Last year's promising season was spoiled by a weak and lagging defense. This off season, many changes have been made, on both sides of the ball, that will help Denver improve dramatically. I will not say if the time is this year or next, or later, but with the changes made, Denver looks primed to take over the AFC West.
A few key factors that could help them achieve this are:
The big deal this off season has been firing Mike Shanahan and hiring Josh McDaniels, who was New England's offensive coordinator. It is hard to predict how he will handle being a head coach, but looking back may help.
He is, without question, a good coach for the offense. Look at what he has done with the Pats. He knows how to run an offense and has set about building it up.
Defense is the main concern of this franchise. Strong defensive coaching is mandatory. San Francisco 49ers' coach Mike Nolan, has been called in to bring the defense up to par. To do this, he has brought in the 3-4 scheme to allow for a new type of pressure and better pass defense.
No one can talk about the Denver Broncos without talking about the loss of Jay Cutler and the addition of Bears QB Kyle Orton. Orton is a considerable downgrade from the strong-armed Cutler. He has a weak arm and is not very mobile. Is he a bad player? Just the opposite, actually Orton excels at accurate, short-range pass attacks to move the ball. A strong O-line means that mobility isn't a major concern. McDaniels is sure to create a west coast style short-pass game to play to Orton's strengths.
Last year's running game was good, but overshadowed by a dominating pass game. This year, it is hard to say how the run game will play with no returning backs, but it can be assumed they will do better. This year, they have gone out of their way to get RBs to help them out. First-round pick Moreno will see most of the carries and will do great if his college record shows any hint of what is to come. He had an outstanding two-year college career and posted some great stats.
Buckhalter is a seasoned veteran who has been in the league a while. His experience makes him a very solid second back who can get good yards when Moreno is out.
It's hard to say how the receiving game will play out with Marshall's status being unknown. So we will assume he won't be with the team.
Royal would step up and become the No. 1 WR for Orton and would run a lot of quick slants, looking for holes where he can get the ball and turn up field. The other WRs would prove adequate for the job. One player will emerge as the best of them and make a good second option.
Scheffler will be the starting TE and makes for a strong receiver in the flats, on the sidelines, or over the middle. At 6'5", 250 lbs, he makes for a big target wherever he runs his routes.
The switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 leaves Denver in need of some big linemen. I don't know who's going to get the starting three positions so I can't comment much on how they will do. But they will need to improve from last year. They had no pressure and could not stop the run so they need to get physical.
D.J. Williams has an ILB spot and will be a force stopping the run and playing coverage over the middle. He is fast enough to get to the flats and cover RBs so he is one of the most useful players on the defense.
Dumerville will most likely play weak OLB and get to blitz. A change from DE, it will interesting to see how he adapts to the new position. But he will mainly be a player who can move around and rush the QB, trying to create pressure from the blindside. And we know he can pass rush.
Jarvis Moss will probably be the other OLB and play more man coverage against the TE or FB. His coverage skills are unknown so it is unsure as to how well he can cover these players.
This is where the most changes have been made. Champ Bailey is one of the best CBs in the league, and his knowledge will help him excel against some of the best WRs. Alphonso Smith (drafted in first round) could very well become the other CB. In college, he was a force and didn't allow a score against him. Pretty good, right? For a rookie, he has a long career ahead of him.
The safety position is where it's at. There were two big problems the defense had last year. One, they couldn't get in the backfield, stopping the run and pressuring the QB. The other problem was a lack of turnovers. The changes to the safeties have brought in ball hawks that can deliver punishing hits as well as force turnovers.
Brian Dawkins is a seasoned veteran with a lot of years under his belt and brings experience. Plus, he is a beast. Dawkins knows how to play and can get things done. Plus, he would make a great mentor to young safeties. If I had young players and wanted to bring in a guy who could teach them, Dawkins would probably be one or two. Didn't Denver draft two safeties this year?
As for the rookie safeties, they can play and will learn under Dawkins. They are strong players who have a nose for the ball and have a way of generating turnovers. Two great players who can lead the defense for the next several years.
With the many many changes made, on both sides of the ball and in management, Denver is a completely different team. They have the tools to make them powerful for the next decade. Especially in a few years, once the players have developed, Denver will become the dominant team in the division and should see a few years in the playoffs.