AFC West: Tom Jackson
The likes of Rubin Carter, Lyle Alzado, Barney Chavous, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Joe Rizzo, Bo Swenson, Steve Foley, Louis Wright, Bernard Jackson and Billy Thompson, the names of the Orange Crush defense that not only powered the Broncos to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 1977, but into the franchise’s first of what has now been seven Super Bowl trips.
They were the Orange Crush. And Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio turned back the clock at a team function this week, just as he had to open training camp, and showed the current Broncos a collection of highlights from the ’77 team. That’s because Del Rio wants some Crush 2.0.
“Oh, I like that a lot," said Joe Collier, the Broncos’ longtime defensive coordinator, including in ’77. “That’s good, that was a year you love to be a part of, it’s great Jack thought enough to do that. That was the year that kind of got it going here, I always call it that ‘get over the hump’ year for the franchise."
Del Rio has spent much of the offseason extolling the potential virtues of the Broncos’ current defense in the team’s quest to get back to its 2012 status, when it finished among the league’s top five scoring defenses and top five defenses overall.
The Broncos dove into free agency to sign safety T.J. Ward, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib. They selected cornerback Bradley Roby in the first round of the draft. They have a recovered Chris Harris Jr. And they have a rejuvenated Von Miller, who is fully recovered from knee surgery and has his weight back down to where it was in 2012, when he had 18.5 sacks.
The Broncos hope they are a far cry from a defense that was missing five starters, all on injured reserve, in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos finished in the bottom half of the league in many defensive categories.
"We’re talented, we’re deeper and we understand there are a lot of challenges in front of us, so we’re just gearing up to play good football," Del Rio said. “ … I tell our guys all the time, you know, Coach Fox says it, just show me. We want to see it. Because we know that this is a good, talented group, but it’s about coming together, playing together, playing well, feeding off each other at home, getting the crowd into it, giving them something to cheer for."
Gradishar was honored by Del Rio's sentiment. “I’m surprised, and honored, Jack would reach back almost 30 years to show them something," Gradishar said just after quickly naming the other 10 starters in the unit. “We were proud of the way that defense played, proud of what we did. We had great coaches, had great players. But I’m excited to see what these guys can do. If they keep themselves focused, they have a Super Bowl team, a Super Bowl-winning team."
After a predictably vanilla preseason with Del Rio sticking to the basics – Harris didn’t play at all while Miller played just nine snaps, as both are returning from knee surgeries – Sunday night’s opener against the Indianapolis Colts will be the first time the team shows the changes that arrive with the new personnel and the starters who are returning from injury.
“At the end of the day, this is an offensive-minded regime," Ware said. “But we’re trying to be the No. 1 defense and we’re bringing that Orange Crush back."
This is the third of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. We have already featured Tom Jackson’s 73-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Denver Broncos' quest for the franchise’s first playoff spot in the 1977 seasons, as well as John Elway’s 18-yard completion to Shannon Sharpe on third-and-6 in the final minutes of the AFC Championship Game following the 1997 season.
Please vote for your choice as the Broncos’ most memorable play.
Score: Broncos 31, Packers 24
Date: Jan. 25, 1998 Site: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego
The underdog, wild-card Broncos and the heavily-favored Packers had taken their best swings at each other and were deep into the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXII, tied 17-17. Still in search of the first title of his Hall of Fame career, Elway had the Broncos moving during a possession that had begun at the Broncos' 8-yard line with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan sent in a pass play, and when Elway initially dropped back he was looking for fellow future Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. But the Packers had Sharpe, with safeties LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson, bracketed nicely with no room for Elway to fit the ball in.
And with the Packers' defensive front closing in, the then 37-year-old Elway had run out of options to do anything but, well, run.
Elway charged into what he has called "the first open space I kind of saw." After eight yards, three Packers -- Butler, Mike Prior and Brian M. Williams -- crashed into a leaping Elway, spinning the quarterback around, before he landed hard on the grass.
The Broncos had their first down, and two plays later they got their touchdown when Davis plowed in from the 1-yard line. And just more than a quarter later, the team and its best-ever player had their first championship.
It was a 13-play, 92-yard drive, pounded out on the game’s biggest stage, punctuated by what Sharpe has called "a 37-year-old quarterback throwing himself at the one thing he didn’t have in his career. You don't forget something like that."
This is the second of three nominations for the most memorable play in Denver Broncos history. On Monday, we featured Tom Jackson's 73-yard interception return for a touchdown in 1977 to power the Broncos to their first Super Bowl trip and tomorrow we’ll feature Hall of Famer John Elway’s scramble in Super Bowl XXXII, known simply as the “helicopter play" to most of the team’s faithful.
Please vote for your choice as the Broncos’ most memorable play.
Score: Broncos 24, Steelers 21
Date: Jan. 11, 1998 Site: Three Rivers Stadium
They arrived to the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh having already thumped the Jaguars 42-17 in the wild-card round to go with a survival-of-the-fittest 14-10 victory over the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round, a game former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has always called “the hardest-hitting game I’ve ever been a part of in the National Football League."
And with the clock on Elway’s career starting to tick loudly at this point, the Broncos certainly had their eyes on the prize.
After a 17-point second quarter gave the Broncos a 24-14 lead, the Steelers had narrowed the gap to 24-21 with just under three minutes to play -– the only score of the second half for either team -– and the Broncos needed a quality possession to wind the clock and close things out.
However, following the Pittsburgh score, the Broncos took over on their own 11-yard line with 2:46 to play. Elway hit Ed McCaffrey for a 6-yard gain on first down to move the ball to the Broncos' 17. Running back Terrell Davis was then thrown a for 2-yard loss on second down, which left the Broncos facing a third-and-6 from their own 15-yard line and the all-too-real prospect of handing the Steelers' quality field position if they did not convert.
Shanahan sent in a play the Broncos, according to Shannon Sharpe, had not practiced in weeks and was not part of the game plan the team had made to prepare for the Steelers. And Sharpe has said after Elway called the play in the huddle, Sharpe said to the quarterback, “We don’t have that play in."
Sharpe then asked Elway, “What do you want me to do?" Sharpe said Elway responded with words now in the team’s championship lore -- “Go get open."
Sharpe did, to the tune of a 18-yard gain before the Steelers’ Lee Flowers made the tackle. The Broncos ran four more plays to run out the clock and keep the opportunity of the franchise’s first Super Bowl win in their grasp.
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Denver Broncos history. In the next two days, we’ll also feature: Hall of Famer John Elway’s 18-yard completion on a third-and-6 with two minutes to play in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 11, 1998 in Pittsburgh as the Broncos went on to earn the franchise’s first Super Bowl win two weeks later; and Elway’s scramble in Super Bowl XXXII, known simply as the "helicopter play" to most of the team’s faithful.
Please vote for your choice as the Broncos’ most memorable play.
Score: Broncos 27, Colts 13
Date: Nov. 27, 1977 Site: Mile High Stadium
But the bottom line is the plays had to have some symbolism, the historical context that makes them important. And while Elway’s Hall of Fame career is an enormous presence in all the Broncos have done since their inception in 1960, Tom Jackson’s play has plenty of meaning, particularly for the Broncos of the Orange Crush era and even those who came before.
When the Baltimore Colts arrived in Denver for a Week 11 matchup between two 9-1 teams, the Broncos were a team that had never been to the postseason, in position for the franchise's first trip. The Broncos took a quick 14-0 lead on two touchdown passes from Craig Morton, only to see the Colts battle back to 14-13 on a Bert Jones to Bobby Mitchell touchdown pass with 11 minutes, 24 seconds remaining.
With Jones driving the Colts toward another potential score midway through the fourth quarter, the Colts quarterback tried to squeeze a pass to running back Don McCauley -- McCauley had 11 catches for 112 yards in the game -- but Jackson snatched the ball from the air and raced 73 yards for a touchdown. He tossed the ball into the stands after he had crossed into the end zone to extend the Broncos' lead with 7:20 to play.
Fellow Ring of Fame member Louis Wright added an interception later in the fourth quarter that led to another Broncos touchdown on the way to a 27-13 win. The victory went a long way toward giving the Broncos home-field advantage in the playoffs, and they went on to defeat the Steelers and Raiders in back-to-back weeks to earn a trip to Super Bowl XII.
It was the first of what is now seven trips to the league’s title game for the Broncos, including Super Bowl XLVIII to close the 2013 season.
But as the Denver Broncos opened their three-day mandatory minicamp with a team meeting Monday night, one of the items on the agenda was distributing the rings the team's players, coaches and other staff members received for being the AFC champion. It was part celebration of a 13-3 finish to go with a pile of records on offense to go with the bittersweet memory of a 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Essentially a high-priced, second-place bauble that players and coaches especially weren't prepared to celebrate.
“I've been part of three of those unfortunately, but you recognize that it was a great effort," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "It’s not like the Olympics where they pass out three medals. You only get two medals in this league. When you get either one of them is good, but the real prize is that gold medal."
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was asked following Tuesday’s practice if he would ever wear the ring and he simply said "probably not."
In the meeting Fox addressed last season's successes and addressed this year's goals with the team. He also asked former Broncos linebacker and current ESPN analyst Tom Jackson to address the team. The team is scheduled to have four organized team activities next week, but with the rings ready to be distributed and the team set for minicamp this week, Fox used the occasion to have Jackson address the team.
And the message was abundantly clear to one and all.
"We talked about it (Monday) night ... and we addressed last season," Manning said. "We talked about the things that were positive about it and we talked about how we still want to go a step further. We did a lot of good things last year and we need to build on those things. You just don’t go out and go a step further because you went that far last year."
Is this really how Denver fans treat the arrival of second-round draft picks at the start of training camp?
Manning’s first camp day as a Denver Bronco was met with unprecedented fan excitement. Some fans were in line to attend the free practice at 4:30 a.m. Thursday and the team announced a record crowd of 4,372 for a camp practice. The previous record was 3,103. A crowd of at least 75 reporters huddled around Manning after his first camp practice.
It’s real, Manning is a Denver Bronco. And he looked fantastic.
“He’s as accurate as he’s been in the past and I don’t expect anything less from him,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said.
Slowly, the focus is moving away from whether Manning can come back from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season. He has made major strides throughout the offseason. Sunday, there were no signs of a quarterback struggling with his health.
ESPN medical analyst Stephania Bell told me she was impressed by the tempo Manning, 36, led Thursday. It is another sign that Manning is all-in and the team is not holding him back.
“The arm strength was there, his passes were on time,” said ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, who was part of the network’s coverage team. “He was Peyton Manning.”
For Manning, Thursday’s practice was another important step on his way back to the field. Manning remains methodical in his progression, but the idea of finally getting back in action for the first time since January 2011 spurs him.
“I have missed it, and I’ve never taken it for granted to be out there playing,” Manning said. “I had been playing for 13 years straight and never missed a game since I’ve been playing quarterback in the seventh grade. That’s a lot of consecutive games, a lot of Fridays or Saturdays or Sundays to be playing a game, so I’m glad to be back in more of a normal routine, in a practice routine.”
And so are the legions of his new fans in Colorado.
Rivers was out of control and confused as an unsuccessful last-ditch drive ended in a six-point loss at the New York Jets, a game in which Rivers uncharacteristically threw two late interceptions that fueled a Jets comeback victory. Most alarming about Rivers’ meltdown is that it has been building all season.
Known as one of the better quarterbacks in football, Rivers has looked uncomfortable and out of sync for parts of nearly every game this season.
Rivers, who appeared to be pressing often against the Jets, needs to quickly revert to his normal calm and effective self. The Chargers visit resurgent Kansas City on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” in a game that has major near-midseason implications. If the Chiefs -- who have won three straight games after starting 0-3 -- win, they will be tied with San Diego and Oakland (which has a bye this week) for first place in the division at 4-3. However, if Rivers can straighten things out, the Chargers have a chance to rebound to 5-2 and continue to be the favorite to secure the division crown.
But everything starts with Rivers in San Diego. Rivers’ inconsistency is one of the reasons the Chargers’ offense has been stagnant at times. The Chargers have struggled in the red zone and have had trouble compiling points. The Chargers haven’t scored more than 29 points in a game this season. They have scored at least 30 points in at least five games every season since Rivers took over in 2006.
Rivers, who’ll turn 30 in December, has been intercepted nine times in six games. In four of the Chargers’ six games this season, Rivers has been picked off twice, including the Chargers’ first three games, which was the first time Rivers was intercepted twice in three straight games. He has never been intercepted three times in a game in his career. His nine picks in 218 attempts this season equals the number of interceptions he threw in the entire 2009 season in 486 attempts. The most interceptions he has ever thrown in a season is 15.
His average of 7.9 yards per pass completion is his lowest since 2007. Rivers has thrown just seven touchdown passes, and he is on pace for his lowest touchdown passing total of his career.
He is also struggling in more obscure statistical areas, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He is not having success throwing out of the shotgun. Eight of his nine interceptions have been thrown out of the shotgun, to go along with four touchdown passes. From 2008-10, Rivers threw 50 touchdowns out of the shotgun and just 16 interceptions.
Although there were whispers about Rivers’ early-season struggles before the bye, his stinker against the Jets has prompted many analysts to wonder out loud what is wrong.
After the New York game, ESPN analyst Tom Jackson said this: “I’m concerned. Philip Rivers is not right.” ESPN analyst Merril Hoge added this during the week: “He is not dialed in. ... If he keeps playing like this, the Chargers will not make the playoffs.”
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. wrote this week that he thinks Rivers could be dealing with an injury. Here is some of what Williamson wrote:
Rivers has not seemed right all season, and the only explanation I can come up with is that he might be battling an undisclosed injury. The quarterback is missing on throws he almost always completes, and the interceptions keep piling up as a result of questionable decisions. Perhaps his mind is writing checks that his body cannot cash.
Rivers said this week that he is healthy. I know there was concern early in the season that Rivers might have been favoring his ribs. But he has not appeared on any injury reports this season. Many scouts I have talked to believe Rivers is now simply trying too hard. I asked Williamson if he thinks Rivers can snap out of his funk or if this highly respected player is suddenly on the slide. Williamson didn’t hesitate.
“If he is physically able to throw the football like he is capable, I have no doubt that he will snap out of it,” Williamson said. “I’m extremely high on Rivers.”
Rivers has maintained that all is well, and he has downplayed his and the Chargers’ issues this season. He has long heard criticism of his team and he believes, in the big picture, San Diego is on the right track.
"I don't know if it matters what we learned other than [the game is] something to fill tomorrow morning's news,'' Rivers said after the Jets game. "All I hear for six months was that the regular season didn't matter. Now everyone wants to know what is the matter?"
Still, Rivers is considered an elite quarterback. He has been expected to become the next great quarterback to win a Super Bowl ring. But he has not played at a Super Bowl-contending caliber this year, and until he does again, people will continue to wonder what’s wrong with him.
Manase Tonga will start for Reece, rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke will play for Johnson. Jarvis Moss will start for Shaughnessy. Receiver Louis Murphy is active. It will be his first game since he suffered a sports hernia in training camp.
Rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor is still listed as a roster exemption after his five-game NFL suspension ended. The Raiders will likely activate him Monday.
Meanwhile, here are some highlights from ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown," in which the 3-2 Raiders were a topic:
Tom Jackson: “I’m buying ‘em because they are built in the image of Al Davis.”
Merril Hoge: “The Raiders didn’t get the memo -- that this is a passing league. They didn’t get that memo because they run the football on the perimeter better than anybody.”
Bill Parcells: “If they could cut down a little on that recklessness, cut those penalties down, they’re going to go right to the top of that discipline index, and that usually means winning.”
Receiver Malcom Floyd is expected to play after dealing with a hamstring injury. As expected, receiver Vincent Jackson is out with a calf injury he suffered on the second play at Indianapolis.
Mike Tolbert, who was questionable with a hand injury, is active and he will start. Rookie tailback Ryan Mathews will play after dealing with an ankle injury the past two games. He’ll backup Tolbert.
Guard Tyrone Green will play start his second straight game for Louis Vasquez, who is out with a neck injury. Stephen Cooper (knee) is active, but Brandon Siler will start in his place at inside linebacker.
Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens is a surprise active player. He’s been out all year with foot and knee issues. He has only practiced sparingly this season. The Raiders have given no indications how much he will play Sunday.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle) and tight end Zach Miller (foot and leg contusion) are active and are expected to start.
Meanwhile, Kansas City standout cornerback Brandon Flowers is playing Sunday after missing last week’s game with a hamstring that limited him in practice much of the week.
The Kansas City Star has an interesting look at what makes these upstart Chiefs unique amongst NFL teams.
Denver Post Broncos’ beat writer Mike Klis thinks Denver head coach Josh McDaniels could be in trouble.
McDaniels was a subject on ESPN’s NFL Sunday Countdown. He wasn’t getting rave reviews. Here’s a taste:
Mike Ditka: “I think coaching is about a lot of things, X’s and O’s we know that’s important. I think people are more important. How you handle your people, how you relate to your people and how you make your personnel decisions and that’s where he’s had a problem.”
Tom Jackson: “The defensive coordinator really responsible for that 6-0 start is now in Miami….now you have Brady Quinn, I don’t know if he can play pro football. You’ve got the greatest collegiate player in history in Tim Tebow, I don’t know if he can play pro football. And you got caught cheating in the last two weeks.”
Cris Carter: “As a young coach, you have to be careful how you wield your power…If you mismanage that power and you try to wield your power too strong, then guys, you won’t get the best out of them and that’s what’s happening in Denver.”
Yet, Norv Turner let his team know he hadn’t given up on it, but it was time for it to start playing up to its potential and stop the self-destruction. Turner, who has a reputation for being laid back and lacking fire, delivered the most impassioned halftime speech of his four-year tenure in San Diego. The theme of the loud, colorfully worded address was belief.
“I’ve never seen him like that before,” San Diego safety Eric Weddle said. “He told us how much he cares about us and he’d do anything for us. ... But he also told us it was time to get going. It was basically ‘now, let’s go freaking get it done.’ ... I think that speech was a big reason why we came out like we did in the second half."
Losers of their past three games, the Chargers were in serious danger of seeing their AFC playoff hopes vanish Sunday. Tennessee was up by 12 points at one point in the first half. But spurred on by Turner’s words from the heart, San Diego took over in the second half and beat the Titans 33-25.
The Chargers are now 3-5. They trail Kansas City (5-2) and Oakland (4-4) in the AFC West. The Chargers have come back with a strong second half in each of Turner’s first three seasons, all of which ended with division titles. Yet, had San Diego not won Sunday, it would have been entering the second half of the season in a major hole.
“It’s not a sigh of relief -- we’re 3-5,” San Diego running back Mike Tolbert said. “It’s not like we’re 8-0, or 7-1. ... But it’s a start. We know we’re capable of winning again.”
And now so do all the critics. Along with Dallas, San Diego has been a major disappointment this season. The Chargers took a shellacking on ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown" on Sunday morning.
Here is a sampling of the verbal beating San Diego’s players, Turner and general manager A.J. Smith took:
Keyshawn Johnson: “No players. And when you don’t have players, you can’t win in this league. ... I put the blame on the general manager. He’s the guy in the offseason that made a decision not to sign certain guys, run certain guys off.”
Tom Jackson: “It looks like the opportunity has passed them by and A.J. eventually is to blame.”
Mike Ditka: “The front office is horrible to make the decisions it’s made."
Chris Berman: “I’m embarrassed for the Chargers.”
The Chargers missed the nationally televised dressing down because they were preparing to face the Titans. Smith wasn’t available to react to the comments. But I had a chance to discuss them with some of the players after the game.
They were amused.
“No talent?” Weddle said. “OK, I’ll take this no-talented team any day of the week. That’s fine. It’s OK no one respects us. Our coach does and we do, too.”
Added Tolbert: “That’s what happens when you are 2-5. People have been killing us all season. But what matters most is what our coach and everyone in this room thinks about us.”
I didn’t get the chance to ask Turner about the comments, but in his news conference, he alluded to outside criticism.
“I’m truly excited for those guys in that room because they don’t blink,” Turner said. “There are some people that might doubt them. We know who we are.”
It was only one game, but if San Diego takes off, Sunday’s performance and Turner’s speech will be viewed as the turning point. San Diego has done this before. It won its final six games of the 2007 season, its final four games of the 2008 season and its final 11 games of the 2009 season.
“This is something to build on,” San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason said. “Let’s go build on it.”
San Diego cut the Titans’ lead to 19-14 with 1:55 to go in the first half. It evolved into a 20-0 run by San Diego, which led by eight points twice in the fourth quarter.
The catalysts, as usual, were quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates. Playing without his top four wide receivers (and playing with undrafted rookie Seyi Ajirotutu), Rivers threw for 305 yards. It was the fifth time he has thrown for 300-plus yards this season. He has passed for 2,649 yards this season. No other quarterback in the history of the NFL has thrown for more yards after eight games.
Gates, playing with a bum toe, had five catches for 123 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. It was a gutsy comeback performance by the two leaders on this team.
It wasn’t all perfect for San Diego. It had its fourth punt blocked this season (that gave the Titans a safety early in the game) and an extra-point attempt was muffed in the fourth quarter, which kept it an eight-point game. The San Diego defense, which like the Chargers’ offense entered the game ranked No. 1 overall, gave up way too many big plays.
But the Chargers found a way to overcome mistakes. That hadn’t been the case this season. This has to be looked at as progress in San Diego. Perhaps this will be the start of another turnaround. If it is, the Chargers will always remember a rare show of intensity by their coach.
“I can tell you the fire I was able to see in [Turner’s] eyes and what it meant to him,” Gates said. “It meant the world to me for a coach to have that faith and belief in his team.”
The following is a taste of the mostly positive comments the analysts had to say about the upstart Chiefs:
Keyshawn Johnson: “They’re as real as a slice of bread. When you look at this football team, they’re out there having fun. They’re young and playing the way they should. And they’re being coached by a guys with a lot of experience. The guys that Herm Edwards drafted are playing better for this staff.”
Cris Carter: “They got it right because of the head coach. When they hired a young, offensive-minded coach in Kansas City in Todd Haley, they got it right.”
Tom Jackson: “How did they win? Special teams, smoke and mirrors and defense, and I believe at some point that harms them. You have to have a quarterback that plays well in this league to get to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs. At some point the QB has to play better.”
Mike Ditka: “Kansas City, they didn’t make the schedule. They’re not a mirage. They haven’t used mirrors. They’re 3-0. If they lose today, they’re still up by one in their division. You better take them serious.”
We spent the week researching each finalist’s chances by talking to several members of the voting committee and several league observers.
Here is a look at each finalist’s case:
Tim Brown: Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, wide receiver, 1988 to 2003
Known for: He was the face of the Raiders for years. He was a standout receiver and return man. The Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame was one of Oakland’s best draft picks ever. He was a reliable, smart player.
AFC West body of work: Of his 1,094 career catches, 1,070 came as a Raider. Brown, who played his final NFL season in Tampa Bay, caught at least 80 passes nine times and he had nine 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons.
Quote from a voter: “He posted great numbers but those have to be placed in context with the era in which he played. He'll get in but maybe not this year.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “I think he’ll probably get in, but I rank Cris Carter slightly ahead of him. If Jerry Rice is a 10, Carter is an 8.5 and Brown is an 8. Brown was excellent but I don’t think you could ever say he was the best player at his position. I’m not sure if he was really special or if he had a defining moment, But he was remarkably consistent and he helped on special teams. He never had any glaring weaknesses and he moved the chains. He ran every route.” -- Matt Williamson
What I think will happen: A couple of years ago, I would have thought Brown was a slam-dunk choice in his first year of eligibility. But the voting committee has very high standards for receivers and there is a backlog of quality eligible receivers. With Rice (who played four seasons in Oakland and who announced his retirement at the Broncos’ facility after a fruitless preseason in Denver) a shoo-in and Carter, Andre Reed and tight end Shannon Sharpe making a push, Brown may not make it in his first year. If not this year, he’ll get in sometime because he was so consistent. Because his numbers were never truly jaw-dropping, he may have to wait in a long receiver line for a couple of years.
Known for: Coryell is credited with being a major innovator in the passing game, earning him the nickname "Air Coryell." Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts credits his career to Coryell.
AFC West body of work: The Chargers were virtually unstoppable in the air under Coryell. San Diego changed the way the division played both offense and defense in an effort to keep up with the innovative Coryell.
Quote from a voter: “I'm a big Coryell fan. He won a lot of games … Sure, he didn't win a Super Bowl, but he changed the way the game was played.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “He was ahead of his time in the down-field passing game. He was a terrific, student of the game. He understood matchups and defenses. Coryell was that first guy to say, “Let’s go vertical and make some big plays.” He still has an influence on the game.” -- Gary Horton
What I think will happen: Coryell is the only coach among the finalists. I think he will have a large group of voters behind him. I think many voters were impressed by the letter of support sent by Fouts in support of his former coach. Still, this is a very strong class and Coryell could be left on the outside. He is not a shoo-in.
Floyd Little: Denver, running back, 1967 to 1975
Known for: Little was one of Denver’s first true stars. He was the face of the franchise when he played.
AFC West body of work: He led the NFL in rushing from 1968 to 1973. When he retired, he was the seventh leading rusher in NFL history with 6,323 yards rushing and he had 54 touchdowns.
Quote from a voter: “One of the great running backs of his era. He played on some bad teams and never ran behind a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. He deserves to be in.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “I’ve talked to Tom Jackson (former Denver star linebacker and current ESPN analyst) and he loves Floyd. Floyd was a tough, hard-nosed runner. He was the heart and soul of that team.” -- Gary Horton
What I think will happen: Little may have the best chance of the four AFC West finalists. He is a senior’s committee finalist, so his path Saturday may be easier than the 15 traditional finalists. If Little doesn’t make it Saturday, he likely never will. I expect him to get in.
Shannon Sharpe: Denver, tight end, 1990 to 1999 and 2002 to 2003
Known for: Sharpe was one of the most accomplished receiving tight ends in NFL history. The boisterous Sharpe was a self-made player from a small school who was a huge part of Denver’s two Super Bowl winning teams.
AFC West body of work: Sharpe had 671 of his 815 catches in the AFC West. He had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and two seasons in which he had 10 touchdowns.
Quote from a voter: “Crazy numbers for a tight end, and I think he'll be on the edge of making it this year.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “Sharpe should go in. He was a massive liability as a blocker but nobody cared. Tight ends don’t go to the Hall of Fame because they blocked well. In a way, he revolutionized the game because he was a wide receiver as much as he was a tight end. He was the Dallas Clark of his era. He was very tough and he was a very hard worker who overcame coming into the league as a small-school guy. I think that gets overlooked because he is so loud and brash. But he was a hard worker who was on a lot of great teams. He was a difference-maker.” -- Matt Williamson
What I think will happen: I was surprised that Sharpe didn’t make it last year in his first year of eligibility. He was one of the best tight ends ever to play in the NFL. I think he may get in this season. But if some voters look at him as a receiver, he could get lost in the shuffle again.
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:
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
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
K Jason Elam
P Tom Rouen
Ret Rick Upchurch
him.Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
DENVER -- Here are some pre-game notes prior to the Chiefs'-Broncos game:
Middle linebacker Nate Webster is back after missing three games with a knee injury.
Rookie Spencer Larsen will start at fullback. He was playing for Webster at middle linebacker.
Denver is wearing its orange jerseys for the second time this season and second time since 2004.
Here is an interesting quote from Tom Jackson on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown: "The Broncos are doing a pretty good Jekyll and Hyde act this season, but the tip is to watch Peyton Hillis. ... If they can find a guy who can run the ball downhill, this team has a chance to go deep in the playoffs with the passing of Jay Cutler - Elway-like if you will."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Here are some quotes from today's NFL Countdown on ESPN on the Broncos who entered today's game at Kansas City 3-0:
Tom Jackson: "They are good enough to go a long way, but not good enough to overcome this defense in the long run. I like to say that good pitching will beat good hitting. That means that in the end, defense is going to win you championships. ... Defensively, they've been searching for this for five or six years. They can't rush the passer. ... They've got to figure out a way to get to the quarterback and make these leads pay off."
Cris Carter: "I've seen this movie before. I've been on teams like this, and I don't think they were as good as we were. I know how this movie ends. It ends on a cold day with the wind blowing, someone doubling your wide receiver. I'm just telling y'all, it's not going to be a good ending. ... One bad offensive day and it's over."
Note: Carter's 1998 Minnesota Vikings team scored a then-NFL record 556 pts and lost in the NFC Championship Game as the NFL's top-seeded team.
Countdown ran a taped feature on Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler with ESPN's Rachel Nichols. As part of the piece, Cutler discussed the Type 1 diabetes he was diagnosed with this offseason. He also demonstrated how he tests his blood sugar levels daily by pricking his finger and using a glucose meter.
Jackson: "Cutler is going to be the best in the game. He brings something to the party that you don't have. That's the best arm and accuracy in the game. In the end he's gonna be a better passer than anybody in this league."