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Denver Post: Marshall, Orton among the surprises of the Denver Broncos season
Marshall, Orton among the surprises of the Denver Broncos season
By Mike Klis
The Denver Post
Posted: 10/30/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT
Some are flattered and say thanks. Others are insulted and ask why?
So it is when the Broncos are told they are considered pleasant surprises. Surprise to some can be interpreted as a backhanded compliment.
The Broncos, 6-0 heading into their game Sunday at Baltimore, are the surprise of the NFL. What does that say about what was expected of them?
Kyle Orton, the Broncos' quarterback, is among the league's most improved players this season. Meaning he wasn't that good before?
"Everybody uses that word, but I don't think we're surprised about anything," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "We didn't put a ceiling on any player, or anything we could do as a team."
Right or wrong, it's safe to suggest the Broncos have exceeded expectations, whatever they may have been outside their team headquarters. Here are the five biggest surprise players from the NFL's No. 1 surprise team:
1. Brandon Marshall, WR
How can a player coming off back-to-back 100-catch seasons be deemed the team's No. 1 surprise?
Go back to late August.
McDaniels had just suspended Marshall for delivering a defiant punt to what had been a tumultuous offseason. His personal protest against his employer began in late May when he walked out of offseason rehab from hip surgery in part because he felt the Broncos' medical team had misdiagnosed his injury, but mostly because he had just issued a pay-me-or-trade-me request.
Marshall reported late for the first day of mandatory minicamp in June, met with owner Pat Bowlen, then walked out carrying three packed boxes to his car.
Marshall reported to training camp, only to leave for a two-day battery trial in Atlanta. Acquitted of all charges, he reissued his trade demand, then grew petulant in practice after he was told he wasn't going anywhere. Marshall was suspended for the final nine days of the preseason.
The firm-handed approach worked. Once the suspension was lifted, Marshall returned to being a team-first player and made spectacular plays that were the difference in his team defeating Dallas and New England.
"Brandon Marshall has made some real big plays, plays the average receiver can't make," Baltimore star linebacker Ray Lewis said by conference call this week.
No other Broncos player has improved so dramatically — even if the enhancement was in attitude, not physical skill — in such a brief time.
2. Ryan McBean, DE
A different kind of surprise in that McBean went from spending his first two NFL seasons primarily on practice squads to starting for the NFL's No. 1 defense.
"I've been blessed," McBean said. "You come to work every day,
McBean Dumervil Dawkins Orton man. Practice squad, it don't matter. You come to work."
3. Kyle Orton, QB
No sense overlooking the obvious. In his 33 previous starts with the Chicago Bears, Orton had 30 touchdown passes against 27 interceptions and a 71.1 passer rating. In six games with the Broncos, Orton has nine touchdowns, one meaningless interception and a 100.1 passer rating.
It's like a .240 hitter hitting .330, or a pitcher dropping his ERA from 4.95 to 1.95.
Hours after he arrived in Denver by way of the Jay Cutler trade, Orton already knew he was about to take his game to the next level. His confidence stemmed from meeting McDaniels, who was offensive coordinator for a New England team that in 2007 set the NFL scoring record.
"It's a great system for me, and I think it fits a lot of our guys, not just the quarterback," Orton said. "I think (McDaniels) has done a good job of adapting it to what we have here."
4. Elvis Dumervil, OLB
He had to be talked into this one.
"I wouldn't really say surprise," Dumervil said.
Indeed, Dumervil had 21 sacks in his first two seasons of part-time play, and added five more in an injury-plagued 2008 season.
But when the Broncos converted from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 this past offseason, there was concern whether Dumervil, who had always played in a three-point stance, would struggle with the conversion to being a stand-up outside linebacker.
"In that sense, 'surprise' is more reality," he said. "Because I didn't know what to expect. I'm still feeling my way, I still have a long way to go. But I've been getting some great coaching."
Dumervil played in a team-high 70 percent of the snaps last year, coming out on obvious run downs. As an outside linebacker in the 3-4, Dumervil said he has been out there for "close to 99 percent" of the snaps this year. More time on the field gives him more opportunity to sack the quarterback. He leads the NFL with 10 sacks.
5. Brian Dawkins, S
Another player with a strong resume, but after the Philadelphia Eagles, his team of 13 seasons, allowed him to test free agency, Dawkins confronted doubts as to how much he had left at age 36.
Instead, Dawkins' performance and leadership has been so inspiring, the defense as a group seems to have taken on his personality.
"I take care of myself," he said. "I don't damage my body from within. I don't drink or do all those other things. Watch what I eat. I challenge myself with the offseason workouts. And I don't leave here every day until I'm done preparing myself for the next battle."