Bronco fans, I’m sure you all share my disappointment in the team’s performance in 2008. Yes, there were a lot of injuries and the expectations were pretty low from the get-go, but the three-game lead they blew was basically unacceptable.
Step One: Hire a Head Coach with a defensive background
This one is a no-brainer. Since 2002, the Broncos have been ranked in the top 10 in offensive yards five out of seven seasons, and outside of 2006, they were never ranked below 12th.
In the past four years, however, the Broncos have ranked below 14th in total defense, ending with a ranking of 29th in 2008. The offense has always been there, but in the last few years, the defense was never there to back it up.
Hiring a defensive minded coach, such as New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, newly-promoted Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, or Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would be the best plan of action.
Mike Shanahan was a strictly offensive-minded coach, and because of this the defense struggled. If the defense can catch up to the offense, the rest of the league better watch its back.
Step Two: Find a General Manager with a proven track record
The Broncos have not had a true general manager since Ted Sundquist was fired after the 2007 season, and the personnel department has struggled mightily with Shanahan running the show.
If the Broncos plan to succeed again, their decisions in the draft and in free agency must improve drastically. The Broncos desperately need to hire a proven GM in order to stay away from draft and free agency busts.
Step Three: Keep the Offensive staff together
Owner Pat Bowlen has made it clear that there will be changes on the coaching staff. The offensive staff, however, should not be messed with.
The offense was the reason the Broncos were able to stumble to an 8-8 record, and a lot of credit must be given to the coaches. Jeremy Bates, the quarterbacks coach and offensive play caller, helped Jay Cutler have one of the best single seasons for a quarterback in Broncos history.
Bobby Turner, the running backs coach, had seven running backs land on injured reserve, yet the Broncos were still in the top 15 in rushing yards, rushing yards per game, rushing average, and rushing touchdowns.
The defensive staff needs a serious makeover, but the offensive staff should continue to work together.
Step Four: Gut the defense
Over the last few years, the Broncos defense has been marred by draft busts and poor free agent signings. The current Bronco defense consists of a slew of players that have not panned out.
Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder have barely gotten on the field as defensive ends.
The oft-injured Nate Webster has played inconsistently at linebacker. Niko Koutouvides was brought in to be a special teams maven and a candidate for the middle linebacker job, but did not do well in either position.
Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel were brought in to shore up the safety position, but when they were actually healthy and on the field, they were consistently burned.
Moss and Crowder will be allowed to have a few more years to pan out, but the rest should pack their bags and find a new job.
Step Five: Find a way to gain more draft picks
This step works simultaneously with Step Four. Over the past three years, the Broncos have turned late round draft picks into regular contributors on both offense and defense.
Players such as Peyton Hillis, Josh Barrett, Marcus Thomas, Chris Kuper, Elvis Dumervil, and Brandon Marshall were all drafted in rounds four through seven in the NFL draft, and have established themselves as starters for the Broncos.
The Broncos’ brass should note this trend and attempt to turn some of their free agent busts (see Step Four) into some late round draft picks. I’m sure there are plenty of teams out there that would be willing to give up a sixth or seventh round pick to gain a veteran backup.
Step Six: Rebuild the defense
While it is sixth in the process, it may be the most important step to success. The Broncos need to be near perfect in the draft and in free agency in order to bring the defense back to a respectable level.
First, the Broncos need to make a killing in the draft. For starters, they need to get a Trojan on their team. Whether they want to go with a linebacker or a safety in round one, USC is the place to go. Rey Maualuga or Taylor Mays would instantly improve the defense, and at least one will be available at the Broncos' No. 12 pick.
To finish the draft, the Broncos need to upgrade every position on the defensive side of the ball, as well as add depth and potential future starters to the cornerback, safety, linebacker, and defensive line positions.
Second, the Broncos need to spend some dough and make a huge splash in the free agent market. Albert Haynesworth (DE, Tennessee), Julius Peppers (DE, Carolina), Terrell Suggs (DE, Baltimore), Bart Scott (LB, Baltimore), and Jermaine Phillips (S, Tampa Bay) are the top of the defensive free agent class, and would all be huge upgrades at their respective positions.
The Broncos should definitely make a play to instantly upgrade their defense, and show one, or maybe two, of these players the money they want.
Step Seven: Find a Running Back
To create some balance on offense and keep Cutler’s pass attempts under 40 a game, the Broncos need to find a healthy, consistent running back somewhere.
I, however, do not believe that they should draft or sign a free agent running back. I believe the answer at that position is already on the roster.
Selvin Young, when healthy, has averaged over five yards per carry as a starter, and has played fairly consistently in his two year career.
Hillis filled in admirably when everyone in front of him went down, and fits perfectly as a combo back, playing as a short yardage back, fullback, and a receiver out of the backfield.
Ryan Torain showed flashes of brilliance when he was healthy and could pan out as a solid full time starter.
To round out the backfield, I believe the broncos should take a flier on a late round running back or an undrafted free agent, and pick up a true fullback in free agency.
If the Denver Broncos follow these seven steps, the only direction is up. If they maintain the status quo on offense and revamp the defense, the San Diego Chargers will have some company at the top of the AFC West next season.
So let us move on from Shanahan, Elway, Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, and anything else that has happened in the past. Let us look only at our new head coach, Cutler, and Super Bowl XLIV.
Catch me later for the next installment of “Joshin' around the NFL.”