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Stokley, not Marshall, stars in new Denver offense

ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer
Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley steps on to the gridiron to take part in drills during a football training camp session conducted in Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver on Monday, Aug. 10, 2009. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP | AP

ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – Sure enough, a flashy receiver named Brandon with a knack for making tough catches and evading tacklers is turning heads at the Denver Broncos’ training camp.

But the man making new quarterback Kyle Orton feel right at home is Brandon Stokley, not Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall.

While Marshall makes all his news off the field – he’s asked for a raise and a trade and skipped offseason workouts in protest of his contract and medical treatment – Stokley has established himself as Orton’s top target.

Day after day they hook up for big plays, Stokley hauling in tough passes over the middle one minute and touch passes in the end zone the next.

“We really worked hard this offseason to get on the same page and when we came out to training camp we were kind of a step ahead of everybody else,” Stokley said. “And I think it’s showing that we put in a lot of work in this offseason.”

Unlike Marshall, who worked out on his own in Florida after recovering from hip surgery rather than participate in the team’s offseason training program and mandatory minicamp.

Marshall made it clear when he reported to training camp that he was only doing so to avoid the $15,888 daily fines he otherwise would have faced.

But is Marshall, who will make $2.2 million this season, an “unofficial holdout”?

He’s missed every practice since pulling up lame while running a deep route Aug. 2.

New coach Josh McDaniels doesn’t talk about injuries and won’t allow his hurt players to attend practice, two policies that have helped fuel speculation about Marshall’s status.

McDaniels tried to dampen the notion that Marshall was either seriously injured or dogging it this week when he said he was confident his recalcitrant receiver will be ready for the regular season.

“Mentally, he’s in all the meetings, he sees all the film sessions, sees all the corrections, so I’m not concerned with that, we still have over a month left for that to come into the fold,” McDaniels said.

Stokley was listed as a starter on the team’s first depth chart Monday, along with receivers Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney on the outside, and Marshall was listed as a second-stringer.

McDaniels insisted Tuesday that the depth chart wasn’t legit, that he only submitted it because the league requires him to, and said the reason Marshall was listed as a backup is because he won’t make the trip to San Francisco so he can tend to a “personal situation.”

That’s his misdemeanor battery trial in an Atlanta court on Thursday, where a conviction for striking his former girlfriend could land him in jail and/or NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s doghouse.

Goodell informed Marshall last year, when he suspended the receiver for the opener over a series of domestic disputes with his former girlfriend, that a negative outcome in this case could lead to another suspension.

McDaniels also listed safety Brian Dawkins as the starter even though he has a broken hand and reportedly underwent surgery last week. But it was Marshall’s relegation to backup status that had the Broncos bloggers abuzz.

“That’s not our depth chart,” McDaniels said. “We don’t have any starters right now. We have competition right now. The league mandates that we put out a roster for who’s going to start in the first preseason game and Brandon has a personal situation that he’s going to attend to and won’t be able to make that preseason game. And Jabar Gaffney’s going to start in his place. It’s very simple.”

His consternation aside, McDaniels has been effusive in his praise of his other receivers, especially Stokley.

“Brandon Stokley is one of the toughest slot receivers that I’ve coached against and he’s everything I thought he was when I came here: very crafty, smart, tough, physical, quick,” McDaniels said. “He just has a knack of how to get open and that’s an invaluable skill for a receiver to have, especially on third down.”

McDaniels is instilling an intricate offense modeled after the one he ran in New England as Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator that employs a three-receiver set at its base.

So, Stokley can expect an even heavier workload than he had last year, when he caught 49 passes, the second-highest total of his career after his 68-catch, 1,077-yard season for the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.

“We’ll play Brandon probably more than they did last year,” McDaniels said. “Brandon’s got a great role. Great teammate, great attitude, great work ethic and I love having him out here.”

Things that he just can’t say right now about Marshall.


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