One thing is for sure, the Denver Broncos of 2009 will not be anything like the Broncos of old, and hopefully much different than in 2008—at least on the defensive side of the ball and in the front office.
Pat Bowlen, one of the greatest and most distinguished owners in all of American professional sports, is at it again.
In a move that had most of Broncos Nation scratching their heads, and some breaking TVs in extreme cases, Bowlen fired long-time head coach Mike Shanahan.
Even Shanahan was caught off-guard as he explained that he was called into Bowlen’s office in Dove Valley, “I thought he wanted to get some lunch,” in his last press conference as a Denver Bronco.
Bowlen though, is used to making bold decisions.
In the 1980s, he had to decide between a franchise quarterback in John Elway, and possibly the best head coach the Broncos had ever had in Dan Reeves. He picked Elway, and history was made a decade after the Reeves firing, with back to back Superbowl wins.
In the late 1990s, after the Superbowl wins that left the Denver Broncos on the top of the world, Bowlen demanded a new stadium, one funded by the taxpayers of Denver. He even threatened to move the beloved Broncos if taxpayers did not want to pay, but there was no way the most devoted fans in the NFL would let their Broncos leave.
The city of Denver footed most of the bill, though some was paid by Invesco, and people forgot Bowlen even had to make such threats.
After his firing of much-loved and future Hall-of-Fame head coach Shanahan, Bowlen made another confident move in hiring young offensive-minded Josh McDaniels. McDaniels, at 33, is one of the youngest coaches in the NFL—younger than many of his players, too.
Do not forget, however, that Shanahan was in his early 40s and was also young for the league in the '90s as well.
Maybe this is just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Broncos who went a combined 24-24 in the past three seasons, and missed the playoffs in all three. It was only the second time in the team’s history that they missed in three consecutive years (1979-1981).
The Broncos were need of a complete overhaul, defensively and in the front office. Now, it seems the pieces are coming together for the team. Along with McDaniels as head coach, Bowlen has given him the reins to hire the men he wants to work with.
Mike McCoy, 37, is the new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, and former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan was brought in as the new defensive coordinator. Nolan will also hopefully act as an elder statesman for the team.
Brian Xanders, 38, was hired this week as the Denver Broncos new GM, and he got right to work, cutting seven players including Dewayne Robertson, Jamie Winborn, Nate Jackson, and Dre’ Bly.
Winborn has potential, and it is sad to see him and Jackson leave. Both were young and most likely would have found playing time this year.
Robertson and Bly on the other hand, were two big-name, expensive, veteran acquisitions that did not work out. They are only a small part of Shanahan’s failed attempts at securing old, over-the-hill stars that had not worked in over a decade.
The defense will be completely different in 2009, and hopefully McDaniels, Xanders and the Broncos will draft almost entirely on the defensive side of the ball.
The team needs a defensive line, which is something that has been missing since the Superbowl years. Along with that, Denver needs linebackers that can wrap up if this team does not want to give up another record-high number of points in 2009. Tthe secondary is also in shambles, with the biggest question mark on the island opposite of Champ Bailey.
Bailey and DJ Williams should be the only two that are safe on the entire defense.
The Broncos should utilize their speed and move into a 3-4 defense that is seemingly dominant in the NFL today. Pittsburgh, San Diego, and yes, New England are only a few to employ the scheme. It puts faster, more versatile players on the field, and helps disguise the blitz.
Similarly, the special teams must step up this year, as they have been a weakness for the team for many seasons now. If placekicker Matt Prater cannot kick consistently, then the Broncos must find a new kicker through free agency or the draft.
Also, field position must improve so the offense does not have to constantly get bogged down in long drives.
Hopefully this youth movement in Dove Valley leads to the innovative coaching in which McDaniels is known for, and the Denver Broncos rise to an elite team once again in 2009.
If McDaniels flops like Belichick disciples Romeo Crennel or Eric Mangini, howver, Bowlen’s boldness may come back to haunt him.