Broncos focus on offense, Lelie’s stock slips
DENVER ” Ashley Lelie made it clear he wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver, something that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon with Rod Smith in Denver.
Upset with the Broncos’ flirtation with Terrell Owens in the offseason, Lelie boycotted the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program, and his agent received Denver’s permission to gauge other teams’ interest for a possible trade.
After the NFL draft weekend, not only is Lelie still a member of the Broncos but he’s their No. 3 receiver at best.
The Broncos made a major splash by trading a second-round pick to Green Bay for former Pro Bowl receiver Javon Walker, who is set to sign a big six-year contract. Providing he recovers as expected from his torn left knee ligament, Walker should quickly emerge as Denver’s top playmaker and supplant Lelie as its best deep threat.
Denver also used two of its fourth-round selections on receivers: Brandon Marshall of Central Florida and Akron’s Domenik Hixon.
What does this mean for Lelie, the Broncos’ first-round draft pick in 2002 who blames his inconsistent production on the team’s run-first philosophy?
“There will be a lot of competition,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “We are very happy to have Javon with us. And then you have some competition. We have a lot of young guys coming in that will get a chance to compete with the guys that are here.
I believe we have a lot more depth at that position than we have had in a long time, so that’s a big positive right there.”
Not for Lelie, who told the Rocky Mountain News he sees himself as the third receiver no matter what Shanahan says about competition at the position. He also told the newspaper that he thinks with Walker coming off his knee injury, he’ll just be holding down a spot for Walker in training camp until he’s ready to return to action. So, Lelie is mulling a holdout.
Shanahan focused on offense over the weekend a year after drafting primarily defensive players.
He moved up to take Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler with the 11th pick even though Jake Plummer led the Broncos to the cusp of the AFC title last season. He also selected tight end Tony Scheffler of Western Michigan in the second round and offensive linemen Chris Kuper of North Dakota and Greg Eslinger of Minnesota in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively.
“I thought we needed some more speed, and I think we were able to do that,” Shanahan said. “I felt we needed obviously, a quarterback that could come in here and compete. Very seldom are you able to get the quality quarterback that we think we got. We were able to add a few other positions.
“Any time you bring in a Pro Bowl player to your team that has proven himself and you are able to get a tight end that you think can run with the best of them, you feel like you added some quality depth and playmakers. Hopefully, it works out that way.”
Surprisingly, Shanahan didn’t grab a running back in the draft, although he said he was intrigued by Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney, who was selected 21st by New England, before deciding to make a move up for Cutler instead.
“We weren’t planning on picking up a running back,” Shanahan said. “Maroney was a guy that we thought a lot of, a guy we probably would have taken because of his value and how good we thought he would fit into any zone-blocking scheme.
Obviously, we stepped up and went in a different direction.”
That’s because Shanahan insists he’s satisfied with his options in the backfield after dumping last year’s starter, Mike Anderson, to gain salary cap relief.
“We have three guys; Ron Dayne ” we all know what Ron has done throughout his career ” Tatum Bell, who was very productive for us last year and is going to have chance to compete. Cedric Cobbs, a guy that we thought a lot of that went to New England and we were fortunate enough to get late in the season,” Shanahan said.
“And you still have a guy like Cecil Sapp who can play the fullback and the tailback position, so we do feel like we have some depth there.”
Walker is expected to arrive at the Broncos facilities in a week to resume his rehabilitation and begin studying the Broncos’ offense. He may or may not have his new contract by then, but Shanahan said that shouldn’t be an issue because the sides have agreed on the deal’s structure and need only to hammer out the details.
“It shouldn’t take long,” Shanahan said.
And he hopes it doesn’t take long for his rookie wide receivers to get up to speed.
Marshall is particularly intriguing because of his size: 6-4 1/2 and 230 pounds. The versatile Hixon has a broken leg that will keep him sidelined until the end of the month.
“He’s a punt returner and kickoff returner, so it’s always a plus,” Shanahan said.
“But we brought him in here not strictly for special teams. We brought him in to compete with our wide receivers because we thought with his speed and some of the plays he made that there was a lot of value there at that pick.”
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