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watermock
06-04-2009, 12:16 AM
By David Zalubowski, AP

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels will choose between Kyle Orton (foreground) and Chris Simms as the team's starting quarterback.


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USA TODAY
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After the Denver Broncos failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season and then saw longtime coach Mike Shanahan fired, they knew they were in for some changes.
New coach, new system, new players — especially on defense, where the Broncos were embarrassingly bad last season.

Yet they couldn't have anticipated the change sure to get the most scrutiny: new quarterback.


Shanahan's firing — after 14 seasons that included two Super Bowl victories — was merely the prelude to the marquee melodrama of the NFL offseason: a weeks-long standoff between new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels and Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, ignited when Cutler discovered McDaniels had discussed a trade for then-New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.
The ensuing soap opera, fueled by miscommunication and, at times, a total lack of communication, ended in April, when the Broncos sent Cutler and a fifth-round draft pick to the Chicago Bears for quarterback Kyle Orton, two first-round choices and a third-rounder.

"Making the ultimate decision to move on, that was a decision we felt was in the best interest of our football team at the time," says McDaniels, 33, who became the NFL's youngest head coach when the Broncos hired him from New England. "We're very comfortable with where we're at now."

The Broncos are in a state of flux at key positions on both sides of the ball, with Orton competing for the starting job with free agent signee Chris Simms and a passel of mostly unproven players jostling for playing time on a revamped defense.

"It's just like every year in this league; you've got to compete with somebody," says Orton, who battled with Rex Grossman in Chicago. "You don't shy away from competition. It makes everybody better, and the best players are going to play."

Orton, 26, doesn't have Hall of Fame stats, but he is 21-12 as a starter. Simms, 28, has 15 starts on his résumé, with little game experience since having emergency surgery to remove his spleen in 2006.

Whichever quarterback emerges as the starter, he will have to weather comparisons to Cutler — whose arm the Broncos rode to victory more than once last season — as well as deal with the inevitable echoes of John Elway, who led Denver to its Super Bowl wins under Shanahan.

"I try to win football games, put the team first and do whatever it takes to win," Orton says. "I think anybody can respect that. I'm not going to go out there and try to make somebody like me. I'm going to play my game."

Making it easier will be the supporting cast on offense, including top-flight receivers and a line returning five starters from the NFL's No. 2 offense (395.8 yards a game), a unit further bolstered in the draft.

The choice of tailback Knowshon Moreno in the first round (and the Broncos' draft overall) ran counter to expectations, which were rooted in the belief that McDaniels would look primarily to bolster the defensive front. Instead, the Broncos took one defensive lineman.

"We're looking for players that are going to come in here and help make our football team better and not make everybody else just feel comfortable that we drafted a defensive player," McDaniels says.

No one was comfortable with Denver's defensive performance last season. The Broncos ranked 29th in total yards allowed (374.6 a game). They managed 13 takeaways and gave up 52 points at the San Diego Chargers in their season finale, a game they needed to make the playoffs.

One of McDaniels' first moves was to hire former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan as his defensive coordinator. Nolan is overseeing a shift from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4.

It's unclear who will anchor the new scheme at nose tackle or which players will man the front seven.

"It's the area where you're going to know the least until you get to training camp," McDaniels says. "We have a number of players that are going to be playing in this system either for first time or haven't played in it very long."

Cornerback Champ Bailey, the defensive star the past five seasons, has hope the new defense will turn Denver's fortunes. "On paper it looks great," he says. "It's probably one of the best schematic defenses I've been involved with. If we play smart, we're going to do some great things, because this defense has been successful in a lot of places."

The Broncos spent the most free agent dollars this offseason, acquiring players to team with Bailey in the secondary. They added safety Renaldo Hill, cornerback André Goodman, and, most notably, seven-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins.

Bailey compares Dawkins' intensity and leadership abilities to former Broncos safety John Lynch.

"Without overstepping my bounds, I want to help as many guys as I can and help this organization get to the playoffs and beyond," says Dawkins, who was lured by the prospect of playing under Nolan in "a very aggressive, smart, turnover-oriented defense."

If the Broncos can play that type of defense, it will take pressure off the quarterback. But in a city where Elway laser-focused attention on the position, where in this offseason developments in "McJaygate" overshadowed all else, the man under center for Denver this season will undoubtedly be under fire.

The best way to insulate his quarterback from that, McDaniels knows, is to resolve the uncertainties hanging over the team and to win.

"We're not going to live in the past," he says. "We're going to move forward. And we're going to do everything we can to win every week.

"Believe me, I've been on teams that people didn't have great confidence in, and I know this: There's a way to win with whatever team you have. It's our job to find that way."

AROUND THE FIELD IN DENVER

• Quarterback: New head coach Josh McDaniels could put the Jay Cutler debacle behind him more quickly if he gets Matt Cassel-like success — as he did with the New England Patriots last season as offensive coordinator — from his quarterback. Kyle Orton looks to be the favorite to earn the starting job, but Chris Simms could make it a battle. More likely, Simms and sixth-round draft pick Tom Brandstater will compete for the backup position.

• Running back: After losing a succession of tailbacks to injury last season, the Broncos have amassed insurance and options with first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno and free agent signees Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan joining holdovers Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torain. Moreno figures to be the star of the group.

• Wide receiver: If Brandon Marshall recovers fully from hip surgery and doesn't get suspended for repeated off-field troubles, he and Eddie Royal will give the Broncos an enviable one-two punch in the passing game. Brandon Stokley, Jabar Gaffney and rookie Kenny McKinley round out the corps.

• Tight end: Denver traded up in the draft to get Richard Quinn, putting the future of Tony Scheffler, rumored to be on the trading block, in even more doubt. Quinn and veteran Daniel Graham are blocking tight ends that fit into the New England-style offense McDaniels brought with him.

• Offensive line: The Broncos had one of the league's best offensive fronts last year in protection and production, and all five starters return. Left tackle Ryan Clady is a budding star and headlines a group that allowed a league-low 12 sacks in 2008.

• Defensive line: With new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan installing a 3-4 scheme, the defensive front is undergoing a major renovation. Rookie Robert Ayers could swing between end and outside linebacker. Free agent signee Ronald Fields will get a look at nose tackle, but no starter is certain.

• Linebacker: D.J. Williams, coming off shoulder and knee injuries, and free agent acquisition Andra Davis are projected to start inside. On the outside, competition is open, with some of the Broncos' former defensive linemen, such as Elvis Dumervil and Jarvis Moss, looking to make the conversion. Ayers remains a wild card.

• Secondary: The Broncos made major upgrades to this unit through free agency and the draft. Veteran Champ Bailey is joined by new corners Andre Goodman and rookie Alphonso Smith. Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill form the new safety tandem. McDaniels hopes the experienced secondary can be an effective backstop for the evolving defensive front.

• Special teams: Kicker Matt Prater needs to rediscover the consistency he had in the first half last season. McDaniels will be counting on rookies to help improve kick returns and coverage. Royal is the primary returner.

• Coaching staff: McDaniels, under pressure as a first-year head coach succeeding Mike Shanahan — who earned the nickname "The Mastermind" during his 14 years as Broncos boss — will be on an even hotter seat for sending a Pro Bowl quarterback packing. Nolan, the fourth defensive coordinator for the Broncos in four years, also has a big challenge in overhauling a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every category.

• Outlook: The Broncos need to reverse the spiral that saw them lose a three-game division lead with three games left in 2008. Whether they have the manpower and talent to do so remains to be seen. The relative weakness of their division, where the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs figure to struggle, could help.


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BroncoInSkinland
06-04-2009, 05:14 AM
I like this article a lot, the writer seems to have a very good grasp of where we are and what we are trying to do. Not nearly as negative as some of the others, but doesn't give McDaniels a blanket pass on every move either. Good overall takes on our D-line situation, the QB spot, and the running game.

Dukes
06-04-2009, 05:51 AM
"Without overstepping my bounds, I want to help as many guys as I can and help this organization get to the playoffs and beyond," says Dawkins, who was lured by the prospect of playing under Nolan in "a very aggressive, smart, turnover-oriented defense."

Please do Mr. Dawkins, this team needs it.