A new cast of character for Broncos

Lee Rasizer
Yahoo! Sports

The circus was in town last year. Not Barnum & Bailey. Champ Bailey and Co.

The Broncos might have been dreary on the field with a 7-9 record, their first losing season in eight years. But with the colorful cast of characters assembled, it rarely was dull.

Todd Sauerbrun, Javon Walker, Simeon Rice, Sam Adams, Ian Gold and Travis Henry were unique personalities. They accounted for numerous off-field headlines and locker-room intrigue.

None is on the roster this season as players report to training camp.

And it isn't an accident.

After last season's disappointing finish, team owner Pat Bowlen lamented a lack of "closeness … togetherness … and leadership" on the club and insisted upon a "different attitude" at Dove Valley.

The next three months were aimed at accomplishing just that, while simultaneously improving the on-field product.

Wanted: character

Free agents and draft picks were scrutinized for character and leadership qualities.

And in between, the Broncos tried to overlook receiver Brandon Marshall's missteps because of his prodigious talent, hoping against hope the new group will rub off and bring further equilibrium to the roster in 2008.

"We had too many guys that probably had their own agenda vs. having the Broncos' best interests at heart," assistant general manager Jeff Goodman said, without naming names, about the 2007 experience.

"And so we tried to find guys who were going to put team before self and really care about the people around them more so than just themselves."

Among the key newcomers who take the field Friday for the opening of training camp are receivers Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson; linebackers Boss Bailey and Niko Koutouvides; safeties Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree; and top draftees Ryan Clady at offensive tackle and Eddie Royal, another wideout.

"It's too early to say conclusively how our character is, but it's not too early to see signs," tight end Nate Jackson said.

"And the signs are good. There are so many new guys here – and it seems like they're good professionals and long-term guys.

"When you bring in proven veterans, you want those guys to set examples for the younger guys so they see, 'This is how you do it.' But the last couple years, there's been such a big mixed bag of people it was hard for the younger guys to know which guys to follow."

One reason for the confusion was the loss of some longtime leaders.

Injuries caught up to Rod Smith. Jake Plummer, a popular teammate, was traded. Al Wilson suffered a career-threatening neck ailment and was released. Ebenezer Ekuban missed the season because of injury.

"You need to gain guys that step into their place," Jackson said. "And some guys have taken a while to do that."

There also might have been residual effects from the offseason deaths in 2007 of Darrent Williams and Damien Nash.

'Quality guys'

"We've got quality guys," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who appears ready to be a more prevalent public voice for the Broncos in his second full year as a starter.

"I don't think people know what to expect from us, but we have guys who enjoy playing football. … I don't think people may realize the kind of character we have, and that's the first thing you need. That's where it all starts."

Non-choir boys still can apply.

The New York Yankees teams of the late 1970s weren't called the Bronx Zoo for nothing, and they still managed to win despite strong egos, as did the Oakland Raiders of that era. Shaq and Kobe had a pretty good run in the NBA with some constant sniping in the background.

"It's OK to have a few guys that are selfish," Jackson said. "But you have to have the other guys to balance them out, take them under their wing and let them know there are bigger goals.

"That's what's important. As long as the good outweighs the bad."

That's where the Broncos' front office comes in.

Last year, many headlines focused on Henry's potential drug suspension and paternity issues, Rice's unhappiness with his playing time, Walker's fit within the offense and the team's handling of his ailing knee.

Behind the scenes, Gold's attitude and commitment were questioned. Adams' work ethic rubbed some in the organization the wrong way.

'Real joy' of football

And in addition to off-field problems, Marshall clashed verbally in a position meeting with assistant coach Jeremy Bates, who now spearheads the passing game.

Goodman said his sense is the common thread with the team's newcomers is "it's not all about the hype, money or individual records," but instead "the real joy of being on a football team, playing the game."

And while the Broncos might lack some of the star power of past teams, he suggested the improved attitude could translate on the field at some point because of improved chemistry.

"Every team is going to face adversity during a season," Goodman said. "Teams with chemistry find a way to win games when there's adversity in the locker room or externally, and those two or three games they find a way to win are the difference between 12-4 and 9-7.

"So there's a lot to be said for chemistry. It's hard to define why one team has it and another team doesn't. But it's a unique thing you're always searching for. Once you have it, you don't want to mess it up. And you don't know you have it until you have it."

In five months, or perhaps sooner, everyone will know whether the grand experiment worked.

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