NFL Preseason: Denver Broncos Four-Week Evaluation
The 2011 NFL Preseason is in the books for the Denver Broncos.
There were plenty of signs of improvement from the slightly rebuilt Broncos squad. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of bad news and bad omens.
Head Coach John Fox is doing his best to instill a winning attitude in Denver, on and off the field. He comes off as an easygoing guy outside of game-time, and turns on the intensity when it's time to play. It's evident that the players respond to him well.
But how will they fare under Fox's reign after an awful 2010 regular season with Josh McDaniels?
A look back at the accomplishments and shortcomings of the last four weeks may give us an idea of what to expect.
Efficient Offense Continues to Impress and Adds Another Dimension
During the short time the starters were on the field during the last four games, the coaching staff and fans of the Denver Broncos have had the privilege of enjoying an efficient and well-managed offensive group.
Kyle Orton cemented his place as the starter by Week Two against the Buffalo Bills, and continued his dominance into his game against the Seattle Seahawks. The fourth preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals was all the proof anybody needed to assure that Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow belong on the sidelines for 2011.
Orton was never very flashy during his play in the preseason, and was definitely not the most exciting player on the field. He doesn't bring the intangibles that make some other guys a little more appealing to the fans. And it's a bit tiring watching him fall on his face when there's any type of pressure in the pocket.
What does he bring to the field then?
Solid football knowledge, a calm, confident aura and the ability to keep his team in the game.
These are qualities we always knew of Kyle Orton. Everyone knew he could manage a game, and this year, we've come to find he'll have a lot more help.
Running back Knowshon Moreno lost more than 10 pounds over the offseason and had an impressive camp and inspiring preseason. He's faster than he's been in his first two years, and has shown an ability to run downhill and through the tackles, but also the speed to get to the corners and break away.
If Moreno gets tired, he has newcomer Willis McGahee to pick up the slack. McGahee showed himself to be a touchdown hawk, and might even end up as a widely owned fantasy football player in 2011.
The run game was certainly one of the biggest things lacking in Josh McDaniels' 2010 Broncos offense. John Fox has brought the run back, and with a vengeance.
Denver Has a Defense Again, Credit to John Fox
The Orange Crush 2011? Absolutely.
It's been said time and again on every sports site on the web: Denver's defense is scary.
Von Miller has proved to be the furthest thing from a first-round bust thus far.
With Denver's recent history of blowing the draft, it was certainly worrisome when we picked a linebacker in the first round. After Robert Ayers, confidence in the team's scouts was hurt. Miller has done everything in his power to make us forget about bad drafts, lazy players and foolish coaches.
Elvis Dumervil delighted all during his short time on the field this year. As long as he keeps his strained groin injury in check and continues to run past offensive lines, he's shown that he can turn this year into one just as spectacular as 2009.
Don't be surprised if Dumervil and Miller are battling for the league's sack title in December.
Rahim Moore made himself worth Denver's effort as well and had a tremendous preseason. As a rookie, he's already made national news with a controversial, but nonetheless clean hit against Bills' WR Donald Jones.
Big hits, tight coverage, pressure on the quarterback. These are a few of my favorite things. I hear John Fox is fond of them as well.
Four games of exhibition have proven that Denver's defense plans on filling SportsCenter's slideshows all year long.
Tim Tebow Has a Lot to Learn
Preseason for a head coach, and for the fans, is all about learning about your team. Picking out the strengths and weaknesses, improving depth and filling holes are all paramount to a successful run before the actual games begin.
Before Week One all the talk was of Tim Tebow starting. Four weeks later, the media has let off of Tebow a bit. His coaches, on the other hand, have not.
Tebow displayed some great play making ability, and some decent play ruining ability as well. He did nothing to prove his critics wrong and hardly anything to prove his biggest fans right. As a whole, Tebow looks a lot like he did last year.
He's exciting enough to sell jerseys and excite the crowds, but not efficient enough to run an offense.
Tebow will eventually succeed in this league, and it certainly isn't time to give up on the kid. But four weeks of "What The?" and anybody can see he won't be ready this year.
Expect to see Tebow in special packages still, as he remains a very dangerous short-yardage threat despite his average preseason.
Brady Quinn Showed His True Colors
It feels like only a week ago that everybody in Denver's favor was speaking very highly of Brady Quinn for the first time. Oh, it was a week ago.
Quinn moved so far backwards on Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals that it will be tough for fans to take his plight seriously afterwards. It was speculated (by me) that he had never really had a fair chance at a starting position, and games like that may have been the reason why.
It's hard to write off a guy that's shown so much talent over the last month just because of one game, but Quinn almost made it easy as he finished 4-12 for 26 yards and one interception.
If Denver planned on shopping Quinn to other teams, they may have to wait another year, as his value as dropped significantly. If their plans included making Quinn into their next starting quarterback, they still have a lot of work to do.
Either way they go, Quinn remains a work in progress. Even though he may have the imaginary backup quarterback position in Denver, he'll be the only one of the three that most likely will not see the field in 2011.
Young Players Plan to Make Impact for Denver
We've already gone over the tremendous play of Von Miller and Rahim Moore, but two other rookies are looking to do some damage for Denver this year.
Orlando Franklin, quite possibly the largest man I've ever seen, has already gained enough confidence and trust from his coaching staff to convince them to run behind him in their power offense. Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball have both had success when Franklin is carving out their path.
Julius Thomas may not be a starter, but he'll see the field plenty in 2011. He can block, he can catch and if you need another player for your pickup game, he played four years of basketball for Portland State. This guy is going to come in handy all over the place.
Mike Mohamed may have earned himself a spot on the team as well, as he couldn't manage to stay out of the backfield against Arizona during Denver's final exhibition game of the year.
The unfortunate thing is that not all drafted players pan out the way they're supposed to. Some end up selling cellular phones in a shopping mall kiosk only weeks later.
Others, like Von Miller, end up bringing home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Hint, hint...
Injuries Are Piling Up Early
Denver has already lost four defensive tackles this preseason.
After Thursday, add one quality reserve in Syd'Quan Thompson, a talented linebacker in Nate Irving and a wide receiver that was set to make the team in Britt Davis.
Does Denver have a strength and conditioning coach? I guess this is what happens when the players don't practice all spring and summer long. Thanks goes to the owners and the NFLPA for the wonderful 2011 NFL Lockout.
Simply put, Denver will be out of people to take the field if the injuries continue at this pace. Something has to change, and it has to change right away.
Denver Will Improve in 2011
The greatest thing about a terrible game, just like we all saw in Arizona on Thursday night, is that 27 of the players on the field that night will not be playing for the team next week.
It's never a good thing to wish unemployment on anybody, so I won't. I'll just wish that most of the men that suited up against the Cardinals find a spot on another team, preferably in the AFC West.
Despite the beating suffered by the second- and third-team defenses, Denver has clearly shown some improvement from last season. John Fox has a long rebuilding process ahead of him, but he's off to a fast start.
A winning attitude can only be instilled effectively if the team actually wins a few games, and I'm sure John Fox has more than a few W's planned for Denver in 2011.