DENVER -- The worst game of Ashley Lelie's life came out of
After a great preseason in which he caught most everything
thrown his way, Lelie could barely hang on in Denver's
season-opening loss to Miami.
The 25-year-old, fourth-year veteran called it the worst game of
his life. There was the easy catch he dropped in the end zone.
There was the long pass he misjudged, slowing down to try to make
the catch instead of speeding up. There was a tipped ball he could
have caught in the back of the end zone, but didn't.
"The effort was there," Lelie said. "I was physical. I didn't
bust any big plays. It was the little things I kind of messed up
Take those little things, multiply it by the other 10
mistake-prone players on Denver's offense last Sunday, and it's not
hard to see why the Broncos lost 34-10.
Only one player, however, called it the worst game of his life.
That was Lelie.
"Ashley has had some great games, and Ashley has been very
consistent throughout the preseason and camp," coach Mike Shanahan
said. "He didn't play one of his better games. He has to look at
it, be tough on himself and get ready for the Chargers."
Before last week's setback, it seemed this had the makings of a
breakthrough season for Lelie. Denver's first-round draft pick in
2002 had his first 1,000-yard season last year. Last season, he led
the league with seven touchdowns of 30-plus yards and with a
20.1-yard average per catch.
He was criticized, however, because while he caught the deep
balls, he didn't make enough of the routine catches -- the short
throws over the middle or to the sideline -- and hadn't moved
quickly enough to be a dependable option for Jake Plummer the way
Rod Smith is.
So, he and receivers coach Steve Watson -- one of the most
dependable receivers in Broncos history -- went to work in the
"Everybody knows him for one thing," said Watson, who claims
Lelie has the best natural hands he's ever seen. "So we tried to
work on the rest of it. You can quantify or qualify it that way --
we worked on everything but the deep ball."
They worked on strength, separation from cornerbacks at the
line, footwork, quickness, more precise route running. Then, during
training camp, Lelie looked like a new receiver. He made the
catches over the middle. He kept the chains moving on third downs
during preseason games. Indeed, he seemed ready for a breakout year
-- a breakout year that might still happen.
First, though, he must put last Sunday behind him.
"We don't even talk about last week," Watson said.
Nobody is looking forward to the next game more than Lelie is
"It's just because you want to get back into it, get playing
again," he said. "Even though you say you're forgetting about it
this week, you still get questions about it the whole week. In
practice, you try to put yourself in real situations as much as you
can, but you can't. That's why I'm looking forward to it."