Going down to injury.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was reporting “The Time is Now” for the Broncos. Yet, in two short weeks, that “Now” has changed, and no one, not even the most devoted of fans, can be that certain about the future. An already questionable offense became weaker, and a defense that was rock solid became significantly downgraded - all through injury. One of the keys to Denver’s 2010 success, staying healthy, may have already gone down to injury.
Almost immediately after reporting that the Broncos’ running game wasn’t that strong, their two best, Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, were tackled by injuries. Yes, the team quickly picked up veteran LenDale White to bolster their stable, but who knows if he will be enough? White is now only one of two power backs the Broncos have, and he is the only back with significant NFL experience. It’s really rolling the dice to ask White to carry the whole load, or to expect any of the others to step up. The running game seems to be in trouble.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos lost last year’s NFL sack leader, linebacker Elvis Dumervil to a torn pectoral muscle that will keep him out most of the season. Then, just a couple of days later, Dumvervil’s prospective replacement, Jarvis Moss, suffered a serious injury of his own. Both players were team veterans who were being counted on to help this year’s defense improve over last year’s. Now, Coach McDaniels may have to rely more on players who never played a down with the team, and are not familiar with his system. Success could still happen, but the odds are against it.
If you add the recent losses to the losses already suffered previously from injury, trade, or free agency, and the Bronco team that takes the field in September will be almost completely new and revamped. Expect to see as many as seven new starters on offense, and at least five on defense. That’s significant change for any team, but, when you consider where this team was just two years ago, and how much the personnel has changed, they’ve almost become an expansion team. Josh McDaniels really is a great, young coach, but even seasoned coaches have difficulty producing winners out of expansion, and the job is made more challenging when bad luck keeps slapping them in the face the way bad luck keeps slapping Josh around.
I am trying to stay positive, and I will continue to support the Denver Broncos, but I can’t help but be discouraged by recent injuries to the team. When McDaniels puts together a competitive team with the pieces he has left, will people recognize his efforts, and his genius? I hope so. I am afraid, however, that, despite the injuries, personnel problems, and other bad luck, the fans will want more than the team can provide, and are likely to jump the coach if the team doesn’t come out performing, and winning right away. In pro sports, winning has a way of diluting criticism, but losing brings critics out of the woodwork. We saw it last year when an exciting beginning to a season went down in flames after the starting offensive line was bitten by the injury bug. The back-ups just couldn’t cut it, and the team started to lose. When the season was lost, and the smoke settled, who got the blame for that failure? The coach. So it will be this year if the Broncos can’t win consistently.
For McDaniels’ sake, the Broncos need to stay healthy from here on out, and all players need to perform even better than expected. Not only is the team playing injured, and unable to afford any more significant losses, so is the coach. McDaniels could have absorbed the losses to trade, and the losses to free-agency with the team he forged, but there was little room for alteration. Now, faced with numerous injuries, alteration is inevitable, and will require more than just little tweaks here, and little tweaks there. Josh's vision of this team is again seriously handicapped by injury just the way it was in the middle of the season last year, and the one most injured is McDaniels, himself.
As difficult as it is for anyone to play injured, it is especially tough for a sophomore coach with a team on the ropes, and legions of impatient fans. I'm sure Josh is up to the task, but he is going to need a little bit better luck than he’s had the last year and a half, and a little more patience and support from fans. Maybe the team will find that new, better luck in the form of a few gems from the draft or free agency, and a veteran player or two who steps up big, but Josh needs it now more than the team does. The coach is hurting, and that's about all that could heal him right now. All the great ones have to play through adversity at some point in their careers, even if it comes in the first two years of their professional Head Coaching career. Yeah, the Broncos are in trouble, but the only one really going down to injury right now is the coach.