The Denver Broncos Must Face Their New Reality
Times are changing in the Rocky Mountains. The Balloon Boy scandal is about to go away. Bill Ritter won't run for re-election as Governor of Colorado. Last but not least, Mike Shanahan will be coaching a team other than the Broncos.
And with that, the last page of the Shanahan Era in Denver has finally been turned, while the next chapter of the Josh McDaniels Saga has yet to unfold. I am uncertain. I am wary. I am scared to death.
It hasn't been easy being a Broncos fan over the past four years. The team has seemingly lost their identity as one of the competitive teams of the league and become the annual whipping boy for the Chargers.
This was true in Shanahan's final three seasons with the team, and nothing that McDaniels tried this year did anything to change that.
The Broncos are stuck, as one may say, in football purgatory. Not getting worse, but never improving either. This year's team teased all of us with their euphoric 6-0 start, only to succumb to their greatest collapse to date, going 2-8 in their final 10 games.
I wish that I could tell you why this happened, why this keeps happening. The success that the Chargers have enjoyed this decade makes it even worse. San Diego has won five of the last six AFC West titles. Oakland won the first three this decade.
The Broncos? 1-1, which is 1 division title and 1 playoff win. They have 0 playoff appearances since 2005 with a 32-32 record over that time span.
We can all agree that 2005 featured the last truly great Broncos team. I remember every game from that season. Every touchdown. Every score. Every key play and every hurtful loss. And you know what? I can't say the same about 2006-2008.
Know why? I blocked it out because I believed those seasons to be a fluke, that this was still a playoff team that was missing just one or two key players.
At this point, its obvious that I've been lying to myself all this time because I was hurt by the truth. And the truth is that the Denver Broncos in 2010 are not a great team. They are not a competitive team.
Simply put, they are average and irrelevant in today's NFL. Not only that, but with the Avalanche enjoying a surprisingly successful season, the Broncos are the worst of the 4 major sports teams in Colorado.
Ten years ago, the Rockies and Nuggets could barely get fans to attend their games. Now they put on a better show than the Broncos ever can.
What's even more frustrating is that nearly every good player on this team has a down side. Brandon Marshall, fresh off another 100-catch season, is good as gone. Champ Bailey is in the final year of his contract and may not be back in 2011.
Brian Dawkins played too much and wore down at the end of the year. Even Elvis Dumervil struggled when teams ran the ball at him more often.
I don't write this for the sole purpose of being a pessimist and I do not withdraw myself as a Broncos fan. I could never do that.
For now, what I'm saying is that the Broncos of the present are bogged down in their own mediocrity and the Broncos of the future are completely unpredictable.
There. I feel better. Now the bright side to this column (didn't think there was one did you?). The moves that the Broncos will do, should do, and probably won't be able to do this offseason.
First things first; it's time to completely cut ties with the Shanahan regime. If McDaniels is going to do things the Patriot Way, then he needs to do them all the way.
That means almost all of the Shanahan holdovers need to go. Rick Dennison and Bobby Turner are good coaches, but their zone-blocking and cut-back running styles of coaching don't fit with what McDaniels is trying to do on offense.
Besides, they will get plenty of interest from other coaches, including Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, and would be hard to keep.
After that, it's time to clean house with the players. Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler want out almost as much as McDaniels wants to get rid of them.
Ben Hamilton is a fraction of the player he used to be and is now too light for the offensive line. Peyton Hillis, Jarvis Moss, and Marcus Thomas were seldom used and rarely effective.
However, a few of the Shanahan starters from last year, outside of Champ Bailey, Ryan Clady, and Elvis Dumervil, will be back.
Eddie Royal saw a pretty large dip in his production from 2008, but he'll get another chance because of his potential. Brandon Stokely and Spencer Larsen are wild cards who may or may not be back.
Next on the agenda is improving at the line of scrimmage. It's no secret that the Broncos had major issues at their offensive and defensive lines toward the end of the season.
Offensively, they need to get bigger. Clady, Harris, and Kuper (if he's resigned), are all good fits, but I'm not so sure about Casey Wiegmann.
Hamilton was benched midseason in favor of Russ Hochstein, who outweighs Hamilton by about 20 pounds, and the same thing could happen to Casey this spring. Those two may even retire.
The Patriots' offensive line features five starters who each weigh 300 pounds or more, so look for McDaniels to replicate that here in Denver.
As for the defense, the teams with the best 3-4 defenses are typically the ones with the best nose tackles.
Ronnie Fields was decent for the Broncos this year, but his weaknesses began to show more as the season went on. He'll have competition for his job in camp next year, as will Ryan McBean and Kenny Peterson.
The team could also use a true run stuffer at middle linebacker. DJ makes a lot of tackles and Andra Davis is solid, but neither of them instill fear into the hearts of running backs.
When Al Wilson roamed the middle of the field, the Broncos were consistently one of the hardest teams to run against. They have yet to replace him.
Lastly, the Broncos lack the playmakers that they need to compete in today's NFL. With Marshall on his way out, someone else will have to make up for his 100 catches, and I doubt that someone is Jabar Gaffney or Brandon Lloyd.
Correll Buckhalter was better than expected, but he's not the long term answer at running back.
Which brings us to Knowshon Moreno. I know, he's a rookie, and I've already mentioned how the Broncos had a struggling offensive line most of the season. Moreno played well early on, but he was a non-factor in the final three games.
First-round picks are expected to make plays to help their teams make the playoffs, and Moreno didn't make enough of those plays this year. Obviously he's not going anywhere, but he needs to become more of an impact player.
That goes for the other Broncos first-round picks too, Robert Ayers and Alphonso Smith. Ayers finally began to get after the quarterback towards the end of the season, but not so much at the beginning.
Smith was nearly invisible all year and got beaten in coverage for a costly touchdown against the Raiders in week 15. Progress must be made here, or it will put the Broncos in a tough spot.
For all you Kyle Orton haters out there, I guarantee you that he will be back next year. Unless the Broncos draft a total stud at quarterback or Tom Brandstater magically turns into Tom Brady overnight, Orton will also be starting once again.
Whether he deserves it or not is a topic for another column. Orton will be your quarterback next year Broncos fans. Don't like it? Deal with it.
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