In Good Hands
Brian Griese has the tools, and the moxie, to help Broncos fans
forget John Elway
During three days at Broncos training camp in Greeley, Colo.,
which included several hours listening to Denver sports talk
radio and 12 hours interviewing almost two dozen players and
coaches, you would think you'd hear John Elway's name mentioned
at least once. After all, since Elway retired after winning his
second straight Super Bowl in January 1999, the Broncos are 16-16
and haven't won so much as a playoff game. So why isn't anyone
pining for one of the greatest playmakers in NFL history?
The answer was sitting on a couch outside the Broncos' training
camp dining hall one afternoon in the person of Brian Griese. The
heir to Elway's throne, Griese thought for about a minute before
offering a more expansive explanation. "I saw an interview with
Reggie Jackson not long ago," said Griese, 26. "He said when Babe
Ruth retired, people wondered what the Yankees would do without
him. Then Joe DiMaggio came along. When DiMaggio retired, Mickey
Mantle came along. And when Mantle retired, it took a while, but
Reggie came along."
Griese, the son of former Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese, went
on. "I've been following a Hall of Famer my entire life," he
said. "So maybe I was ready for everything that came after John
retired. I wanted to prove he's not the only one who could win in
The mediocre post-Elway record is due largely to a spate of
injuries in 1999 and Griese's separated throwing shoulder last
year, which caused him to miss five games (including a 21-3
playoff loss in Baltimore). When he did play, Griese was the
cool, efficient customer whom coach Mike Shanahan envisioned when
he picked the Michigan quarterback in the third round of the '98
draft. Last season his 102.9 rating led all NFL passers, as did
his 19-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. It helps that Denver's
offense is as deep and talented as any that Elway ran. Only once
in 16 seasons did an Elway-led offense produce as many points
(485) as Denver's put up last year.
Griese is more of a loner than Elway was. He doesn't mind eating
by himself at camp. There were six empty seats between him and
his nearest teammate, wideout Ed McCaffrey, at a meeting one
night last week. Like Elway, however, Griese has plenty of grit.
After being slammed to the turf on the second series of a game
against the Raiders last Nov. 13, Griese returned to play the
final three quarters with the separated shoulder. He completed 14
of his last 16 passes in a 27-24 win.
Griese had surgery on the shoulder last January and has had no
problems. "It's pain-free," he says. "I haven't iced it once in
camp." He's throwing free and easy, ending one drive early in
camp with a 45-yard touchdown pass to wideout Rod Smith.
Shanahan knows he has something special, though when he compares
Griese with another quarterback, it's not Elway. "If we can keep
a solid supporting cast around Brian and he stays healthy," says
Shanahan, "I think he'll have the same kind of career Joe
Considering Griese has made all of 23 starts, that comparison
seems lofty. Still, in putting such a weight on Griese's
shoulders, Shanahan is showing he trusts him the way he's trusted
few players he has coached.
Training Camp Tour
Good News, Bad News
Scenes from summer drills:
--In a one-on-one passing drill, Titans rookie cornerback Andre
Dyson stepped in front of wideout Marshaun Tucker and made a
fingertip interception with the ball only inches from the
ground. Dyson, the brother of Tennessee wideout Kevin Dyson, is
in a four-way battle for the cornerback job opposite rising star
Samari Rolle. If he keeps making plays like that, he'll win the
job hands down.
--Cade McNown talks a good game. The embattled Bears quarterback
skipped his last week of vacation to be in Tampa, polishing his
footwork and mechanics with former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg.
"I'm growing up," McNown says. "I know I've got a job to do, and
time is growing short." Quite short, especially if he has
stretches like this one on his first day in full pads: McNown
underthrows Kaseem Sinceno on a 10-yard crossing route;
overthrows D'Wayne Bates on a 12-yard cross; underthrows Ahmad
Merritt down the right sideline; and wobbles a bomb far short of
Sulecio Sanford. Team insiders think McNown may be playing
elsewhere next season.
--Number 93 looks familiar, but something's missing. It must be
the pounds. The new Gilbert Brown looks to be about 90% of the
old Gilbert Brown, the oversized nosetackle of the 1996 and '97
Packers. Last week, in individual drills, he pushed around
starting guard Mike Wahle. After eating himself out of the
league before last season, Brown ballooned to more than 400
pounds. Late last year, determined to return to the NFL, he
began training at Kansas, his alma mater. He reported to camp at
332 pounds, and the Green Bay brass likes his chances of making
the team. "We could be looking at the comeback player of the
year," says vice president of football operations Mark Hatley.
Jimmy Smith's Comeback
Coughlin Shows His Soft Side
Jaguars wideout Jimmy Smith doesn't remember how many times he
woke up from his real-life nightmare and saw his coach, Tom
Coughlin, sitting at his bedside. "He came by the hospital at
least every other day," says Smith, whose career was threatened
by a stomach ailment in the off-season. "What touched me is that
he never talked about me playing football again. He cared about
me as a person. He got me through this."
Smith was hospitalized three times between late March and May.
The culprit turned out to be scar tissue from a 1993
appendectomy that had built up and created a blockage in his
small intestine, making it difficult to digest food. "It was
kinked, like a garden hose," says Smith, who lifted his shirt
after a practice to reveal a six-inch scar, the result of the
Smith hopes to be ready for the opener on Sept. 9 against the
Steelers. After losing 20 pounds when he was sick, he is back at
his playing weight, which is a start. Obviously, he is vital to
Jacksonville's success. No player has caught as many balls for
as many yards over the past five years as Smith, who has 450
receptions for 6,599 yards. Can he return to his old form? "I
want to be better," says Smith. "Wouldn't that be a great story?"
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Griese is back at full strength, feeling no ill effects from his off-season shoulder surgery.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO The Jaguars' Smith spent much of the spring battling a frightening stomach ailment.
No team is in a rush to talk trade with the Redskins for the
"retired" Deion Sanders. For starters, no one is sure about
Sanders's intentions, though he'll probably try to play again.
Washington, which retains his rights, would want a high draft
choice for Sanders, but he hasn't been the same player since
undergoing left-toe surgery in April 1999.... Leon Lett, 32, is
alive and well and set to see action for 25 plays a game in the
Broncos' defensive line rotation. "We love him," Denver
pass-rush coach John Teerlinck says of the former Cowboy. "He'll
make a big difference for us."... Referee Phil Luckett, the man
in the middle of the coin-flip controversy involving the
Steelers and the Lions in 1999, says he wants to devote more
time to religion, so he'll work this year as a back judge.
Luckett estimates that as a referee and crew chief he spent 10
hours a week on paperwork and other details.... With Flozell
Adams out until at least late August, the Cowboys are
contemplating permanently moving the best guard in football,
Larry Allen, to left tackle. Allen isn't unfamiliar with the
position. He played it in 1998 and went to the Pro Bowl.... The
Chargers love the energy that quarterback Doug Flutie has
brought to the team.... Jeff Lewis is struggling in his effort
to win the Carolina quarterback job, last held by Steve
Beuerlein, who was cut in March. Lewis is being pushed by Chris
Weinke, the 29-year-old rookie from Florida State.