Broncos can't block critics

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October 31, 2004|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

What goes around almost always comes around in the NFL. That's to say, the Denver Broncos, the league's foremost practitioners of the cut block, better keep their eyes wide open when they tackle the Atlanta Falcons today.

There likely will be more infighting than usual when these two division leaders meet. Alex Gibbs, the man who made the cut block a nasty phrase in Denver, has taken the blocking technique to Atlanta, where the Falcons are learning to run the ball like the Broncos.

When Gibbs was their line coach, the Broncos cultivated a reputation for a relentless running game and, less flattering, for employing the cut and chop blocks. (Cut blocks essentially are when an offensive player takes the legs out from under a defensive player; a chop block occurs when a defensive player is engaged with an offensive player and is taken down, or chopped, by a second offensive man.)

Now Gibbs is tutoring the Falcons' offensive linemen, and although he was nowhere near Cincinnati last Monday night, he was nevertheless at the heart of the most controversial play in the Bengals' 23-10 win over the Broncos. The Bengals lost defensive tackle Tony Williams for the season to a broken and dislocated ankle when Broncos tackle George Foster cut blocked him and fell on his legs on a play away from the ball.

The outrage could be felt across the NFL.

In Pittsburgh, Steelers coach Bill Cowher bemoaned the legal, but in this case needless, use of the cut block. In Cincinnati, coach Marvin Lewis pointed out that the Broncos have now ended the season for two players this year with similar tactics and suggested the league's competition committee needs to address the matter.

Mike Holmgren, coach of the Seattle Seahawks and a member of that committee, said the cut block is a topic of discussion every year, and will be again this offseason.

"I just think - and Denver's very, very effective and very good - most of the time it's legal," Holmgren said. "Their offensive line is very good and they play the game hard. I just thought the other night, that was real unnecessary."

Even though Denver lineman Matt Lepsis broke the leg of Jacksonville's Paul Spicer earlier this season, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan bristled at the idea the Broncos should be singled out. He let reporters view a video he had made specifically to show Steelers and Bengals players using the cut block.

"I think the reason why people bring it up is because of our success running the football," Shanahan said. "There's got to be a reason for it, and people bring up the cut block that's been going on since the [Broncos'] Super Bowl years."

That's his spin. Here's another thought: If the NFL can do so much to protect quarterbacks and wide receivers, why can't it do something to better protect vulnerable defensive players like Tony Williams?

AROUND THE LEAGUE

QB-starved Bears now turn to rookie Krenzel

The Jonathan Quinn era in Chicago lasted little more than two games. Now it's rookie Craig Krenzel's turn to quarterback the Bears.

Krenzel basically won the starting job by default last week after replacing Quinn in a 19-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He went 9-for-19 for 69 yards, which looked like an improvement on Quinn's 10-for-22 for 65 yards the week before.

After watching film, Bears rookie coach Lovie Smith made this evaluation of Krenzel: "I thought he managed the game well and made some bad plays, some bad throws, but I also thought he made some good decisions, some good throws, and he wasn't overwhelmed by what was going on."

While that doesn't say much about Krenzel, it says a lot less about Quinn, a journeyman who was forced into action in Week 4 after starter Rex Grossman tore a knee ligament to end his season. Quinn went 0-2 as a starter and was yanked early last week. Chad Hutchinson, signed recently, hasn't been able to grasp the playbook yet.

A molecular genetics major at Ohio State, Krenzel led the Buckeyes to the national championship in 2002. He was drafted in the fifth round in April, and now becomes the 25th quarterback change in the Bears' past 81 games.

Early out

The Oakland Raiders have dumped wide receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, and now Jerry Porter says he wants out after this season. Porter, a second-round pick in 2000, said he intends to void the final year of his contract to become a free agent.

He is angered by reports that he was shopped around by the Raiders with Rice before the league's trade deadline. He had season highs of six catches and 113 yards along with his first touchdown in a loss to New Orleans last week.

Said Porter: "The fans may see [his declaration to leave] that I just don't want to be here, not as a business. But on any given day, the Raiders could say the hell with me and go in a different direction. I've got to think of me first and take care of my family."

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