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Need a Second Chance? Just Call Broncos

May 29, 2005|From Associated Press

DENVER — The tailback is one of the most divisive figures in the history of college football. The punter has issues -- with the law, with steroids and, believe it or not, with a family of kickers. Most recently, Jerry Rice came into the fold.

The Oakland Raiders used to have the market cornered on players in need of a second chance. This off-season, though, it's the Denver Broncos taking chances on the aging, the troubled and the difficult.

Although none of the players -- Rice, Maurice Clarett and Todd Sauerbrun, to name a few -- is costing the Broncos much in terms of money or draft picks, there are other risks involved. Most notably, the Denver locker room could be one of the most scrutinized in the league this season, full of big names and big personalities.

How the new guys fit in, and how the players react to possible distractions, could play a big role in how well the Broncos do in 2005.

"I have no concerns," coach Mike Shanahan said. "These are professionals and I expect them to act as professionals."

Nobody has any doubts about Rice's character. He's arguably the best player to play the game and he has agreed with Shanahan that he must earn his spot on the roster. If that happens, he then must be happy to serve as a role player.

It means he won't be able to repeat last year's episode, when he grew upset with his shrinking role in the Oakland offense and eventually forced a trade to Seattle.

"I really don't want this to be a big distraction to the team," the 42-year-old receiver said.

Clarett and Sauerbrun have much more sordid pasts.

The Broncos surprised many people when they used a third-round draft pick to choose Clarett, the tailback who sued the NFL to enter the draft early and also turned on his old school, Ohio State, accusing coaches of providing him with improper benefits.

Clarett insists all that is behind him, but he will be under the microscope this season. The first day of a Broncos mini-camp this month drew about 30 reporters, including a handful from out of town, all in search of Clarett, who didn't speak until later in the week.

Clarett acknowledged being something of an intriguing presence to his teammates.

"But after we ran a couple plays and we talked to each other and I communicated with them in the weight room, they don't even look at me like, 'What went on?' " he said. "It's kind of like you're a part of the group right now, either help us or move on."

Sauerbrun, meanwhile, has boycotted the media -- part of his bizarre 11-year existence in the NFL, during which he has caused more trouble than most punters probably ever could.

He was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges. He was one of three players named in a CBS report as having obtained illegal steroid prescriptions. He also has a strange feud going with the Gramatica brothers, one that was so intense that he asked his former team, Carolina, to not bring Bill Gramatica in for a tryout when the Panthers' regular kicker got hurt last season.

The Panthers said OK and asked Sauerbrun to consider taking the kicking chores, but the punter said he'd do it only if the team would refund some of the money it fined him for being overweight. The Panthers refused.

Given all that, it was no wonder Carolina was willing to let Sauerbrun go for Denver punter Jason Baker and a seventh-round draft pick.

Sauerbrun has been one of the best punters in the league though and, as is the case with Clarett and Rice, Shanahan is hoping he might be a cog in getting Denver to the Super Bowl.

"I'm not saying that these guys haven't had issues, but with the type of guys we've got on this football team, they'd better step up and live to the right standard or they won't be here," Shanahan said in an interview with The Rocky Mountain News. "That's the bottom line."

Last season, after then-Vikings receiver Randy Moss pretended to moon the crowd in Green Bay while celebrating a touchdown, Shanahan said he wouldn't put up with a player who acted like that.

"I believe there's a standard that should be demonstrated to the fans, and once someone crosses that line it's tough for me," he said. "Basically, I despise it."

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