Broncos’ Marshall matures into star
ENGLEWOOD – In training camp it looked like one of Denver’s big, beefy receivers was headed toward a Pro Bowl-type season and the other would watch from the sideline.Sure enough.Only, it’s Brandon Marshall who’s making all the plays and Javon Walker who’s rehabbing all the while.It was the other way around last summer, when Walker was on the field for nearly every snap of training camp while Marshall was stuck in the training room getting treatment for a thigh injury.Coach Mike Shanahan finally pushed Marshall back onto the field to play through the pain, and for the first two games of the season the Broncos had both wide receivers in their lineup.Walker’s troublesome right knee soon ended that dynamite duo.
He needed a third operation on the knee, which caused him to miss all of 2005 in Green Bay before his bounce-back season with the Broncos last year. Walker has missed eight games so far this season and has just three catches for 17 yards since opening the year with consecutive 100-yard games.In Walker’s absence, Marshall, in his second season out of Central Florida, has emerged as Jay Cutler’s top target, leading the team with 75 receptions for 1,029 yards and six scores.He also leads the Broncos in jaw-dropping moves, which he credits to his roots as a running back, as he decks defenders with an athleticism uncommon for a man who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds.”You never know what he’s going to do when he catches the ball, but you know that he’s going to make a play out of it,” Cutler said. “He might run back and forth for a 1-yard gain. But, more times than not, he’s going to give you a 10- or 20-yard gain.”Marshall caught a career-high 10 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns in Denver’s 41-7 shelling of Kansas City on Sunday. He also drew a flag for tossing three handfuls of snow into the air following his first score.”Brandon, he’s young,” cornerback Dre’ Bly said. “He sees T.O. and Chad Johnson on television, them guys doing celebrations. He’s a young star, so he wants to celebrate and have a good time. You have to make wise decisions. But it didn’t hurt us. I think he knew for the next time he scored not to do anything crazy.”The next time, he faked like he was going for the piles of snow again, but instead vaulted himself into the stands to celebrate with the fans.
He certainly is a quick learner.”He’s starting to really grow up,” Shanahan said Monday. “He’s starting to learn how to be a pro with the way he practices, the way he prepares. He’s playing a complete game. Not only is he catching the ball, but he’s blocking, as well. … He’s going to get better, too. He’s going to learn after that one cut how to turn upfield, when to turn upfield.”Equally impressive as his moves with the ball in his hands are the hits he puts on linemen, linebackers and defensive backs, who are often left dazed and amazed at his powerful downfield blocks.The fun Marshall’s having on the field masks his sadness off it.He was with cornerback Darrent Williams in the minutes before the 24-year-old cornerback was slain in a drive-by shooting last New Year’s Day and played in teammate Damien Nash’s charity basketball game in St. Louis before the backup running back dropped dead 30 minutes later.Marshall has also found himself making headlines for the wrong reasons this season. He was involved in a domestic dispute that was resolved in his favor this summer, and this week he’s scheduled to appear in a Denver County Court to enter a plea on a drunken driving charge stemming from an October traffic stop.
Not surprisingly, Marshall said he considers the football field his escape.”Football is my first love,” he said. “It’s definitely a place you can get out there and forget about your troubles and worries.”He’s made the most of his minutes this season, but he’s not the only one to benefit from Walker’s absence. Brandon Stokley, signed to be a slot receiver after recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, ranks second on the team with 40 catches for 635 yards and five touchdowns. His stellar season prompted the Broncos to sign him to a three-year contract extension through 2010.”This guy’s a winner. You can see it from Day 1. He loves to play the game and he loves to compete,” Shanahan said. “I didn’t want to play him as much as we’ve played him this year. I really wanted him in that third-down role if Javon would have stayed healthy.”Marshall’s big payday will come soon enough. On Sunday, he gave Denver a different 1,000-yard receiver for the fourth straight year.”I’m looking for better,” Marshall said. “I’m trying to be a Pro Bowl receiver. I want to be a part of a playoff team. I want to win a Super Bowl.”
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