on New Year's Day, and reserve running backDamien Nash, who succumbed to apparent heart failure last March. The messagefrom the club leaders was, in essence, not to waste your chance, either at lifeor at football. "I can guarantee you this," says Walker, who cradledWilliams in his arms as he died that night eight months ago. "If Darrentknew that night was going to be his last night, he'd have done something in hislife differently. I just want every guy here to take advantage of theopportunity he's given."

In a footballsense, and obviously not to minimize the loss of two friends and teammates,Walker's words are apt. Denver, 8-0 at home in 2005, plummeted to 4-4 atInvesco Field last year, costing the team a shot at the playoffs. In three ofthe four losses the Broncos blew a fourth-quarter lead. Twice, versus San Diegoand Indianapolis, they surrendered 28 points in the second half. Shanahan isconvinced the problem wasn't just with the wearing down of the defense, whichwas the NFL's stingiest through Week 9. (Denver allowed 98 points inthe first half of the season, 207 in the second.) He thinks the sputteringoffense--rated 22nd in the NFL, uncharacteristically low for a Shanahanattack--put excess pressure on the defense to play great every week.

So Shanahan madesix decisions he felt would turn the team around. He shook up the defense withthe Bates and D.J. Williams moves, and, to fill Darrent Williams's spot,brought in Bly, a ball-hawking corner who had 19 interceptions in fourseasons with Detroit. On offense he put his full faith in 2006 top pick Cutler,opting to bring in only a solid backup, Patrick Ramsey, instead of a veteranpasser who'd give Cutler a run for the starting job. Everyone's favoritefantasy sleeper, Travis Henry, came from Tennessee to bolster the running game(he's the tough inside runner the Broncos like, with a little outside speed),while Graham, who felt he never got the ball enough in New England, broke thebank (five years, $30 million) to play in Denver, where he should be moreof a threat than his 24 catches a year with the Pats would indicate.

It's a terriblefootball cliché to put the weight of a team on the shoulders of a quarterback,but that's what the Broncos are doing with Cutler. Intriguingly, though, intraining camp Cutler moved from group to group with confidence but quietly, notwanting to push things prematurely, and trying instead to be the type of leadera veteran team would respect. "He handles himself well," Walker says."He knows the way to gain respect is by earning it." After working fourdays a week for four months with quarterbacks coach Mike Heimerdinger, Cutleremerged from the off-season a more patient and decisive player. "Thisoff-season was huge for me," Cutler says. "I think I can do it now. I'mnot scared."

So Cutler willlead a changed team into a season of big hope. He, Walker and their 51teammates will have reason to make sure they don't exit 2007 with the sameregrets they took away from '06. "Javon thought the world of Darrent,"says Shanahan. "We all did. Damien too. The hurt never goes away. You moveon, and you make sure you don't leave anything to chance."

2007 SCHEDULE

(M) Monday (T)Thursday

SEPTEMBER

9 at Buffalo

16 OAKLAND

23JACKSONVILLE

30 atIndianapolis

OCTOBER

7 SAN DIEGO

14 Bye

21 PITTSBURGH

29 GREEN BAY(M)

NOVEMBER

4 at Detroit

11 at KansasCity

19 TENNESSEE(M)

25 at Chicago

DECEMBER

2 at Oakland

9 KANSAS CITY

13 at Houston(T)

24 at San Diego(M)

30 MINNESOTA

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank... T14

Opponents' 2006winning percentage ...  .504

Games againstplayoff teams ... 6

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSINGTEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE BRONCOS

> You can'toverestimate the importance of knowing the system as a quarterback for MikeShanahan, which is why I really think Jay Cutler will struggle in his firstfull year as the starter. I don't know if he's accurate enough anyway. That wasthe only rap on him at Vanderbilt. . . . I know Travis Henry enters the seasona little nicked, but he's the right back for this offense--he's not blindinglyfast, but he has great instincts and he never runs side to side, just north andsouth. . . . Daniel Graham was a great get at tight end, but they better notforget Tony Scheffler, who's got excellent hands and gets open like Todd Heap.. . . Good move picking up Dre' Bly because he'll get all the interceptionswhen teams realize it's fruitless to throw to Champ Bailey's side. Can't figureout why teams didn't know that last year.

THE KING 500

Javon Walker

> WIDERECEIVER

80

"I'm so muchmore comfortable this year, in the offense and healthwise," says Walker,whose surgically repaired right knee never felt right in 2006. He still had69 catches for 1,084 yards and nine TDs, all team highs. Walkerhad 100% attendance in the off-season workout program and is comfortable withQB Jay Cutler. A 90-catch season might be in the cards. Says Walker, "Thisoffense is perfect for me."

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PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH MIKESHANAHAN (131-81 in NFL), 13th season with Broncos

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)


OFFENSE

JAVON WALKER

POS WR

REC 69

YARDS 1,084

TD 9

TRAVIS HENRY (NEWACQUISITION)

POS RB

ATT 270

YARDS 1,211

AVG 4.5

REC 18

YARDS 78

AVG 4.3

TD 7

JAY CUTLER

POS QB

ATT 137

COMP 81

PCT 59.1

YARDS 1,001

TD 9

INT 5

RATING 88.5

KYLE JOHNSON

POS FB

ATT 5

YARDS 30

AVG 6.0

REC 7

YARDS 37

AVG 5.3

TD 1

BRANDONMARSHALL

POS WR

REC 20

YARDS 309

TD 2

ERIK PEARS

POS RT

HT 6' 8"

WT 305

G 16

MONTRAE HOLLAND(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS RG

HT 6' 2"

WT 322

G 8

TOM NALEN

POS C

HT 6' 3"

WT 286

G 16

BEN HAMILTON

POS LG

HT 6' 4"

WT 283

G 16

MATT LEPSIS

POS LT

HT 6' 4"

WT 290

G 6

DANIEL GRAHAM(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS TE

REC 21

YARDS 235

TD 2

JASON ELAM

POS K

FG 27-29

POINTS 115

DEFENSE

IAN GOLD

POS WLB

TACKLES 90

SACKS 0

INT 0

JOHNENGELBERGER

POS LE

TACKLES 30

SACKS 1

SAM ADAMS (NEWACQUISITION)

POS LT

TACKLES 14

SACKS 2

AMON GORDON

POS RT

TACKLES 0

SACKS 0

JARVIS MOSS(R)(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS RE

TACKLES 56

SACKS 7 1/2

NATE WEBSTER

POS SLB

TACKLES 11

SACKS 0

INT 0

CHAMP BAILEY

POS CB

TACKLES 85

INT 10

JOHN LYNCH

POS FS

TACKLES 83

SACKS 0

INT 0

D.J. WILLIAMS

POS MLB

TACKLES 76

SACKS 1

INT 0

NICK FERGUSON

POS SS

TACKLES 35

SACKS 0

INT 1

DRE' BLY (NEWACQUISITION)

POS CB

TACKLES 54

INT 3

TODD SAUERBRUN(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS P

PUNTS 10

AVG 40.8

> 2006 RECORD9-7 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 8/25/21 DEFENSE 12/21/14

PHOTOGREG NELSONNext! Henry gets the chance to be the latest big-gaining back in the Broncos' system.PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHILLUSTRATION