Denver Broncos a Playoff Team in '09?: Coaching Is Capital, Players Are Pivotal

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IMay 30, 2009

The Denver Broncos come into the 2009 season after experiencing a blizzard of changes in the off-season; seeing their all-time greatest coach in Mike Shanahan fired, their Pro Bowl quarterback traded, and numerous trade and draft-day acquisitions filling the current roster.

While there are many question marks that surround this football team, one thing is for sure, this is the most exciting preseason for the Broncos in a long time.

Josh McDaniels was named the 12th head coach in Denver Broncos history, and is already number one in one category for the Broncos, he's their youngest coach ever.

Although, McDaniels, 33 years old, is just one of many baby-faced coaches in the NFL in 2009, as Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who was also a candidate for the Denver job, is the NFL's youngest at 32 years old. Eric Mangini and Tom Cable are all part of this young coaching trend as well.

McDaniels though has shown that he is "the man" in Denver now, hiring his own coaching staff, which includes ex-49ers' head coach Mike Nolan to run the Broncos defense, and bringing in numerous players that fit his style.

McDaniels, the new-age "mastermind" of offense, brings his highly effective spread offense to Denver. His revolutionary system is the same one that led the Patriots to NFL records in overall points (589), points per game, and yards per game in the 2007 season.  

It's also the same system that took Matt Cassel from not good enough to start in the NFL, to having a decent season in '08, and eventually going to Kansas City in a trade, earning Cassell huge starting QB money.

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The looming question for the Broncos offense in 2009 is whether or not McDaniels' schemes can evolve the game play of Kyle Orton, or Chris Simms, as one will likely be Denver's starter this season.

Orton, acquired from Chicago as a result of the month-long McJaygate, is currently the favorite to take the starting job. He is a three-year veteran and Simms has missed the last two seasons following spleen surgery, so he is a wild card.

Orton enjoyed his best season statistically in 2008 with 2,900 yards, 18 TDs and 12 INTs, but those stats leave a great deal to be desired for Broncos' fans as Cutler was a top-five quarterback last year.

Orton is not a great deep-ball passer, as he went 1-11 in passes of 30+ yards in '08, but McDaniels' offense revolves around short dink-and-dunk passes, spreading the field and the ball to multiple receivers.

Luckily for Orton, Denver is absolutely stacked at the receiver position, and he would be smart to throw in each's direction.

Brandon Marshall, the Broncos best receiver, has a rare combination of speed, strength, and size that makes him a tough cover for any cornerback. Though, after being arrested his third time this offseason after a domestic abuse call in Atlanta, Marshall will probably miss the first half of 2009.

Eddie Royal, a second-year phenom from Virginia Tech is a burner, but his speed might not be utilized with Orton's smallish arm. Royal though could be an awesome slot receiver for the Broncos, especially with McDaniels calling the plays.

Wes Welker, who does not come close to Royal in athleticism, had a great 2007 and 2008 with 223 receptions, for 2,340 yards, and 11 touchdowns under McDaniels. Think what Royal could do with all those looks across the middle and to the sidelines.

Along with those two studs, McDaniels brought in Jabar Gaffney, his old number three option in New England to play the third receiver spot for Denver. Gaffney had 38 catches for nearly 500 yards in '08, and his numbers should rise in 2009 as he will get starting time with Marshall out.

The Broncos also have Chad Jackson, and ex-Patriot, and they drafted Kenny McKinley in the fifth round.

At tight end, the Broncos have Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler as one is a great blocker, the other an awesome receiver. Graham is another New Englander turned Denverite, and will hopefully be utilized more than he was under Shanahan.

Scheffler has been rumored in trades, but if he is still on the team in '09, he should have many catches down the middle of the field.

The most exciting question mark on offense is Knowshon Moreno, who was drafted 12th overall by Denver in the draft, the first running back taken. Moreno could have a huge impact on this Broncos team, and should get a look as the starter.

Denver though was the second-best offense in 2008 so McDaniels should be able to produce big numbers from all those play makers. Defense is where the Broncos truly struggled in 2008, going 30th in points, giving away games in fourth quarters.

Denver switched back and forth between the 4-3 and 3-4 in 2008, choosing to stick with the 4-3 to end the season. In 2009, the Broncos will play in the 3-4 scheme, a big time change from the 4-3 used for the past few decades in Denver.

Mike Nolan is in charge of this rag-tag squad, and has a huge challenge ahead of him to improve the defensive side of the ball.

The Broncos were so bad on D in 2008 that only three starters from last year are guaranteed to start in '09: Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams, and Elvis Dumervil.

Bailey had his worst professional season of his career, missing seven games with a groin injury, forcing him to also miss the Pro Bowl for the first time ever. Williams missed time as well, five games, but still finished with 68 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Dumervil was arguably Denver's best defender in 2008 with 5 sacks, but he only recorded 17 tackles, a number that must rise in '09. Dumervil is looking at a move in position from DE to OLB in the 3-4 scheme, and his numbers might suffer as he weathers that move.

Brian Dawkins is the biggest offseason pickup for the Broncos, a 15-year veteran that can still play well. His leadership at safety will help Denver's defensive backfield.

Rookie Alphonso Smith may challenge for the other starting CB spot, and Renaldo Hill is the likely starter at the other safety spot.

Ex-Brown Andra Davis should be another starter at linebacker, but after that, many spots are still up for grabs.

Who will compose the Broncos defensive line? Matthias Askew, Robert Ayers, and Kenny Peterson? Many question marks arise in this area, and the Broncos front seven may still be soft in 2009.

Overall, Denver's offense should be good, and has a chance to be great. But, according to Randy Moss and Welker, they have just recently fully grasped the highly complex offense, after playing for two years in it.

This will cause problems for Marshall since he will be out, Royal because of his youth, and Orton since he has to learn the offense in only a few months. The Broncos though should still rank in the top-10 in offense in 2009, and will surely be exciting to watch.

The defense on the other hand will probably be a weak spot for the Broncos yet again in 2009. With up to eight new starters and a new scheme for many of them to learn, Denver will likely rank in the bottom-10 in defense this year.

When all is said and done, Denver could win 10 games and may make the playoffs. The AFC West is not particularly strong, and no one can say for sure how effective all this change will be.

Although, the Broncos have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL in '09, playing the NFC East (Giants, Cowboys, Eagles), and also contenders in the Patriots, Colts, and Super Bowl champion Steelers.

In reality 8-8 would be a solid 2009 campaign, and they will likely hover around that mark this season.

Everything relys on how well McDaniels' and Nolan's coaching schemes work in Denver, and how completely the players buy into them.

There are many question marks that surround this team, but it all makes for mile high excitement this offseason, the most exciting in many years for the Broncos.

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