AFC West: Rod Smith

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will formally introduce Gary Kubiak as the team’s new coach on Tuesday.

In many ways, it will be an easy move to explain to the team’s faithful. Kubiak is a former Broncos player and assistant coach. He has three Super Bowl rings -- one from when he was an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and two from his time as an assistant with the Broncos.

Kubiak is a good man, honorable in how he conducts himself. He took out a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle to thank “the players, coaches and staff for their tireless work and commitment’’ and to thank the fans AFTER he had been fired by the Texans in December 2013.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Gary Kubiak
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGary Kubiak's career record as a head coach is 61-64.
His former players swear by him -- a list that includes the likes of Rod Smith and Terrell Davis, and apparently one John Elway. Former tight end Joel Dreessen has said publicly he would “take a bullet’’ for Kubiak, and Jake Plummer said he wept when Kubiak left the Broncos after the 2005 season.

It’s all there with Kubiak: faith, family and football.

But the Broncos themselves have framed the discussion differently from the moment they parted ways with John Fox. He won 46 regular-season games and four division titles in four seasons in Denver, but it wasn't enough. The Broncos want to win the Super Bowl.

Elway essentially shook hands with a good guy in Fox, telling him two playoff exits as the AFC’s top seed -- a Super Bowl blowout last February to go with the double overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens to close out the 2012 season -- to go with their exit as the AFC's No. 2 seed with the Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts would not do.

When Elway announced Fox’s departure, he said: “He’s a very, very good man. He’s got a tremendous heart -- even the new one they fixed is still tremendous -- a guy that I will always have a personal relationship with. When we did get up and he left the room, we gave each other a hug and wished each other the best of luck. That relationship will always remain that way.’’

So clearly it isn't about being a good man, it is about playing football at the highest level. The level that wins championships.

Kubiak has led an NFL team before. His record in eight seasons with the Houston Texans was 61-64. They made the playoffs twice in 2011 and '12, winning a game before losing the next in both cases.

The Texans struggled on defense in Kubiak’s tenure, until he hired Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator. Things also got away from Kubiak at quarterback in his final season. Matt Schaub seemed to to lose confidence after a flurry of interceptions returned for touchdowns, and the losing appeared to take an enormous toll on Kubiak as he tried to make it right.

These are different situations, teams in different places to be sure. When Kubiak took the Texans' job before the 2006 season, they were a two-win team with an atrocious roster.

But his tenure showed how important his defensive staff was to his success. Phillips’ hire snapped the defense in order. Rick Dennison’s hire as offensive coordinator a few years into Kubiak’s tenure also bred success as the team's running game and offensive line play improved. Dennison will be on Kubiak’s staff with the Broncos, but how he fills out the rest of that staff will determine a lot about how things go in the seasons to come.

It is always a question of personnel, coaching or both. The Broncos believe Kubiak is the coach who can take a team Elway thinks has top-quality personnel and keep it playing into February.

Still, if the loss to the Colts showed anything, it’s that assignment discipline matters, schemes matter and players digesting information and playing in the moment matter. The Patriots and the Seahawks, two teams that defeated the Broncos this past season, showed where the get-it-done bar in the league sits right now.

Kubiak’s Texans never played beyond the divisional round and now he has been tasked with taking the Broncos to a championship. He will use what he learned in Houston, where he was expected to win.

But in Denver, he will be expected to win a lot more.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a career filled with signature plays, of double-take athleticism combined with preparation and instincts, the one that may stand alone, because of the context, wasn’t one of Champ Bailey’s 52 career interceptions.

It wasn’t one of the times he baited a quarterback down the hash in an effort to get somebody, anybody, to throw the ball his way, only to flash a little more make-up speed to snare the ball as his own.

It wasn’t one of the innumerable battles with the best the league had to offer at wide receiver.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey's preparation skills and aggressiveness helped him become one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks.
It was a tackle. Because while the world of shutdown corners is one often played out in the open spaces where unshakable confidence and 4.3 speed are requirements for survival, Bailey, who retired on Tuesday, at his best was more than that.

Yes, in his prime he was on the short list in coverage with flexibility, speed, an eye for details and the willingness to study. He had no island or T-shirts or signature strut into the end zone.

Broncos Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith once said, “Champ doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t have to. He knows you know you already didn’t get the ball."

But what separated Bailey from most who have played the position at its highest level, was that to go with all of those skills in coverage, Bailey would roll up his sleeves and get dirty in the run game. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, having made the trade to bring Bailey to Denver for what became a 10-year run, called Bailey the “best tackling cornerback I’ve ever seen and one of the best players in coverage I’ve ever seen. Just a no-doubt Hall of Famer."

So, the tackle, on a sweltering September day -- 89 degrees at kickoff with 64 percent worth of energy-sapping humidity -- in Miami. It was the 2005 season opener, a game the Broncos would eventually lose, before winning enough games to go on to the AFC Championship Game four months later.

And on the first play of the second half, in a game in which Bailey already had seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, on a first-and-10 for the Dolphins from the Miami 35-yard line, running back Ronnie Brown, then a 223-pound rookie, rumbled around the right end into what was on other days also a dirt infield for the Marlins with no other Broncos defenders within range to stop him.

Bailey charged the line of scrimmage, stopping Brown in the dirt for a 5-yard gain with no yardage after contact as Bailey dislocated his shoulder doing it. It’s not that Bailey, a top-shelf cornerback, made the play. It’s that he was willing to make the play.

Bailey, who wore a brace on his shoulder for years after that tackle and many more just like it, always seemed to be at the center of discussions between what football people said and what those with analytics in hand had to offer. The football people saw an all-time player with instincts, athleticism and a quarterback’s recall for situations and personnel.

And at times those who have opened the window to analytics in the game saw a player who got beat deep and was challenged more in coverage than was often presented in the mainstream.

In the end perhaps everybody has a point. From my perspective I often fall back on the words of a man who essentially had the patience and willingness to unwrap the game in many ways for me -- longtime scout C.O. Brocato -- who has always said to trust your eyes.

I’ve seen lots of cornerbacks play, lots of cornerbacks folks have stuck the "shutdown" label to, both with and without numbers or game video in hand to make the case. I don’t profess to have THE list and respectfully acknowledge opinions of others that were gleaned from hard work.

But the two most complete cornerbacks I have seen are Rod Woodson and Champ Bailey. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s going to stay for quite some time.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Somewhere, this week, in the expansive quiet that is northern Idaho, there was a man going through his own preparations as the clock winds down toward Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

"I've got to make sure we're all ready to go with the (satellite) dish, I don't want to miss a play," said one Jake Plummer.

Plummer, who was the Denver Broncos' honorary captain before last Sunday's divisional round win against the San Diego Chargers, just happens to be the last Broncos quarterback before Peyton Manning this past Sunday, to win a divisional round game and get to the AFC Championship Game. That 2005 Broncos team had stumbled into a home game for the conference championship when the Pittsburgh Steelers had upset Manning and the Indianapolis Colts the week before. Those Broncos certainly didn't make the most of it, the Steelers led 24-3 at halftime and went on to win, 34-17, on their way to a Super Bowl XL win.

Cornerback Champ Bailey is the only current Broncos player who played in that game.

For his part, Plummer has seen the Broncos plenty this season and having prepared to face New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- the Broncos defeated Belichick's Patriots in the divisional round following the 2005 season -- Plummer sees a few important items on the Broncos' to-do list.
Moreno
Things like:

Get running back Knowshon Moreno going. Moreno had a career-best 224 yards rushing in the Broncos' Nov. 24 loss to the Patriots on a career-high 37 carries. The Broncos rushed for 280 yards overall, working almost exclusively out of a three-wide receiver set.

"I think at times Knowshon can quite possibly be the MVP of that offense in the kind of situations you get in the playoffs," Plummer said. "Peyton's going to throw it in the red zone, he's going to get his touchdowns, but Knowshon is huge for them to keep things going.

"Knowshon is so good in the passing game, as a blocker in there and as a receiver, but if they get Knowshon going, then they have play-action, it keeps the rush off Peyton and when Peyton has the option of play-action, defenses, man, they don't know what to do with that offense then. Because they can come at you in the same action up front, run or pass, and Peyton sees those guys on defense coming up, he's going over the top."

Be ready to adjust. While every coach before every game talks about taking away something the opponent wants to do, Plummer said Belichick is simply one of the best at doing it.

"He's just always focusing in on stopping what you do well and then see if you have anything else in your back pocket, he almost never lets you beat him with what you do best," Plummer said. "With his own guys, he takes players and finds their strengths, rather than just trying to jam everybody into a system ... he has a way of getting those guys where they need to be and knowing how to shut down what you do well and seeing if you've got anything else in your repertoire. There will come a time in the game when the Broncos have to have other people make those plays.

"If the Broncos open it up a little bit, like they like to do, I could see Belichick attacking Julius (Thomas) and Montee (Ball) in the passing game. That could give them a little bit of trouble. I could just see Belichick, in search of a matchup, shift some things around to force Julius and Montee in to a tough choice in pass protection, where they're 1-on-1 with a defensive end or a linebacker. Julius, man, that guy is a superstar waiting to happen, but right now he has some things blocking that need some work and if they get the chance Belichick will try to create an issue there so the Broncos will have to have an answer."

Manage the moment. Plummer's former teammate, Broncos Ring of Famer Rod Smith said Thursday he didn't think some of the Broncos handled that end of things in the loss to the Steelers eight Januarys ago.

"We didn't have to go to Indy, Pittsburgh had to come to us and everybody was excited about that," Smith said. "And I'm like 'no, you gotta go play.' It's not about being excited about playing at home, it has nothing to do with it. You've got a football game ... and honestly I kind of saw a lot of our younger guys got lost in the fact we had a home game instead of getting lost in the fact of getting in that playbook, getting focused in, being disciplined on the things we need to do as a team and we didn't play well and we lost."

But both Plummer and Smith see players, such as Manning and Bailey, as key in the effort to keep their teammates dialed in. Smith said last January's loss should still sting the Broncos players who lived it and Plummer said it's often the team that handles that early-game emotional swirl the best is the one that plays closest to the form that got it this deep into January in the first place.

"You're asking me like I'm a pro, I went once to the AFC Championship," Plummer said with a laugh. "But the whole thing changes. ...The pressure is huge, but you have to try to approach it like any other game, it is just a football game, it's the same thing you played in Week 1. There's just so much more riding on it. You're one game away from the game everybody starts the season wanting to get to. The pressure mounts. There's no way to not feel it, but the guys who stay calm and do what they do best that's the key. With Peyton back there I kind of feel like, whatever storm New England brings, they'll come out on top and move on to New York."

The real Book of (Peyton) Manning

October, 3, 2013
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Peyton ManningMaddie Meyer/Getty ImagesThere's more to Peyton Manning's success than his football smarts and meticulous preparation.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- No matter what the question is or who is giving the answer, it always comes back to Peyton Manning's brain.

Back to pro football’s beautiful mind as it were. And with Manning off to the kind of statistical start that brings only shrugged shoulders and nervous laughs because of the ridiculousness of the mountain of numbers, it has all, again, come back to the brain.

Maybe it's because Manning dialed up Milt Plum’s jersey number just seconds after being asked about tying a record held by Plum. Or the fact that he can describe, down-by-down, drives from Tennessee-Florida games played 16 or 17 years ago. When describing how Manning plays the game, the discussion always starts with how he thinks through the game.

And that is a worthy starting point. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has described Manning's mind as “a database," admiring that Manning "didn’t just study what you did this year, but he studied what you did for years to see how you got to what you’re doing this year.’’

Certainly Manning’s ability to not only collect information, but to retain and use it so quickly at the line of scrimmage separates him from most who have ever played the position. His teammates, his peers behind center, those who have faced him, and those who have coached him all speak of Manning’s mind.

Essentially it’s like football Google.

But Manning's mind isn’t the whole story -- it can’t be. After so many discussions about defending Manning with many longtime defensive coaches around the league, as well as those who worked alongside Manning,there are some other things that may be as important.

Like his drive. No one can study as hard as Manning does without being driven to do so. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio speaks of watching Manning walk directly from the quarterback’s introductory news conference with the Broncos in March of 2012 -- “where he just held up a jersey’’ -- and into a meeting room to watch video. Or how he catered meals into the Broncos facility throughout that first offseason because he was in what he called “a crash course’’ to learn the team’s offense in a new place for the first time since his rookie year in 1998.

Or when Broncos Ring of Famer Rod Smith, who had been brought in by coach John Fox to speak to the players about striving for more, once asked Manning in a team meeting if he was ever the only one in the building and Manning’s reply was simply “yes.’’ Smith looked at everybody else in the room, according to those who were there, with an expression that said "see?''

It’s what Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway wanted when he signed Manning. Sure, Elway wanted the brain, the arm and the cachet that comes with a quarterback like Manning, but he also wanted the drive -- “a guy like that raises all boats.’’ Elway has said he wanted the constant pushing, when Manning runs every practice play in June like the Super Bowl or quizzes players on the spot about their responsibilities on specific plays. And after they answer, even if they’re right, he often asks, “Are you sure?’’

And there are the physical gifts, which are often lost in the discussions about the mind. Or as Lions coach Jim Schwartz has put it, “I think people forget sometimes how big he is.’’ At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Manning is one of the biggest starters at the position. He plays with a strong base, nearly flawless fundamentals drilled into muscle memory by years of work -- he still does the same footwork drills he did at Tennessee -- and with the toughness of a guy who didn’t miss a game for 13 years until he missed the 2011 season after multiple neck surgeries.

It’s all there for those trying to beat him, and even if they win a play, a drive or even a game, they know Manning is taking notes and will almost certainly, without fail, remember why.

Is Rod Smith HOF worthy?

May, 18, 2012
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When he watched his quarterback go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, Rod Smith wondered if his bust would be bronzed next to John Elway’s some day.

Now that he's entered the Denver Broncos’ ring of fame, the rag-to-riches receiver still wonders if he will end up in the Canton, Ohio museum.

[+] EnlargeRod Smith
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiWill former Broncos star Rod Smith ever hear his name called for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
It’s an interesting question. Will Rod Smith be a Pro Football Hall of Famer?

There’s no doubt the undrafted free agent turned star receiver has a strong resume, however, he played a position which has not been overly valued by hall of fame voters in the recent past. Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed are part of a receiver logjam waiting to be elected to the hall.

Smith may have a long wait, if he makes it at all, even though he has won two Super Bowl rings. He is 11th in NFL history in career receptions (849), 17th in career receiving yards (11,389) and tied for 30th in career receiving touchdowns (68). He caught 70 or more catches for nine straight seasons, which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. His career reception and receiving yardage totals is the best in league history for undrafted players.

Known as one of the hardest workers in the league while he played, Smith himself thinks he deserves to be inducted, although he knows it won’t be easy.

“Well what are they basing the Hall of Fame on?” Smith asked reporters Thursday in an interview to discuss his induction into the Broncos’ ring of fame. “What do you base it on? Do you base it on wins? I have some of those. Do you base it on catches? I have a lot of those. Touchdowns … and the unsung stuff to me is the blocking that Eddie [McCaffrey] and myself and the other guys I played with. You look at the running backs in my era and how many yards they rushed for. I take that personally because it was about the team to me. Honestly, there are a ton of guys that my numbers are way better than theirs, so why not be considered for it? When I went into the business I wasn’t looking at that, but once I got in the business and I saw that those things were possible. I went to John Elway’s induction into the hall of fame and I said it’s possible. It’s hard to see it until you see somebody else kind of go through it. When I saw John get inducted, I was very emotional that day, because I knew a piece of me went. But, I said, 'Why not be right beside him? Why not have a bust right beside him?' One thing I can say is this: I don’t get to vote, and if I did, I would vote for me because I gave them everything I had. That’s all I can do. I tried to be the best teammate I could. I tried to represent the game, the NFL shield as best as I could. Those who vote will hopefully see it the same way. That’s all I can do.”

Smith certainly has a case for Canton. The trouble is he plays a position where many players have a case, so his wait for enshrinement may be a long one.
The 23rd member of the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame is one of the most renowned hard workers in team history.

Rod Smith went from an undrafted free agent to a two-time Super Bowl winner and leader of the franchise in Denver. It's no surprise Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and the selection committee have given Smith the team’s greatest honor by inducting him into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame. He is the first person to be inducted in three years.

Smith’s induction ceremony will be Sept. 23 at halftime of the Broncos’ home game against the Houston Texans. It’s probably not a coincidence Smith will be inducted against the Texans. Houston coach Gary Kubiak was Smith’s longtime offensive coordinator in Denver.

[+] EnlargeRod Smith
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiRod Smith finished his stellar career with 849 receptions for 11,389 receiving yards and 68 receiving TDs.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection set franchise records in receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389) and receiving touchdowns (68). He also owns the club’s career postseason receiving marks with 49 receptions for 860 yards and six touchdowns in 13 playoff games (12 starts), including the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl championships following the 1997 and ’98 seasons.

The Division II Missouri Southern University product spent his rookie season on the practice squad in 1995. He impressed then-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan in 1995 and Smith quickly became a major part of the offense. He remained a critical part of the team until he retired in 2008.

I covered Smith for a few years and I’ll always remember him for being a team player and being completely committed to his team. He was all business. Being a Bronco meant the world to him. He was a favorite of team employees on the football and non-football sides alike.

Smith’s first NFL quarterback, John Elway, had this to say about Smith’s election to the Ring of Fame:

“You couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Rod Smith. His work ethic, the way he competed and the positive influence he had on others were all qualities that made him one of the best. What a great Bronco who is so deserving of being honored as a member of the Ring of Fame.

“Although he had plenty of catches and touchdowns in his career, the only things that mattered to Rod were winning and competing for Super Bowls. That’s what was most important to him, and it showed in everything he did. Whether it was in the passing game or running game, you always knew Rod would give 100 percent on every play and do whatever it took to help his team win.

“Rod brought his lunch pail to work each day, took nothing for granted and made himself into an elite player. He’s a true pro. In addition to being one of the greatest undrafted players of all time, he’s one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the position.

“I’m thrilled Rod has been elected to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, and I look forward to celebrating his induction this season.”
It’s a rough start to the NFL weekend.

The league is mourning the death of Mike Heimerdinger after a fight with cancer that lasted nearly a year. He was 58.

Heimerdinger had key assistant-coaching roles with the Broncos, Jets and Titans. He had a long career in Denver and was on the team’s staff as the receivers coach when it won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and ’98 seasons. He was the assistant head coach in Denver in 2006 and 2007. He and former Denver coach Mike Shanahan were roommates at Eastern Illinois, and they were best friends as adults.

He was the Titans’ offensive coordinator last year and he coached battling the disease.

Known simply as “Dinger” to nearly everyone, Heimerdinger was intelligent, hard-working and caring.

Former Denver receiving great Rod Smith routinely credits Heimerdinger for his development. They remained close.

I always enjoyed my time spent with Heimerdinger. He was always cordial and generous with his time.

Rest in peace, Dinger. My condolences go out to his family and friends.

Here's a statement the Broncos released Saturday:
The Denver Broncos are heartbroken to learn of Mike Heimerdinger’s passing on Friday night following his courageous battle with cancer.

Mike coached for the Broncos during the most successful period in team history, highlighted by the club’s back-to-back World Championship seasons of 1997-98. Known affectionately as Dinger, Mike earned respect and admiration from this franchise and around the NFL for his grit, passion and “never-give-up” attitude.

He remained close with several members of the organization following his final year with the Broncos in 2007, including some who visited him last week before the team’s game in Tennessee.

The Broncos extend their deepest sympathies and prayers to Mike’s wife, Kathie, and the rest of his family and friends during this most difficult time.

AFC West links: Turner eyes complete team

May, 24, 2011
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Denver Broncos

Former Broncos receiver Rod Smith reflects on the devastation in Joplin, Mo., where he attended Missouri Southern State University.

Jeff Legwold weighs in on the Broncos' running back situation.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are donating $35,000 to the relief efforts in Joplin.

Arrowhead Pride takes a look at which rookies have the best chance to make an immediate impact.

Oakland Raiders

Texans receiver Andre Johnson is doing his best to sell cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on coming to Houston once free agency begins.

The Sporting News lists the Raiders as one of four teams that would be a good pick to be featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks."

San Diego Chargers

Becoming a complete team is a top priority for Chargers coach Norv Turner. Turner: “The big thing for me in looking at our team for the season is how we find a way to get the three units to be as productive as possible and feed off each other. To do that, obviously, it’s playing great in the kicking game in terms of coverage and then improving our returns because our returns have slipped over the last couple years.”
I caught up with former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe on Wednesday to discuss his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Here we go:

How did you celebrate Saturday night in Dallas?

Shannon Sharpe: I went back to my room, ordered room service and went to bed. I’m not a big celebrator. I don’t drink, so I’m not a big partier. Now, I’ll have a get together back in my hometown some time with family and friends, but Saturday night was pretty basic. I talked to my family and best friend, but other than that, it was quiet.

What was Sunday like?

[+] EnlargeShannon Sharpe
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireShannon Sharpe's brother -- former Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe -- will present Shannon at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
SS: I got a lot of people congratulating me, but it was because they thought I was Sterling [Sharpe] and they were congratulating him on the Packers winning. I’d say 75 percent of the time people recognize me they call me "Sterling." I don’t think he ever gets "Shannon."

Who do you think will be the next Denver player to get into the Hall of Fame?

SS: I’d Say TD [Terrell Davis]. I think Randy Gradishar could get in at some point in the senior committee, but as far as the modern players, I think Terrell, and then followed closely by Rod Smith, should get in.

Who is going to present you into the Hall of Fame?

SS: My brother. If I could split it up, I’d have my brother and sister, but she doesn’t like talking in public. It will be my brother and there was never really any thought to it. It’s him.

What does you old quarterback, John Elway, need to do to fix the Broncos?

SS: As a former player, John will be smart about it. Even though he was a quarterback, John will know Denver needs to get as much defensive help as possible to help Elvis Dumervil. If they can do that, they should be able to get back on track.

Dexter McCluster makes progress

November, 24, 2010
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It looks like Kansas City rookie Dexter McCluster is on his way back to the field. The receiver/running back/returner practiced fully Wednesday for the first time in a month. McCluster missed the past four games with an ankle injury. If he doesn’t have a setback, I’d expect him to play Sunday at Seattle.

However, standout Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers did not practice with a hamstring injury. He was hurt in the Chiefs’ win over the Cardinals on Sunday. Safety Jon McGraw has been out for two weeks and he didn’t practice Wednesday, either because of a head injury.

Left tackle Branden Albert (groin), guard Ryan Lilja (foot) and tight end Tony Moeaki (head) were limited Wednesday. Moeaki didn’t play against Arizona.
  • Oakland coach Tom Cable indicated that star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is making progress toward playing Sunday against Miami. He’s missed two games with an ankle injury. Cable also said that receiver Chaz Schilens is now dealing with a setback from an old foot injury. Schilens has been out all season with a knee injury. This kid is talented, but he just has to find his health.
  • For Denver, linebacker D.J. Williams was limited due to a concussion he suffered Monday night at San Diego. Linebacker Robert Ayers was practicing fully after missing several games with a foot injury. There is a good chance he will play Sunday against visiting St. Louis.
  • Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has cancer. He was previously Denver’s offensive coordinator and receivers coach. Former Denver receiving great Rod Smith credits Heimerdinger for making him a quality NFL player. Heimerdinger and former Denver coach Mike Shanahan were college roommates at Eastern Illinois. Heimerdinger is a quality coach and a good man. Best wishes to him and his family.

Best Broncos Team Ever: 1998

June, 25, 2010
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Notable players: QB John Elway, RB Terrell Davis, WRs Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, TE Shannon Sharpe, OT Tony Jones, C Tom Nalen, G Mark Schlereth, DE Neil Smith, DE Trevor Pryce, LB Bill Romanowski, LB John Mobley, S Steve Atwater, K Jason Elam.

Analysis: This was a great all-time NFL team. In 2007, the NFL Network ranked the team as the 12th-best Super Bowl winner.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Davis
US PresswireTerrell Davis gained 2,008 rushing yards in 1998, just one of six 2,000-yard seasons in NFL history.
The 1998 Broncos followed up their magical 1997 season, in which they were a surprise Super Bowl winner, with a surgically precise team. The Broncos were masterful in every aspect of the game. Elway led the Broncos during his final NFL season, which culminated in an MVP-winning performance in an easy 34-19 win over Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

The Broncos won their first 13 games and finished the regular season 14-2. The only game Denver lost that it truly tried to win was its 14th game, a last-moment loss to the Giants at The Meadowlands. The Broncos were never challenged during three postseason wins. Known for not having the best supporting casts for much of his career, Elway enjoyed the benefit of a stunning running game and a nasty, fierce defense in his final season.

Running back Terrell Davis ran for 2,008 yards, which was then the third-highest rushing total in NFL history. He won the NFL MVP award that season.

When Davis’ hard, downhill running in coach Mike Shanahan's brilliant zone-blocking scheme was combined with the elegance of Elway passing to Smith, McCaffrey and the game-changing Sharpe, Denver was breathtaking to watch on offense.

Defensively, this mean, nasty group always seemed to come up with the big play. Things rarely went wrong for this team. It simply steamrolled through the season.

“We were stacked,” said Elam, who tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal during the season. “I remember us routinely being up by three touchdowns at the end of the first quarter and we knew it was over … It was a dream season.”

Most impressive win: The 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. The supremely focused Broncos never truly let the Falcons in the game. It was a perfect ending to a near-perfect season.

Businessmen: People around this team always talk about how serious it was. Unlike the 1997 season in which Denver had to fight and scrap every step of the way for its first Super Bowl championship, winning it all was a foregone conclusion all season in 1998.

The Broncos were focused on winning the Super Bowl all season. After the win over Atlanta, there were no wild celebrations. Sure, players were happy. But they were businesslike. It was a different scene from the euphoric celebration that followed the team’s win over heavily favored Green Bay the year before. It was as if the 1998 title was expected all season.

Honorable mention:

1977: Red Miller’s 12-2 outfit was strong, but it was no match for the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

1996: The memory of this team still stings in Denver. The Broncos were a great team, perhaps better than the 1998 outfit, but it lost at home in the divisional playoff round to Jacksonville, ruining everything good associated with this team.

1997: This is probably the most popular Denver team ever. It fought its way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win as a wild-card team. The words “This one's for John” will never be forgotten in the Rocky Mountains.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -– It is early, but one of the more impressive players in Denver is its first-round pick, receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas, the No. 22 overall pick out of Georgia Tech, is big, strong, fast and appears willing to do everything necessary to be a quality No. 1 starter. Like every other young receiver, Thomas has had his share of drops, but he’s also made some nice plays.

“He’s doing great. In terms of trying to get better at the things that he has struggled with or made an error with -- he has really worked hard to try to fix those,” Denver coach Josh McDaniels said. “He’s had a great attitude and approach. He hasn’t made the same error a lot. You know, he’s dropped a couple balls -- I think that everyone has seen this guy make tremendous catches and then there’s been some other ones that he’s dropped. I think that comes with playing and knocking off some of the rust and you know, it’s only his fourth or fifth practice where he’s been out there against NFL-caliber defensive backs. Like I said, he’ll only get better every day and today was better than yesterday.”

Thomas received special attention Friday after practice from former Broncos star receiver Rod Smith. Smith, who retired after the 2007 season, has been a regular visitor to Denver’s practice facility to help youngsters. Thomas is Smith's next project.

“[Smith] helped me out a lot, actually,” Thomas said. “Just some of the stuff that he told me he did and would help me out and I tried it today and it did help … [Smith’s advice] was basically getting off the line and getting off the press and using my body and using my shoulders -- something I never did before.”

The Broncos have high expectations for Thomas. The team needs a new go-to receiver after trading Brandon Marshall to Miami.

AFC West mailbag

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
4:00
PM ET
Matthew Villa from Los Angeles wants to know if Michael Bush could be Oakland’s starting tailback this year.

Bill Williamson: Oakland wants to see third-year back Darren McFadden become the player it has hoped he would be when he was drafted with the No.4 overall pick in 2008. McFadden has been hampered by injuries and has been inconsistent. But he will get a chance to show he can be the man in Oakland. But Bush is still in the mix. If he outperforms McFadden on a consistent basis, Bush will get more carries. Either way, expect Bush to have a major role in this offense.


Dan Arguello from Phoenix wants to know if former Denver star receiver Rod Smith is still involved with the Broncos.

BW: Smith is not involved with the Broncos in an official capacity. But he still stops by occasionally to help the receivers. He was often in the locker room after games last season. The Broncos brass thinks a lot of Smith and he has an open invitation to stop by and chat with players.


Tony from Kansas City wants to know what to expect from Dexter McCluster as a rookie.

BW: Expect Kansas City to have an aggressive plan for McCluster, who was a running back at Mississippi, but who will be a slot receiver in Kansas City. I think the Chiefs will create a lot of packages for him and try to exploit his wicked speed. He will also be a factor in the return game. Expect to see a lot of McCluster as a rookie.
Using John Clayton’s top 10 Super Bowl plays as inspiration, I’m going to list my top five Super Bowl plays involving AFC West teams.

I only considered plays from the six Super Bowls AFC West teams won. AFC West teams have participated in 14 of the 43 Super Bowls.

Fill up the comment list on the bottom of the post with your thoughts.

Elway’s helicopter: It was clear Denver was about to win its first Super Bowl when quarterback John Elway performed his “helicopter” move to convert a first down on a third-and-6 run deep in Green Bay territory in Super Bowl XXXII. It was an instant classic and the Packers really had no chance to overcome that desire and emotion.

Brown’s interception: It’s one of my first Super Bowl memories. In Super Bowl XI against Minnesota, Oakland star cornerback Willie Brown returned a Fran Tarkenton interception 75 yards for a touchdown in the Raiders’ dominating win over the Vikings. It stood as an NFL record for 29 years.

Squirek’s interception: Jack Squirek is not a Hall of Fame like Brown, but he goes down in the team's Super Bowl lore. Just before the half of Super Bowl XVII, the linebacker intercepted a Joe Theismann pass deep in Washington territory. Squirek shocked Washington with the five-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a 21-3 lead at the half. The Redskins were done after that play.

Allen’s run: The Raiders put the cherry on top of their 38-9 win over the Redskins with a 74-yard reverse run by Marcus Allen to give the Raiders a 35-9 lead late in the third quarter. It was the signature play of a Hall of Fame career.

Elway to Smith: The Broncos took control of Super Bowl XXXIII against Atlanta with an 80-yard bomb from Elway to receiver Rod Smith late in the second quarter. The play showed Atlanta that Denver was just too talented to tangle with.

Broncos reveal 50th anniversary team

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
7:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


The Denver Broncos have released their all-time 50th Anniversary team that was chosen by fan voting. The team will be recognized Oct. 11 against New England.

It looks to me that the fans got this line right. There are some superstars on this team. Here’s the list:

First-team Offense

QB John Elway

RB Terrell Davis

RB Floyd Little

WR Ed McCaffrey

WR Rod Smith

TE Shannon Sharpe

OT Matt Lepsis

OT Gary Zimmerman

G Keith Bishop

G Mark Schlereth

C Tom Nalen

First-team Defense

DE Simon Fletcher

DE Rich Jackson

DT Trevor Pryce

DT Rubin Carter

LB Karl Mecklenburg

LB Randy Gradishar

LB Tom Jackson

CB Champ Bailey

CB Louis Wright

S Steve Atwater

S Dennis Smith

First-team Specialists

K Jason Elam

P Tom Rouen

Ret Rick Upchurch

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