October 24, 2002

NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates
Patriots notebook: Patriots hold bonding time at Children’s Hospital
Guregian: Patriots Hall of Famer Matt Light says there’s more to being a successful offensive lineman than the measurables

Broncos fans brought high expectations into this season. With the Broncos at 5-2, and second in the AFC West, the fans have not been disappointed as the team has performed very well. The following is a breakdown from a Broncos fan perspective of what to look for as the Broncos face the Patriots this weekend.

On Offense:

Although he has many critics, Brian Griese has performed reasonably well this year. After struggling in the opener, he was nearly benched late in the game. Given a second opportunity he responded well and led the Broncos on a game clinching drive. Griese has thrown 8 ints through 7 games, but three came off of tipped balls. He stays composed in the pocket -- perhaps too composed as he often will hold on to the ball too long resulting in a sack. He is accurate on short to mid-range passes, but is quite often hesitant to throw the long ball, and erratic when he does. He has hit a few more deep passes in recent weeks as the Broncos were pressed to come from behind late in games. When surrounded by talent, he is a solid QB who can run the system while making few mistakes.

It was only a matter of time before Clinton Portis became the Broncos featured back. That time has come sooner rather than later. Take away a three fumble game in the preseason, and it may have come even sooner. Portis has done an excellent job running the ball, but has yet to break the long runs he is known to be capable of. He is still learning some other aspects of the pro game, such as picking up blitzes. Mike Anderson has moved to fullback, but he is still dangerous running the ball. Anderson became the featured back in the 4th quarter and OT against the Chiefs after Portis fumbled the ball in the 3rd quarter. If he is running it well, the Broncos will not hesitate to feed him the ball. Olandis Gary will get a few carries off the bench, and is one of the most capable backups in the league.

Ed McCaffrey has picked up right where he left off before breaking his leg in the opener last year. He continues to make the big catches and shows no fear when catching the ball in traffic. Rod Smith is one of the best receivers in the league running after that catch. He will make an occasional spectacular catch. However, he will usually start looking downfield and drop at least one easy catch a game. First round pick Ashley Lelie is loaded with physical talent. After a slow start and a few dropped balls the Broncos are working him into the offense more and more. Scottie Montgomery very likely is in the NFL because Mike Shanahan's son played with him at Duke and recommended him to his dad. He has played well when on the field, and is appearing more in the offense each week. Shannon Sharpe is not as consistent as he once was, but he can still contribute on the field, as his 217 receiving yards showed last week. His biggest contribution to this team is the leadership and confidence he brings on and off the field.

The retooled offensive line is not as good as the championship lines of the late 90s, but they are still. The loss of pro-bowler center Tom Nalen last week could be huge, and Bronco fans will be watching close to see how the line is affected. It appears that LG Ben Hamilton will move over to play C. The new starting LG will not be public until gametime, with former Bears T Blake Brockermeyer, Steve Herndon and former starter Lennie Friedman all competing for that position. Brockermeyer rotated at LT with Ephraim Salaam this past weekend, and I think he will get the nod over the others.

On Defense The Broncos defensive line is as good as it has been in several years. Chester McGlockton and Lional Dalton are big but active. The plan is for them to eat up blockers freeing up Trevor Pryce and the LBs to cause some havoc. It appears to be working as Pryce is tied for the NFL lead with 7 sacks. Kavika Pittman's job was in danger in training camp, but somehow he held on as a starter, though he is not spectacular. The Broncos will sub in a lot of linemen throughout the game to try to keep each of them fresh.

There is very little depth at LB, but the starters are quick and aggressive. Expect them to be around the ball on nearly every play. They can close quickly, and therefore take away yards after the catch on short balls over the middle or out in the flat.

Deltha ONeal is a Pro Bowl corner who is still improving. He plays aggressively which results in a lot of picks and in him being burned at times. Denard Walker is a good cover CB, but his stone hands exclude him from getting picks or glory. Kennoy Kennedy is a hard hitter and sat out last game for a hit he put on Dolphins' WR Chris Chambers. Shanahan spent a lot of last week defending Kennedy and using video tape to show that the hit was not intentional, but the league wasn't satisfied with his case.

Perhaps the best chance to beat the Broncos is to commit to take away the run and short pass and force Griese to beat you long. The defense has given up a lot of passing yards, but many of those came late in games as teams were trying to catch up. In spite of Pryce's sack total, the defensive line doesn't always generate pressure on the QB, and it is possible to move the ball through the air when this fails.