SI Vault
 
1 DENVER Broncos
Austin Murphy
September 01, 1997
Two things we learned while at the Broncos' training camp this summer:
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 01, 1997

1 Denver Broncos

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1995 Record: 13-3 (first in AFC West)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

147.6(1)

214.3(13)

361.9(1)

DEFENSE

83.2(1)

196.2(10)

279.4(4)

Two things we learned while at the Broncos' training camp this summer:

1) The biceps tendon, according to quarterback John Elway, is nothing more than extraneous gristle. After rupturing that tendon in his right arm during a preseason game against the Dolphins, the medical pioneer and future Hall of Famer determined that the injury actually reduced persistent pain in his throwing shoulder and cost him little zip on his passes.

2) Coach Mike Shanahan prefers movies with happy endings. Halfway through the premiere of the team's 1996 highlight video, Shanahan slipped out. (He did return later for an encore showing.) Perhaps he couldn't bear the sight of Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell dancing effortlessly around Denver defenders, leading Jacksonville to scores on each of their final six possessions and a 30-27 victory in the AFC divisional playoffs—the most stunning postseason upset in years.

The Broncos' inability to lay a finger on Brunell, coupled with the fact that they had only nine sacks over their last seven games, convinced Shanahan that he had to upgrade the team's pass rush. He hired John Teerlinck, a longtime NFL assistant who has gained notoriety for the inordinately high number of quarterbacks his players have knocked out of games. (Last season, as a member of the Lions' staff, Teerlinck was called in for a four-hour meeting with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to discuss complaints from other teams that he was teaching illegal tactics.)

Then when the Chiefs informed 31-year-old free-agent defensive end Neil Smith that he no longer figured in their plans, the Broncos signed him as well as his underrated linemate, 28-year-old Keith Traylor, a 6'2", 315-pound tackle who was described by one Broncos official as "a Coke machine with a head on it." Obscured in Kansas City by such stars as Smith and linebacker Derrick Thomas, Traylor is due for a breakout season.

What everyone wants to know is, How much petrol does Smith have left in his tank? He has 86½ career sacks but had just six last year, including 2½ in the final nine games. Meanwhile, Thomas had 13 sacks and was re-signed by the Chiefs for $30 million over seven years. "They gave him the house," says Smith, with a dollop of bitterness. "I wasn't surprised." Smith was responsible for covering two gaps in Kansas City's defense but will be covering just one in Denver. "Plus," he says, "I'll be moving up and down the line of scrimmage, which will make it harder for teams to scheme me."

Even after signing Smith, the Broncos used their first-round draft pick on Trevor Pryce, a 6'5", 285-pound defensive tackle from Clemson. Teerlinck, the former Chiefs, the rookie—isn't it a bit of overkill? "Not at all," says defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. "In a 4-3 alignment you're only as good as you are up front." Those newcomers to the line join a pair of Pro Bowl players: end Alfred Williams and tackle Michael Dean Perry.

All of which leaves the Broncos chafing for another shot at the Jaguars in the postseason. "Here's what I want," Williams says. "I truly hope that Brunell [out until early October with a knee injury] comes back healthy, because I love to watch the guy play—and because I'd love to play them again with the stakes even higher."

Should Williams be careful what he wishes for? Not if the defensive upgrade pans out; if running back Terrell Davis, who finished 15 yards shy of the NFL rushing title last year, comes back as strong as he looked in the preseason; and if Elway's biceps tendon remains ruptured, which he assures us is a good thing.

Denver appears to be the AFC's most talented team and could go all the way. If that happens, you can bet that Shanahan will watch the '97 highlight video without interruption.

1