Jussel: Time to start filling those holes

Today is the day free agents can start signing with National Football League teams, meaning the Denver Broncos can start filling what John Elway and John Fox deem to be holes in the roster.

Mike Klis, the Colorado Sports Writer of the Year in 2012 with the Denver Post, reports the team definitely has an interest in Rashard Mendenhall, the former Steeler star running back, and Greg Toler, an Arizona Cardinal cornerback.

Mendenhall makes plenty of sense in that he is only 25 years old, weighs 225 pounds and is a virtual Willis McGahee clone. If Mendenhall is signed or reaches an agreement with Denver, that would mean adios to either McGahee or Knowshon Moreno, possibly both, since the team still has young Ronnie Hillman and just re-signed backup Lance Ball.

As I’ve been preaching for weeks now, money talks in these free-agency dealings and, if Denver would release either or both McGahee and Moreno, that would mean more money for other positions.

Toler is one of many free-agent defensive backs available and, at 28, would come at relatively low cost because of a knee injury suffered two seasons ago and a struggle to break into the Cardinal starting lineup as he recovered. Still, he is highly valued as a cover corner, one of the top D-backs available, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated.

Mountain best?

The NCAA hoops tournament is just around the corner and the Mountain West Conference will be well represented, with Colorado State certain to be one of the teams invited to the dance when the field is announced on Sunday.

Matter of fact, the Mountain West will likely have more teams, five, in the tournament than the Southeastern Conference, which could have as few as three entries.

MWC regular-season champ New Mexico will be in with CSU, as will UNLV, San Diego State and, quite likely, Boise State thanks to a late rush.

It’s perhaps a bit stunning, but the Ratings Percentage Index, the computerized rating system that goes a long way toward determining who is in and who is out in the massive month-long affair, says the Mountain West is the best conference in the country, rating even on top of the Big Ten, the conference that has received the most ink and highest accolades all season long, and the always nasty Atlantic Coast Conference.

Speaking of the NCAA tourney, Patrick Stevens of USA Today Sports, one of the most knowledgeable hoop pundits in the country, has come out with his tournament bracket prior to Sunday’s official announcement, and CSU and Colorado are both in.

Colorado State, 24-7 going into the Mountain West tournament that starts Wednesday in Las Vegas, is the ninth seed in the West and would take on eighth-seeded North Carolina State in Salt Lake City, according to Stevens’ bracket, which has Gonzaga the No. 1 seed in the region.

Colorado, 20-10 going into the Pac-12 tournament that also starts Wednesday in Las Vegas, would also be a No. 9 seed according to Stevens, and play No. 8 Illinois in the East Regional in Philadelphia. Duke would be No. 1 in the East, says Stevens.

While CSU and Colorado are relatively safe NCAA entries, a third Colorado school could also crash the party.

Denver University tied for the Western Athletic Conference title in the regular season with Louisiana Tech, ripping Tech 78-54 in the regular-season finale to put both teams at 16-2 in conference play headed into the conference tournament in — where else? — Las Vegas.  (There is also a fourth conference tournament, the West Coast Conference, in Vegas this week.)

The winner of the WAC tournament automatically gains the NCAA tourney berth. Denver, 21-8 on the season, could still get an at-large berth without winning the conference title, although that is unlikely, given the fact they would likely be competing with “bubble” teams like Kentucky, Tennessee and Stanford, among others.

O MY

Just babbling toward closure, but consider who could be in the Rockies lineup on any given day: You could have CarGo, Tulo, Rosario and Pacheco hitting 3, 4, 5 and 6. And you could have Nicasio starting and going five innings, relieved by Ottavino.

Say it ain’t so.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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