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Cutler's words might stop Broncos' woes


Keep up with the Denver Broncos long enough, and eventually nothing surprises you anymore. Well, hardly anything.

Then came the back-to-back or perhaps that should be quarterback-to-quarterback public statements last week by Jay Cutler, whose progress in the next year or two will directly influence the mental health of countless Coloradans, and John Elway, who set the standard.

First, there was Cutler, using the media to give wide receiver Brandon Marshall a serious scolding after Marshall's very unusual right-arm injury, a severe cut that required surgery.

Then there was Elway, asked for the millionth time in the past nine years (since his retirement) what he thought of the Broncos' latest soap opera. Candid as always (OK, almost always), Elway said he was surprised at Cutler's tactics, especially being so public about it, and the Hall of Famer added that he preferred to deal with such problems one-on-one.

Presto, instant headlines. Even though, actually, Elway added some thoughtful follow-up remarks, but those words got lost in the hubbub. He said perhaps this was simply Cutler using the situation to show his readiness and willingness to take charge of the team as a true, forceful leader.

Elway's actual words: "I was impressed by the fact it meant something to him to come out and say something about it, which I think is something that the Broncos need ... The situation Jay's in as a quarterback, he's the leader. You have to take a leadership role. You need somebody to take over, and that's one thing I saw on Jay's part. ... It's a matter of when you get the respect of your teammates. That's when leadership comes."

On that note, old No. 7 was right on target.

In another situation, with different timing, Cutler might not have said anything. And obviously, what happens from September to December is far more important than a media interview in April.

But there's an urgency now that is engulfing the franchise. Not to win the next Super Bowl, but definitely to break out of the Broncos' recent malaise. Now.

That's why head coach Mike Shanahan has turned into a Terminator, firing defensive coordinator Jim Bates and even general manager Ted Sundquist. It's easy to imagine The Mastermind also calling in Cutler for a little talk, telling him to start acting more like a leader instead of just a smart kid out of Vanderbilt.

Marshall made it easy, because he was stupid.

Yes, it's the off-season, but the incident involved Marshall apparently wrestling with his brother, not exactly mature behavior for one of the NFL's most promising young receivers. So Cutler made it known that Marshall "needs to grow up," in part because such antics aren't exactly new for the fledgling star from the University of Central Florida, but also because Marshall will miss plenty of chances to work with Cutler during mini-camps on improving their game.

The comments did qualify as unexpected, because Cutler hasn't been anywhere near that outspoken in his brief tenure as Denver's quarterback. For many fans, the most common off-the-field visual image of Cutler's first two pro seasons has been seeing him standing or sitting on the sidelines, appearing almost disinterested or lackadaisical.

Not anymore, if Cutler's recent lecturing is any indication. Perhaps now he fully realizes that this is his team, his moment, his big chance to turn all his potential into reality. He might not be the next Elway, but he could vault himself onto the stage with Eli Manning and others as the NFL's new-age quarterbacks.

Or perhaps Cutler was following orders. My guess is, it might have been some of both.

Let's remember something else: Marshall is most certainly Denver's best receiver. Without him, the catching corps is pretty much a not-very-fast Brandon Stokley and several others who would have trouble making some NFL rosters.

In fact, though nobody else is saying this, you have to wonder if Shanahan might consider using Denver's first-round draft pick for another receiver, perhaps even trading up to do so. There's a strong crop of potential playmakers at wideout for Denver's pick at No. 12 (unless the Broncos might move lower and still get what they want), including DeSean Jackson of California, Mario Manningham of Michigan, Early Doucet of LSU, Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma, Devin Thomas of Michigan State, James Hardy of Indiana, Limas Sweed of Texas and Taj Smith of Syracuse.

Put somebody like that on the field with Marshall (assuming he fully recovers) and Stokley, and that could help open up the run game even more.

But the Broncos' equation for a quick turnaround also includes Jay Cutler showing more than just flashes of what he could become.

It's time for No. 6 to take command.

Bits and pieces: Watching Notre Dame knock off Michigan in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals had to be excruciating for Colorado College's players and coaches. If the Tigers could have won the West Regional on their home ice, that could have been them playing a Michigan team that proved to be not so invincible after all.

Most likely, the top-ranked Wolverines (who looked as good as the great Michigan teams of the mid-1990s) assumed they would be playing for the championship, making them most vulnerable in the semifinals. It's a tough lesson for CC, which has plenty of returnees but loses some hard-to-replace seniors.

One last point on the college hockey season: Perhaps the Western Collegiate Hockey Association should stop thinking it's so much better than the other leagues. North Dakota was the only WCHA team to make this Frozen Four, and even with its nucleus of stars, it exited meekly in a 6-1 loss to Boston College.

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