Publish date:

1 DENVER BRONCOS

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 86 1/2 career sacks but had just six
last year, including 2 1/2 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.

--AUSTIN MURPHY

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Believing they can never have too much help on the defensive front, the Broncos made it their top priority in free agency and the draft. [Denver Broncos players tackling Seattle Seahawks player in game]

BY THE NUMBERS

1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 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)

Everything but the Big One

John Elway was the first player selected in the 1983 NFL draft,
heading the quarterback class that has become infamous for its
Super Bowl failures. The group's 0-9 Super Bowl record
overshadows a respectable 25-18 mark in other playoff games.

Quarterback Class of '83: Record in Postseason Games

Wild- Divisional AFC title Super
card playoff game Bowl Total

Todd Blackledge 0-1 - - - 0-1
Tony Eason 1-0 1-1 1-0 0-1 3-2
John Elway 0-1 4-2 3-1 0-3 7-7
Jim Kelly 1-1 4-2 4-1 0-4 9-8
Dan Marino 2-1 3-3 1-2 0-1 6-7
Ken O'Brien 0-2 - - - 0-2

Totals 4-6 12-8 9-4 0-9 25-27

SCHEDULE SKINNY

A fast start is important for a team that plays four of its last
six games on the road. The Broncos could be 5-0 when the
Patriots visit Mile High on Oct. 6 for a Monday-nighter. That
game should have a huge bearing on home field advantage in the
AFC playoffs, as should back-to-back road games against the
Steelers (Dec. 7) and the 49ers (Dec. 15).

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

NFL rank: 4 (tie) Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .523
Games against playoff teams: 5

The Lineup With 1996 Statistics

Coach: Mike Shanahan

Offensive Backs

QB John Elway 466 att. 287 comp. 61.6% 3,328 yds.
26 TDs 14 int. 89.2 rtg.
RB Terrell Davis 345 att. 1,538 yds.4.5 avg. 36 rec.
310 yds. 8.6 avg. 15 TDs
FB Howard Griffith[*] 12 att. 7 yds. 0.6 avg. 27 rec.
223 yds. 8.3 avg. 2 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Rod Smith 16 rec. 237 yds. 2 TDs
WR Ed McCaffrey 48 rec. 553 yds. 7 TDs
WR Willie Green[*] 46 rec. 614 yds. 3 TDs
TE Shannon Sharpe 80 rec. 1,062 yds. 10 TDs
PK Jason Elam 46/46 PATs 21/28 FGs 109 pts.
KR Vaughn Hebron 45 ret. 24.4 avg. 0 TDs
PR Darrien Gordon[*] 36 ret. 14.9 avg. 1 TD
LT Tony Jones[*] 6'5" 295 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Mark Schlereth 6'3" 278 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
C Tom Nalen 6'3" 280 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Brian Habib 6'7" 299 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Jamie Brown 6'8" 320 lbs. 12 games 2 starts

Defense

LE Neil Smith[*] 41 tackles 6 sacks
LT Keith Traylor[*] 27 tackles 1 sack
RT Michael Dean Perry 31 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RE Alfred Williams 56 tackles 13 sacks
OLB John Mobley 61 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
MLB Allen Aldridge 83 tackles 0 sacks
OLB Bill Romanowski 77 tackles 3 int.
CB Ray Crockett 58 tackles 2 int.
SS Tyrone Braxton 84 tackles 9 int.
FS Steve Atwater 81 tackles 3 int.
CB Darrien Gordon[*] 47 tackles 2 int.
P Tom Rouen 65 punts 41.8 avg.

[*]New acquisition