Posted Tue Sep 6th by Monty
The Denver Broncos are no strangers to regime changes.
Owner Pat Bowlen fired “Coach for Life” Mike Shanahan following the 2008 season, opening the door for Josh McDaniels to take over. The plan was for the young McDaniels to inherit Shanahan’s throne. McDaniels, given total control as both personnel manager and coach, would install the New England Patriots‘ culture of winning to the Rocky Mountains and maintain it for years to come.
2011 BRONCOS SEASON PREVIEW – TABLE OF CONTENTS
It was a great plan in theory. The execution, however, was far from it. It came with casualties.
Gone were Jay Cutler. Brandon Marshall. Tony Scheffler. Peyton Hillis. The offensive line was overhauled. A new defensive scheme was installed, full of new personnel. Players changed positions. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan left after 2009’s half-remarkable season.
In many cases, the Broncos stockpiled draft picks in return for the players they lost, but the talent the Broncos netted with those picks didn’t compensate for the talent lost. The Broncos fell to 4-12 in 2010, the losingest season in franchise history. McDaniels was fired before he could see the season through.
Setting aside the inexperience, the media subterfuge, the gameday behavior, and even Spygate II, the McDaniels Era failed at the most basic, philosophical level. McDaniels’ scheme became more important than McDaniels’ team. If you didn’t fit a role in his playbook, you were gone.
Historically, the best coaches in the NFL maximized the talent on their roster. They scripted plays to hide their personnel weaknesses and utilized the players they did have to their highest potential. They didn’t clean house for the sake of a better-looking power blocking offensive line. They didn’t ignore the talents of a pass-catching tight end or a dynamic running back because they believed in their spread offense. They maximized the pieces they had in place.
Enter John Elway, John Fox, and Brian Xanders.
The Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Head Coach, and General Manager (respectively) of the Denver Broncos have installed a new football plan in the Rocky Mountains. It’s not flashy. It’s not full of sweeping changes. It’s pragmatic.
The simple fact that Kyle Orton remains the embattled starter at quarterback illustrates the patience the new regime is willing to exercise. It punctuates the difference between the gameplan of this front office and the last.
For the most part, the Broncos are keeping their offensive personnel from a year ago. The quarterbacks and wide receivers return, for the most part. The offensive line has been tweaked but returns four starters from 2010. The emphasis has moved from the pass to the run, but the Broncos didn’t have to gouge their roster to make it so.
The defense, on the other hand, has undergone a makeover. Fox deemed a return to the 4-3 in order, and cleaned up the defensive line to make it so. Elvis Dumervil returns from injury, joined by pass rushing rookie Von Miller.
And this is where the Broncos will find their new identity.
The difference between McDaniels’ idea of cleaning house and Fox’s idea of cleaning house is that the former removed young, talented, established players from the Broncos’ roster because they didn’t fit his system. Fox removed the aging retreads of a failed defense in lieu of a younger, more aggressive group while keeping the talent he had in place. Just imagine if Fox had traded Elvis Dumervil, or failed to come to terms with Champ Bailey in contract negotiations to get an idea of McDaniels’ failures. Fox wisely kept the talent in place and fit them into his scheme rather than trading them for youth, potential, and “better fits.”
All this being said, a 4-12 season requires a rebuild. How quickly can the Broncos truly turn this ship around? While teams go from the NFL basement to the playoffs every year (see: Kansas City Chiefs, 2010), it’s far from the norm. How competitive can these rebuilding Broncos really expect to be?
The answer rests on the shoulders of Kyle Orton.