|08-26-2007, 10:38 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Broncos confident despite preseason struggles
By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
Coordination on both sides of the ball figured to be an issue this summer with so many new players and coaches and the introduction of a new defensive philosophy.
Toss in a few injuries and that only exacerbates the issue.
So in that respect the Denver Broncos didn't disappoint in three preseason games, despite previous objections from players and coaches alike that immediate chemistry might be an issue.
Now that most of the key players have seen their last in game action until the Sept. 9 opener, whatever tweaks need to be made are going to have to be done on the practice field.
Whether it's enough time and the proper environment to fix some of the ills is immaterial. It's reality.
There's no panic at Dove Valley just yet though.
But there's also the distinct feeling there's plenty of work to be done.
"That's what preseason's about, ironing out the wrinkles and trying to institute things the way Coach wants us to," cornerback Dre' Bly said.
There seemingly are more concerns on defense right now.
The front four continues to be a work in progress. Elvis Dumervil started in place of Ebenezer Ekuban, who's lost for the season. Alvin McKinley also got a heavy dose of action, both there and inside at tackle in the nickel pass rush. And despite four sacks, consistent pressure didn't happen in Saturday night's 17-16 preseason loss to the Browns.
Rookie Tim Crowder's possible return this week may help.
Behind the line, issues remain, as well. There are still too many missed assignments in the passing game. On one particular play against the Browns, three different Broncos jumped the underneath receiver, leaving a one-on-one situation between a safety and wideout on the outside. And on crossing routes and flares out of the backfield there are still too many occasions where the intended targets have a free path.
"I'd say we opened a can of worms in Dallas on some plays," strong-side linebacker Nate Webster said, referring to Denver's second preseason game. "This is a copy-cat league and once they see a weakness in your defense the next team will try to hit you there also to see if they can capitalize in the holes in your defense. They came back at us with similar plays. But I thought we made some strides, really, even though we gave up some plays."
Denver also has to do a better job of open-field tackling. There was more of the swarming defensive boss Jim Bates was seeking vs. the Browns. But weak-side linebacker Ian Gold is arm tackling and too aggressive at times in space and middle linebacker D.J. Williams is getting tangled in traffic too often, although his overall play improved since the Dallas game.
Third downs, particularly with long-yardage situations, have been the biggest bugaboo for the starters. Cleveland went 5-for-8 in the first half after the Cowboys converted 6-of-8 chances before halftime the previous week.
"We've got to get coordinated as far as the chemistry between the pass rush and the coverage at the same time," Dumervil said.
The starting defense allowed 44 points and 574 yards overall in five-plus quarters of work in the three preseason games.
"You've got to keep in mind we're still tweaking and the coaches are still figuring out who they want on the team. And you're still seeing guys in different situations, as far as how many snaps a guy can go or how a guy is doing on third down rushing the passer," defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy said. "You have spots where the coaches are trying to test us just to see what we have for the season. We're going to know what we're doing by the time we get to Buffalo."
Offensively, the Broncos flat showing to start the second half with two three-and-outs obscured a decent first-half showing vs. Cleveland that included a march to a field goal that could have been more if not for two Javon Walker dropped passes and a flawlessly executed 80-yard drive in the two-minute offense.
The running game continued to look solid. The first-team offensive line, minus guard Ben Hamilton, gave quarterback Jay Cutler time. And with the return of Brandon Stokley and Brandon Marshall hitting his stride, Denver looks potentially strong at receiver. Not only did Cecil Sapp emerge as a likely backup to Travis Henry in the backfield, the team may have also discovered something in rookie Selvin Young, who had 91 yards and looked quick and instinctive.
The sum total for the preseason for the first unit stands at three field goals and two touchdowns on 12 possessions.
And Cutler survived the scrutiny in his first summer as a full-time starter. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 197 yards with one TD and no interceptions this month.
"We're not that far off," Cutler said. "I don't think we need to get all worried, flustered and panic. We have to have a sense of urgency, clean some stuff up and get ready for the real thing. We're getting there."
Still to be determined are the final two spots at receiver, with Brian Clark and Domenik Hixon looking to be the favorites. Tight end Tony Scheffler still needs to be re-acclimated to the mix, as does Hamilton. Both missed extended time this summer.
"We've made some improvements in the last week," tight end Nate Jackson said. "We're not where we want to be yet. And it's really about finding a rhythm. We can do that in practice. We've had sufficient reps in three games to find out what went wrong and what went right and we'll go from there."
Denver must get down to the 75-player roster limit by Tuesday but the team was believed to be informing a few on the firing line Sunday.