When Josh McDaniels replaced long-time Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan on Jan. 12, he inherited an offense that ranked second in the NFL in 2008 in yards per game. But with that potent offense came a defense that, for lack of a better words, didn't live up to those same standards.
But, boy, how quickly things have changed. In four months, more than just the coaching staff has had a facelift.
Denver gave up 28 points per game, third most in the league last year, surrendered almost 375 yards per game, and had just six interceptions. Those numbers were downright Detroit Lions-like, and we all know how they did in 2008.
Though the team didn't re-sign starting cornerback Dre' Bly, Denver has more than turned its attention to the defensive secondary with the signing of Philadelphia Eagles favorite Brian Dawkins, former Miami Dolphins cornerback Andre Goodman, safety Renaldo Hill and three draft picks, including second-rounders Alphonso Smith and Darcel McBath.
The new, and hopefully, improved defense should help. But with the exception of Tennessee linebacker/defensive end Robert Ayers in the first round of April's NFL Draft and a couple of bit pieces in free agency, McDaniels and new general manager Brian Xanders haven't, at least in terms of personnel, beefed up the Broncos' woeful defensive line. Denver's defense recorded just 26 sacks a year ago.
With new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers on board, the Broncos will make the transition to a 3-4 defensive setup in 2009. In doing so, many of last year's holdovers will be lining up elsewhere.
Former first-round pick Jarvis Moss, an undersized defensive end, will move to outside linebacker, likely opposite of Ayers. Elvis Dumervil and Tim Crowder will man the defensive end spots, while the early bet is that Matthias Askew or Marcus Thomas will start at defensive tackle.
But the nose tackle position, widely considered the centerpiece of a 3-4 defense along with the linebacker corps, wasn't addressed in the draft and the team may look for an upgrade again once free agency gets rolling after June 1 cuts are made.
The team also retooled its running back corps. Last season, the Broncos went through seven starting running backs as injuries rattled Denver's ground attack.
The team has parted ways with Selvin Young, Michael Pittman, and Anthony Aldridge already. Another holdover, most likely Ryan Torain, is expected to be shown the door sooner rather than later.
In their place the team signed Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington, and Lamont Jordan during early free agency and selected Georgia standout Knowshon Moreno with the 12th pick in last month's draft.
But for an offense that averaged 23.1 points per game a year ago, the bigger change is behind center. Cutler, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl-caliber signal-caller, had a falling out with McDaniels that led to his departure.
In his place stand journeymen QBs Chris Simms and Orton. Neither will ever be compared to Cutler and his arm strength, but, in McDaniels' offense, they don't have to be.
Remember McDaniels coached an offense in New England that succeeded with Tom Brady and Matt Cassell, neither of whom entered the league with the pedigree that Cutler did.
Yes, the Patriots had Randy Moss and Wes Welker available to catch passes from the New England QBs, but it's not like Denver's hurting in the wide receiver department.
With the likes of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, not to mention new wideout Jabar Gaffney, another New England castoff, in the fold, Denver's passing game just might not fall off as far as many seem to think.
And if all else fails, maybe McDaniels found his next QB gem in Frenso State's Tom Brandstater in the sixth round of the draft. Then again, maybe not.
Only time will tell, and for the Broncos, with the way this offseason has been, it's that time that they'll need to prove to their doubters that things aren't as bad on the surface as they would appear to be.
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