View Full Version : The Old Guard and the New Guard

12-31-2007, 01:34 AM
Jason Elam.

Rod Smith.

Tom Nalen.

Matt Lepsis.

One has played the most games in Broncos history.

One is the greatest receiver Denver has ever had.

The other two have blocked for a HOF-caliber back and the best ground attack in the NFL the last decade, while protecting quarterbacks ranging from the sublime (John Elway) to the ridiculous (Brian Griese) and everything in between (Plummer, Cutler, Brister and the assorted backups).

Injuries have decimated them, and Father Time has brought his whooping stick to the party this year, but even with just one good leg, Rod Smith still stands tall and proud. He just wishes he could have gotten on the field to give the young guys a hand. "It's hard when you're not a part of it. That's the part that bothers me, not being out there in cleats. If we're going to lose, I want to go down swinging with everybody else."

Still, this sad fact remains: the last remnants of the Superbowl teams are being taken from the Broncos. Their leaders on both sides of the ball are reaching the end of the line, with another Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Famer, John Lynch, still undecided about returning for a 16th season. "I know I can't play forever, but I also know I still have a passion for this game," he said when asked about a return to Denver in '08. But he’s also talked with John Elway in the past couple of weeks about how to make that hard decision to walk away from the game before the game forces you out.

With the obvious rebuilding job that awaits, does he really want to chance his future health on a team with very little shot to contend? He's said he is one more neck injury from immediate retirement, but with the issues he's already had even just this year the reward may not be worth the risk.

And his potential retirement would leave the two corners, Bailey and Bly, as the elder statesmen on defense, each with 9 years in the NFL. Engelberger’s been around since 2000 and has gotten into almost every game. None of the other season-finale starters on defense has more than 4 years of starting experience, including this year. It's a terrifically raw unit, unproven and untested.

The offense isn't much better, with no starter in the season finale having more than six years of service besides Lepsis. With Cutler and his second-year receiving core of Marshall, Martinez and Scheffler, not to mention the pair or rookies at RB in Hall and Young, there is time for them all to grow up together into the nucleus of the next Broncos championship team.

But for the Old Guard, time is running out.

Lepsis just smiles when asked about retirement, but is said to be seriously considering it. Nalen doesn't talk to the media at all, but his body may tell him it's time to hang up the cleats. Elam hasn't been able to kick off for years, and persistent hamstring issues make every field goal attempt on slippery turf a potentially career-ending adventure. He had his children come to the stadium (a rare occurance) to watch what might have been his final game-winning kick for the Broncos.

And then there's Rod Smith. He still can't walk without pain and is having another surgery after the season to try to fix the issue. He's in line for an artificial hip in the near future, most likely, and while he won't say he's played his last down it's hard to envision a scenario where he re-takes the field in anything more than a symbolic farewell.

New leaders will have to be found, or made. Already this year the veterans Smith and Lynch have asked players like Cutler and DJ Williams to step up, to be more vocal, to take the reins of the team from them while they were still around to pass them over.

And make no mistake – there are some building blocks here. DJ Williams is top-5 in the league in tackles, Brandon Marshall caught more than 100 balls for 1300 yards, and Jay Cutler tucked a 63% completion rate and 3500 yards under his belt in his first full season as The Man in Denver.

But none of that was enough to escape only the second losing season of Mike Shanahan’s tenure. He’s said this year is more disappointing than the ‘99 season because he believes he had more talent this year.

Whether or not that’s true – and whether changes in offensive and defensive philosophy are needed to take better advantage of that talent – the Broncos have several long months of off-season to wade through before training camp starts up and they can try to wash the taste of this year out of their mouths.

“This is an organization where it’s about winning championships, and we fell far from that,” Lynch said after the Minnesota game. “We have a lot of work to do.” And for all the metaphors about character and mettle and finding out who the Broncos actually were, not much changed from week 1 to week 16. A last second win was scraped out thanks to Elam’s leg, and all sorts of questions about players, scheme and coaches remained. The problem with testing mettle is that tempering is a delicate thing – you’re as likely to ruin your final product as strengthen it.

Those who have been through the fires will not be around much longer to show the next group of Denver talents how it's done, so here’s hoping the young guys prove to be quick studies. Youth and inexperience can no longer be affordable excuses as the Broncos try to rediscover winning ways and playoff magic.

Because this coming year, the team will be theirs in truth – and the Broncos aren’t known as an organization patient with either excuses or losing.


12-31-2007, 04:17 AM
Great article. A logn hiatus from the baords due to personal issues has greeted me with some great aricles by some gifted new writers. Great addition to the team G and great article. I enjoyed every line of it.

12-31-2007, 11:18 AM
Great take G...as always.

I really wish Rod would coach. That man is unbelievable when it comes to motivating people.

12-31-2007, 11:25 AM
G, what can I say?

You da man.

12-31-2007, 11:49 AM
Great take G...as always.

I really wish Rod would coach. That man is unbelievable when it comes to motivating people.

Rod's said before that he loves coaching people up but that the hours are too ridiculous. If the hours were fewer he might consider it.

I can understand that. Why be away from your family for coach-level hours when you don't have to be?

Ty Law said this about Rod and coaching: "He's too smart to coach. I've already talked to him about that and he looked at me and started laughing. That's when I knew he was smarter than everybody else around here."

Honestly, I think Rod might coach high school ball or something, do something with getting teenagers the sort of work ethic that can carry them through life rather than dealing with spoiled athletes at long hours.

I'd be sending my kid to that school, that's for sure.


01-24-2008, 06:29 PM
Rod should suit up one more time, Maybe during a pre-season home game.
Bowlen should make a big deal out of it whether Rod wants it or not.
It's time for #80 to retire that Hip and stay healthy enough to play golf & eventually with His grandkids.
"Love Ya, Rod."
Lepsis has been a career Bronco & a solid starter for years. Sadly (as an O-lineman) His most famous play will be falling on TD's million dollar knee.
Matt Lepsis has already said goodby.

So. Who'll last longer? Elam, or Tommy Nalen?

Although I expect Nalen to play in 08, ya gotta go with the guy Who's jersey is always clean.

Elam= last Super Bowl 32-33 champ Bronco (PLAYER) to retire.