08-01-2005, 12:36 AM
Carlisle guardedly optimistic
With Neil released, attention is shifted to the sixth-year pro
By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
August 1, 2005
Cooper Carlisle's most notable NFL achievement to date might have more to do with pass-catching than blocking.
A combination tackle/guard, Carlisle hung around for three seasons with the Denver Broncos, mostly playing special teams, then lined up as an eligible receiver in a September 2003 game against the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers never knew what hit them as Carlisle's 6-yard touchdown gave him the distinction of being the first Broncos offensive lineman in 17 seasons to score a touchdown.
Considerable attention again is being foisted on Carlisle nearly two years later, and perhaps for the first time since that spotlight moment.
Since then, Carlisle has started some important games because of injury, including the AFC wild-card playoff loss in January against the Indianapolis Colts and against the Colts in December 2003 that clinched an AFC wild-card berth.
08-01-2005, 12:37 AM
Yet the sixth-year pro still could manage to be an afterthought because he might slip into a reserve role.
The scenario has changed this off- season. The release of right guard Dan Neil has created an opening, and like George Foster's entry into the starting lineup last year, it has made Carlisle a focal point on the offensive line heading into the season.
"There's a little more pressure," Carlisle said. "But I'm excited about it."
Neil was a virtual fixture in the lineup for seven seasons and built a reputation as a hard-nosed, intense competitor. He was accused by opponents of crossing ethical lines. His departure mainly was the result of mounting left knee problems and a sports hernia that required surgery, as well as salary-cap concerns.
It leaves a considerable hole to fill, with center Tom Nalen the only link on the line to Denver's Super Bowl- winning teams in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Left tackle Matt Lepsis, who entered the league with Neil in 1997, said not seeing his former teammate in the huddle and in meetings has been "weird."
But he expressed faith in Carlisle, who, listed at 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, is taller and heavier than the player he is expected to replace.
"I don't think anyone's like Dan Neil," Lepsis said. "Dan's got a different kind of style - he's 'Dirty Dan.' But Cooper's got a mean streak. He's a tough guy. He'll be fine."
Carlisle came close to never getting his latest opportunity.
An unrestricted free agent in the off-season, he had given the Baltimore Ravens a verbal agreement to sign with them. The contract was in the mail when Carlisle received a call from Broncos coach Mike Shanahan in a last-ditch effort to convince the guard to stay.
More than that, Denver increased the financial stake with a two-year offer for $2 million, including a $500,000 signing bonus.
Carlisle is reticent to speak about the situation but said, "A lot of factors played into it," including opportunity, adding the decision to shun the Ravens was "tough."
"I think he's got enough common sense after we stepped up and paid a similar price to what Baltimore paid that he knew the situation here," Shanahan said. "He knew he'd come in and be the starter and people would have to beat him out, where with Baltimore, you're never sure."
Carlisle, who turns 28 on Aug. 11, was expected to be challenged by P.J. Alexander for a starting spot. But Alexander tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during an off-the-field mishap in May, ending his season.
The Broncos remain thin at guard, with Dwayne Carswell, a converted tight end, behind Carlisle. Only Cameron Spikes among the reserve guards has appeared in an NFL game, and he is with the third team, making Carlisle's signing, in hindsight, imperative.
The upside for Carlisle this season is he can concentrate on one position. He began his career playing both tackle spots and guard. At times, he would play both positions during game-week preparations.
"It's been sort of a long process," he said.
Carlisle's versatility was a strength then; the goal now is to insert him at right guard, leave him alone and allow him to use his abilities to run, cut and redirect. It also probably means his pass-catching days are over.
"He's a prime example of a guy that just kept plugging and got a chance," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "And now he's got a big-time chance to become a starter in this league for a number of years. We're counting on him."
08-01-2005, 10:56 AM
Who is left to pickup at O-line? Not sure who could be Camp casualty that could add depth. Maybe we could trade Q for someone...