It has become one big game of pin the tail on the donkey for Josh McDaniels and the Broncos—a head coach who single-handedly shifted Denver from top shelf to bottom without even asking. Now, McDaniels is back to subtly hurt the Broncos. And he’s doing quite well, might I add. But perhaps it’s an easy task when second-year quarterback Sam Bradford is tagging along.
It’s been evolving under our very noses, although you wouldn’t even know it. While the story is yet to truly show its face in broad daylight, the era of McDaniels and Bradford leaves a frying pan of egg ready to fling at Pat Bowlen’s face—one that he can’t avoid like he has on so many separate occasions.
But the Broncos don’t seem to be at all concerned. They have Tim Tebow to fall back on—the player who is said to be the John Elway to John Fox’s new offense—and if that fails, there’s Kyle Orton to resort to if Denver are empty-handed and faced to sort through the leftover pile.
The St. Louis Rams on the other hand, are concerned. They should be too -as father time is Steve Spagnuolo’s public enemy number one – a problem that faces many young jump start franchises caught between lockout lunacy and a few simple steps toward a winning season.
But don’t mistake the Rams concern for panic. That’s exactly what owner Stan Kroenke is trying to avoid. And even though the unseen clock between now and August preseason football is ticking, there is still plenty of time for McDaniels and Bradford to work out their offensive chemistry, without boiling down to a complete mess before training camp starts.
If you’re a Broncos fan sitting at home, though, chances are you’re a little troubled by this scenario. Physically, it has no potential at all to harm the Broncos. Mentally, well, if McDaniels travels to St. Louis and sees success, leads the Rams to an above .500 season and lowers Bradford’s ever glaring interception numbers, most of Mile High may come to turn around and wonder “What is wrong with us?”
The answer to that prolonged question is hard to find, mind you. McDaniels had us all buying in to what he was selling this time a year ago. He got emotional, maybe even too passionate for his own good. And Kyle Orton was actually excelling, although some fans won’t have you believe it. However, the sad part is, many Bronco fans actually thought they were a force in the AFC (or at least becoming one)—you know, when they beat the Patriots in overtime 20-17? That’s what you get for putting all of your eggs in one basket.
Still, this McDaniels' thing has the potential to taunt the Broncos for a very long time. Yes, I am aware he is no longer a part of Denver’s organization. In fact, McDaniels is over 850 miles away. But the quarterback chemistry that simply went to waste in 2009 still tastes bitter on the taste buds of Broncomaniacs.
The difference between Orton and what awaits McDaniels in St. Louis though, is simple: Bradford has noticeable talent. No one, maybe not even the Broncos themselves, believed in Orton once he swapped places with Jay Cutler. And if you think back to those three interceptions he threw in his first game—preseason game at Mile High—you get a rough idea of how this whole quarterback mess originally began.
So what really happens if McDaniels flies into St. Louis and coaches Sam Bradford, plus the rest of the offense, to the top of the NFC West?
A lot of people will be out of pocket, that’s a guarantee. But more importantly, the Broncos will begin to wonder why McDaniels couldn’t seem to gel with Orton, let alone produce anything more than a measly 8-8 season in 2009 that soon fell to 3-9 the very next year before he hit the bricks.
But while most Bronco fans consider McDaniels to be the greatest traitor since Carmelo Anthony toddled off to the New York Knicks, it’s hard to say that he didn’t at least try to instill some faith in Denver’s quarterback game. From square one, most of the time McDaniels trusted Orton as the starter. That doesn’t sound all that huge, and heck, it doesn’t deserve a round of applause either. However, when Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow are your backups, it’s a huge amount of trust to place in a quarterback who is hanging on by his bootlaces.
This time last year, McDaniels was certain he made that right choice, too. When asked if there was any serious competition worth forcing Orton out of the starting role, McDaniels told ESPN “”We’ve got a guy who’s going to go into camp as the starter, no question about it and he deserves it,” McDaniels stated. “If somebody comes in there and plays better than he does then that player will play.”
Of course that never happened on McDaniels’ watch.
Then again, we don’t really know what happened behind the walls of training camp either. There’s no doubt in my mind that McDaniels worked feverishly to bring Orton up to speed with the playbook (a role he will take on once again with Bradford), but in terms of work ethic, it’s anyone’s guess as to how much attention was paid towards Orton’s mechanics.
Orton’s four interceptions in the red zone last year speak volumes for that.
Still, this is a testy situation for Denver. Even if McDaniels does somehow rise to the top, the Broncos won’t go crawling back to him—a two-year deal worth somewhere between $2 million cancels that out entirely. But if Denver’s current offensive coordinator Mike McCoy can’t muster up a complete 16-week performance from Orton, Knowshon Moreno and the offensive line, then some butts may be getting shifted from seat to seat.
There’s no season yet, so the Broncos can relax. But if Bradford turns out to be the next Aaron Rodgers or someone else of an even more impressive reputation, Denver may be forced to take a hard look in the mirror and consult their ugly figure.