DENVER (May 16, 2006) -- Ashley Lelie's absence is starting to chafe Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.
As promised, Lelie was a no-show when the Broncos gathered for on-field work for the first time since losing the AFC title game to Pittsburgh in January.
"I can't worry about the guys that aren't here -- or the guy that's not here," Shanahan said after his nine-day quarterbacks camp opened without the recalcitrant former first-round draft pick. "The only thing I'm concerned about are the people that are here.
"I know it's hard to be the No. 1 wide receiver when you're not competing."
One player Shanahan was surprised to see in attendance was tackle/tight end Dwayne Carswell, who was critically injured in a car crash last October.
"Dwayne is a lot farther ahead than I thought he would be," Shanahan said. "He's out there ready to practice already. I did not think that would be possible after watching him over the last couple of months. He is an overachiever, he works extremely hard. He has a big passion for the game."
Lelie insists he does, too.
He wants to be a featured pass-catcher in somebody's offense and is convinced he'll never get that opportunity in Denver, where Rod Smith is entrenched and former Pro Bowl receiver Javon Walker, acquired in a draft-day trade with Green Bay, is expected to start on the other side.
Lelie wasn't pleased with the Broncos' interest in Terrell Owens and declined to attend the club's offseason conditioning program, forgoing a contract incentive to work out instead in Tempe, Ariz. -- with Walker, oddly enough.
Lelie, who is entering the final season of the rookie contract he signed as the 19th overall pick in the 2002 draft, was hoping the Broncos would send him packing last month. But Shanahan grabbed Walker, who is coming off a serious knee injury, for only a second-round draft pick.
A year after catching 54 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns, Lelie's numbers dipped last season to 42 receptions for 770 yards and one touchdown, but his deep-threat ability keeps defenses honest.
Walker signed a five-year contract extension that will kick in next season, provided he returns from two operations on his right knee and shows signs he can be the player who went to the Pro Bowl in 2004 before blowing out his knee in the Packers' opener last season.
Walker only tossed a football on the sideline with wide receiver Domenik Hixon, a fourth-round draft pick from Akron who is rehabbing from a broken leg. Both are expected back by training camp, which will open July 27.
Lelie has threatened to also skip training camp in his quest to get a ticket out of town.
"I'm concerned about the people that are here," Shanahan said. "I am working with the people that are here. I can't do anything about somebody not being here. ... If somebody wants to be part of this football team and wants to compete, they're here. If they don't want to be part of this football team, I cannot force them."
Lelie could be fined for every day he misses in training camp, but the Broncos can't do anything about him skipping offseason workouts, which are officially considered voluntary. However, they are treated as mandatory in Denver and many other NFL cities.
"A lot of places I've been, not everyone attends," safety John Lynch said. "Here it's a little unusual because essentially the whole team attends the offseason workouts. We've had 97, 98 percent attendance at our workouts.
"I think ideally everybody wishes Ashley were here, but also everybody understands the business side of things and he feels like he needs to make a stand, then that's what he needs to do. But we'd all like to see him here competing like the rest of us."
The Associated Press News Service
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