[ NFL ISLANDERS ]
Island flavor helps
the Broncos feast on
their first 2 opponents
SAN DIEGO -- Five quarters into his second season in the NFL and Denver's Ashley Lelie was still looking for his first catch of the year.
Six quarters into his second season in the NFL and Lelie had the same number of pass receptions as Broncos' offensive lineman Cooper Carlisle: One.
But Carlisle's was for a touchdown, as Denver dominated San Diego 37-13 at sun-splashed Qualcomm Stadium yesterday.
"At the time I wasn't really thinking about it," Lelie said of Carlisle's 6-yard TD toss from Jake Plummer on a tackle-eligible play. "I was like, 'We scored. Yeah! We're going to win.' But after I looked back at it, he has more touchdowns than me, Ed (McCaffrey) and Rod (Smith) put together. We were kind of talking about that afterwards, but it's all in fun."
It's all fun when you win, and the Broncos are now 2-0. It's even more enjoyable when you contribute. Lelie, the Radford High School graduate and former University of Hawaii star, did so yesterday with two fairly tough catches that he made look easy.
Both led to points for Denver. His 20-yard falling grab on a deep curl helped set up Carlisle's rare touchdown, and his 25-yarder, also on a comebacker, with 20 seconds left in the half gave fellow UH alum Jason Elam a field-goal opportunity from 30 yards. That's like giving Ben Crenshaw a birdie putt from 3 feet.
"I thought he did some good things," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said of Lelie. "We (intentionally) underthrew a couple go routes and I thought Jake (Plummer) threw it as well as Steve (Beuerlein, who replaced Plummer due to injury). Got a couple big plays. They've got some corners who are talented. Even though they're young, they do a great job of covering the long ball with their speed and their aggressiveness. We tried to underthrow a couple of them, and fortunately it worked in our favor."
Lelie, considered a finesse player when he was drafted in the first round last year, has developed his strength and is adjusting to the physicality of the NFL.
Lelie was penalized for holding on the play after his first catch of the season. But later he was the one ruled innocent after a tussle with Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer led to a holding call against San Diego, which was declined. And in the second half, Lelie drew an interference call when the other corner, rookie Sammy Davis, grabbed him 22 yards downfield; that one fueled a scoring drive.
Broncos cornerback Lenny Walls said he and Lelie "make each other better" in practice.
"He's definitely gotten a lot better at using his hands and fighting off defenders and stuff like that," said Walls, who is also in his second year in the league. "He's a great talent."
The 6-foot-3 Lelie, who has beefed up to 200 pounds, knows he has to be a good blocker to play for Denver.
"It's a necessity with the type of offense we run and the ability of our running backs. It's a part of the game I had to pick up," he said.
Lelie is being broken in relatively slowly because the Broncos are loaded with outstanding receivers like Smith, McCaffrey and tight end Shannon Sharpe. But he already has a big fan in Elam.
"I see him every day in practice and I think he's going to be a superstar. A big-time superstar in this league. A lot of people don't know about how good he is," Elam said. "But when he's in there he catches everything and he's got so much potential and ability I'm excited to see him break out."
Elam is one of the few people in the world who can have a flawless day at work and have it be considered routine. Yesterday was one such; in addition to four extra points, the 11th-year pro made good on field-goal tries from 30, 45 and 34 yards. Elam has made 10 field goals in a row.
"I think I'm a much better kicker than I was five years ago," said Elam, who is 33 and signed a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract with the Broncos in the offseason. "I think I prepare better. I know how to treat my body better. And I need to be aware of that as I get older. I enjoy what I do and hopefully I can do it a long time."
Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said yesterday Elam will get a Pro Football Hall of Fame vote from him. Elam tied the record for the longest field goal at 63 yards. He has also been named to the Pro Bowl three times. But Paige might have to wait a while before marking his ballot.
Elam has no early retirement plans, especially with the news of Gary Anderson's signing with the Titans last week.
"That's very flattering. But I just want to keep helping this team win," Elam said. "I've got 11 years until I catch up with (Anderson). Hopefully I'll be around when I'm 44."
Lelie also said he thinks Elam should be enshrined some day.
"Yeah, definitely. Even if I wasn't from Hawaii. Seeing those big kicks he made last year, 50-yarder in the snow. He got a lot of pub in Hawaii, but even if you take that away, I think he would deserve it."
Farrington High School graduate Mario Fatafehi didn't have as good a day as his teammates with Hawaii ties. But the backup defensive end is enjoying his time with the Broncos.
Fatafehi was a fifth-round pick by Arizona in 2001. He's been a frequent visitor to the injury and inactive lists of the Cardinals and Carolina Panthers since. The Broncos picked him up as a free agent in the offseason and he made the team.
The 6-2, 300-pounder was in on two tackles yesterday, but said he didn't feel he played well.
"I got cracked. I got katooshed as that guy (Larry Price) on the TV back home would say. No. 63 (Chargers guard Kelvin Garmon) weighs about 350 and it felt like I ran into a wall. Ah, I just get back up, keep on playing," Fatafehi said with a laugh.
"I'm glad you're here, brah, these guys all think I'm from Chicago," Fatafehi told a locker-room visitor from Hawaii.
He was excited to report that one of his teachers from Farrington, Stephanie Nishihama, also came to see him play yesterday.
Elam and Lelie both saw at least part of UH's 61-32 loss to Southern California on TV.
"On the positive side, I don't think there are going to be very many teams that score 32 points against USC this year," Elam said.
Lelie turned the game on around halftime even though he knew the Warriors were losing badly.
"They showed heart, what our program is about. All that scoring at the end. That really inspired me today," said Lelie, who still holds most UH receiving records and caught 35 passes for 525 yards and two touchdowns as an NFL rookie last year.