No matter how hard they try, the Broncos will never turn Brian
Griese into the life of the party. The man is private and
serious. You can't change him. One day this summer at training
camp, locker-room leader and top receiver Rod Smith said, "I've
told Brian if I see him with a frown on his face, I'm going to
slap it off him. Have fun, man." That same day, outside the
cafeteria, defensive lineman Trevor Pryce playfully shoved
Griese. "Greaseball!" Pryce said jocularly. "Get outta here!"
Male bonding stuff. This team is trying to make the quiet Griese
one of the boys.
Why bother? When Griese led Michigan to a share of the national
championship in 1997, he was a private guy. When Griese led the
NFL in passing in 2000, he was a private guy. Lighting a
firecracker under him is not going to make him play better.
Staying injury-free, not forcing balls to inexperienced receivers
in tight coverage and leading the offense like a general--those
are the things that will make him a better quarterback. Make no
mistake, Griese, the late bloomer drafted 89 spots after Ryan
Leaf in '98, will be on trial this year. Early. His breakout 2000
season (19 touchdowns, four interceptions) fell between two
mediocre ones; he's only 19-19 as an NFL starter.
An abrupt quarterback change isn't out of character for coach
Mike Shanahan, who stunned the football world when he picked
Griese to start over veteran Bubby Brister in 1999. So if Griese
struggles early--the tough defenses of St. Louis, Baltimore, San
Diego, Miami and New England dot the first-half schedule--don't be
surprised if he gets the hook. Backup Steve Beuerlein was
Shanahan's first NFL quarterback when he coached the Los Angeles
Raiders in '88, and, playing for the Carolina Panthers in '99 and
2000, Beuerlein threw for an NFC-high 8,166 yards. Beuerlein had
two elbow surgeries in the past 18 months, but if he's healthy
he's a threat to Griese.
"Brian has proven he can play, and play at a very high level,
when we're healthy," Shanahan said during training camp. "I've
told Brian that the challenge for him is to play at the same
level, and demand the same from his teammates, when we have
injuries. That's what separates the good NFL quarterbacks from
the great ones."
Taking a break from working the coach's clicker on the video
screen in his room, Shanahan paused for a full five seconds after
being asked if his confidence in Griese was shaken. "Yeah," he
said. "I was disappointed he didn't lift his game last year.
Every team gets injuries. When you get injuries on offense, the
quarterback's got to make those new players believe they can do
No team has been hit harder by injuries over the past three
seasons than Denver, but it's still stunning that the Broncos are
only 25-23 since winning their second straight Super Bowl
following the 1998 season. Last year the broken left leg that
wideout Ed McCaffrey suffered in the season opener and the
subsequent injuries to fellow receivers Rod Smith and Kevin
Kasper, plus the continuing left knee woes of former All-Pro
running back Terrell Davis (who will start the season on injured
reserve), exposed Denver's lack of offensive depth. The once
explosive Broncos scored 30 points or more only once in the last
14 weeks, and Griese, unwisely forcing throws, dropped from being
the league's top-rated passer in 2000 to 15th last fall.
"I don't see last year as being representative of me as a
player," Griese says. "I just haven't thrown interceptions like
that [19, one more than in his entire college career]. As the
year went on, I found myself trying to make plays that weren't
there. In this league you can't use injuries as an excuse, and I
won't. I know I have to play better."
He also has to get used to the media zeroing in on his gaffes. In
May, after a night of carousing with teammates, he fell on his
face--literally--in Davis's driveway. Two months after his driveway
dive, Griese lightly rear-ended a stopped car. "Are you going to
write about that stuff?" he said, clearly annoyed when it was
mentioned. "Practice is the best time for me. I can get away from
the media and concentrate on football instead of all this other
stuff, which no one will ever let me forget."
They'll forget--after a few mistake-free, 300-yard passing games
lead to Denver wins. --P.K.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZITO/SPORTSCHROME With Beuerlein in the wings, Griese (below) has to be at the top of his game.
COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS LELIE
By signing Lional Dalton to team with Chester McGlockton at
defensive tackle, forming a 643-pound run-stopping duo, Denver
was able to move the versatile Trevor Pryce (421/2 sacks in five
seasons) from tackle to left end. At 295 pounds, the 6'5" Pryce
should be able to help stop the run and have a double-digit sack
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Broncos
"Brian Griese has really struggled with the physical part of the
game. He takes big hits and doesn't seem to be able to overcome
them.... The offensive line faltered last year. Lennie Friedman
got overrun at left guard, and Dan Neil's a holder, nothing more,
at right guard.... Everyone talks about Denver's 1,000-yard
backs, but they won't run effectively unless the Broncos make
Mike Anderson their full-time fullback. That spot has been a
problem since they lost Howard Griffith, who was like an anvil
back there. Anderson has to forget about carrying the ball and
just think about blocking.... Rod Smith is the key to their
offense. Even the Patriots and the great Belichick couldn't stop
him with a double-team.... [First-round pick] Ashley Lelie will
be huge at some point early in his career, but I don't think it
will be this year. He's been too hurt [pulled right
hamstring].... What's the big deal about Shannon Sharpe's
returning? Desmond Clark's twice the receiver, and Sharpe never
was interested in blocking.... On defense I have a lot of
questions. Cornerback Deltha O'Neal is like Terrell Buckley:
makes lots of big plays, but gives up just as many. Tim Brown
kills him. They've drafted two corners in the first round
recently, and neither is a shutdown guy.... Al Wilson's a
short-armed player who's not physical enough to be a middle
linebacker.... I don't know about the move of Trevor Pryce to
end. He's one of the best in the league inside. Why move him?"
Sept. 8 ST. LOUIS
15 at San Francisco
30 at Baltimore (Mon.)
Oct. 6 SAN DIEGO
20 at Kansas City
27 at New England
Nov. 3 Open date
11 OAKLAND (Mon.)
17 at Seattle
Dec. 1 at San Diego
8 at N.Y. Jets
15 KANSAS CITY
22 at Oakland
NFL rank: T7
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .527
Games against playoff teams: 8
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics
COACH: Mike Shanahan; eighth season with Denver (80-52 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 8-8 (third in AFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 10/25/22; defense 6/16/8
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Brian Griese 71
451 att. 275 comp. 61.0% 2,827 yds. 23 TDs 19 int. 78.5 rtg.
RB Clinton Portis (R)[N] 27
220 att. 1,200 yds. 5.5 avg. 12 rec. 125 yds. 10.4 avg. 11 TDs
RB Olandis Gary 102
57 att. 228 yds. 4.0 avg. 4 rec. 29 yds. 7.3 avg. 1 TD
FB Mike Anderson 83
175 att. 678 yds. 3.9 avg. 8 rec. 46 yds. 5.8 avg. 4 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Rod Smith 18 113 rec. 1,343 yds. 11 TDs
WR Ed McCaffrey 66 6 rec. 94 yds. 1 TD
WR Ashley Leile (R) [N] 232 84 rec. 1,713 yds. 19 TDs
TE Shannon Sharpe [N] 115 73 rec. 811 yds. 2 TDs
K Jason Elam 156 31/31 XPs 31/36 FGs 124 pts.
PR Deltha O'Neal 374 31 ret. 13.1 avg. 1 TD
KR Herb Haygood (R) [N] 350 24 ret. 26.3 avg. 2 TDs
LT Ephraim Salaam [N] 6'7" 300 lbs. 14 games 13 starts
LG Lennie Friedman 6'3" 285 lbs. 15 games 14 starts
C Tom Nalen 6'3" 286 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Dan Neil 6'2" 285 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RT Matt Lepsis 6'4" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Trevor Pryce 33 tackles 7 sacks
LT Chester McGlockton 34 tackles 1 sack
RT Lional Dalton [N] 12 tackles 0 sacks
RE Kavika Pittman 27 tackles 1 sack
OLB John Mobley 79 tackles 1 sack
MLB Al Wilson 72 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Ian Gold 36 tackles 3 sacks
CB Deltha O'Neal 62 tackles 9 int.
SS Kenoy Kennedy 54 tackles 1 int.
FS Izell Reese [N] 27 tackles 1 int.
CB Denard Walker 51 tackles 3 int.
P Tom Rouen 81 punts 45.3 avg.
[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
"Rod Smith is the key to their offense. Even Belichick couldn't
stop him with a double team."