Broncos-NFL Draft Dreams and Musings

Today's offerings are inspired by the questions of the hour - who will the Broncos draft? I see need #1 as being the defensive line, with versatility being essential, since the Broncos are probably going to a 3-4 hybrid of some sort. McDaniels have said that they will run the 3-4 at times and the 4-3 at other times, so finding a player who can function in either will be a priority.

Our other needs include LB, S, OL-depth and perhaps WR. RB is a luxury pick - upgrading is certainly an option, but it's not our greatest need. While we could take a CB (probably will) and groom him for the future, having Goodman and Bailey there right now with either Josh Bell or Jack Williams at nickel suits me fine.

But for all those who yearn for a RB to cheer for, I thought that I'd start with one of the best, although he's gotten little press - Donald Brown.

 

Who is Donald Brown?

Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little. - Plutarch (A.D. 46?-A.D. c. 120)

The San Diego Union-Tribune suggests that he may be more like LaDainian Tomlinson than anyone else in the NFL draft this year. USA Today sings his praises. Perhaps the best RB that you don't hear anything about, Donald Brown is a great example of a kid who has his head on straight. He comes out of the same NJ Shore league that produced  Knowshon Moreno and in many ways they remind you of each other.

"I had Donald Brown as my second-best back coming into the combine, and I think Donald is a first-round pick," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock says. "He's legit. The combine just underscored what I saw on tape.

"He has really good, not elite, speed. He has great explosion. You could see that in his 41½-inch vertical leap and how good and quick he was (a running back-best 11.30 seconds) in the 60-yard and in the 20-yard shuttle (second best in his group at 4.10 seconds).

"He's talented enough to play in any scheme. The one thing he'll have to learn is patience. He hurries his blockers.

"With running backs, it's patience to the hole, speed through the hole. He doesn't set up his linemen and his blocks as well as he can. But what he does have is tremendously nimble feet, and you see him running through tackles with his lower-body strength."

Brown's balance, soft hands and willingness to accept coaching and work on improving his shortcomings are positive attributes that make him attractive to teams. Despite defenses stacked to stop the featured workhorse in UConn's power running offense, Brown averaged 5.7 yards a carry and scored 18 touchdowns last season for the 8-5 Huskies."

What I like about Brown is that he's solid in all three departments - running with the ball, blocking and receiving. That's the kind of production that could make him a serious consideration with the 48th pick if he's still there. His coachability is unusual in a running back of his caliber and would fit well with the Bobby Turner/Broncos approach. Since fast decision-making is one of the keys of functioning in the one-cut zone-blocking scheme that Denver has patented, whoever we chose as a RB will have to have that skill. Some are comparing Brown to the Broncos' own J.J. Arrington  but I would see him as a big upgrade over J.J. His toughness and durability will have him off the board by the end of the second round, if not before.

With the renewed questions surrounding Beanie Wells' foot, Brown may yet move further up in the draft. one thing is certain - if the questions on Wells are more than a smokescreen (and I don't know that yet), Moreno's position as the 1st RB off the board is secured.

A Powerful Hurt

Perseverance, secret of all triumphs - Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

Andre Brown, RB from NC State, is a powerful runner. The April 17 daily from the Sporting News has him moving up into the second round, and it's well deserved. He achieved 2,403 yards rushing with 21 TDs and a solid 4.8 ypa. He has struggled to stay healthy at times, but is good at playing through pain, a talent that every NFL player has to have.

Recently, he was asked how he stayed so powerful. "Lotta squats, you know, lotta squats," he answered. It's an answer that you'll get from a lot of football players. They believe that working hard on your squats increases your power and explosiveness. They like the feeling of moving a lot of weight. They know that getting strong is the way to success in football. The only thing is - they are absolutely wrong.

Does it surprise anyone that Andre's also been sidelined frequently with ankle, foot and knee problems? Someone needs to work with him on explosiveness training involving resistance bands and on developing the medial, lateral and posterior muscles and ligaments of the leg to offset his insistence on overdeveloping the quads. The muscular imbalance produced by an emphasis on over-training the quads and failing to work just as hard on the smaller muscles of the leg will almost guarantee a higher rate of injury.

No wonder those training camp injuries are so common. Much of the training that younger players do is actually contrary to what will give them a long, successful career as a professional athlete. Part of that is the information available to them - many of their coaches and trainers aren't up on the more recent developments. Part of it is just the enthusiasm of youth.

It's great to put in the hours in the weight room. It shows perseverance, dedication and commitment. But a lot of what these young people were told about training (or not told) just isn't true. In my own career, I spent a year teaching in the PE department at Northern Illinois University, recent home of draft rocket DE Larry English (and formerly of Michael Turner). I came in contact with a lot of good people whose beliefs on physical training were already years out of date - and that was in the late 70's. Too often, the theories that they espoused are still being taught today.

In the offseason, getting ready for their pro career, young athletes (and the not so young) strain to get ‘big', to get powerful, to get ripped. But all they rip are their sinews and what they wind up with is often a big injury. Learning how to train is going to be one of the next big changes in preparing these young men for their professional careers.

I like this kid. A 6'0", 228 lb. RB with 29 receptions for 309 yards as a senior, he can be a big-man part of someone's rotation. Rivals.com has him ranked as a 5.9 on a 6.1 scale: although most had him going in the mid rounds (3 to 6), he's moving up. He's earned that.

But someone needs to tell him how to stay healthy and on the field. Otherwise, he's one more statistic on why running backs can be a wasted draft pick. If he and the other players coming out are going to persevere in their careers, they need to learn to get and stay healthy.

Will the Broncos Draft a QB?

... your spiritual teachers caution you against enquiry - tell you not to read certain books; not to listen to certain people; to beware of profane learning; to submit your reason, and to receive their doctrines for truths. Such advice renders them suspicious counselors. Frances Wright (1795-1852), Scottish author and speaker

Sure, if one they likes comes up at vlaue. I don't buy the talk about a 1st-round pick. I actually like Sanchez, although I think that he should have stayed in school. If he had, I could maybe get behind him, although we have bigger needs (None of us know, yet, how Josh McDaniels likes to draft). As it is, I didn't see the track record that I should have in order to to pull the trigger on a 1st-round pick. That would go for Stafford as well, but he won't be there so it doesn't matter. It's important to consider that McDaniels has said that he won't take a player that doesn't have a chance to come in and contribute in some role right away.

I like Rhett Bomar. He will probably go in the 3rd to 5th, I'm told, and that's fine. If he's there in the 5th, I'd take him. He's sloppy at times, but a lot of that is mechanics. He's got good leadership skills already, his head seems like it's on straight. He's big and strong with a good ball. Stephen McGee is interesting, too. A lot of people like John Wilson Painter, but I haven't seen enough of him to judge. McDaniels said that there are about a half dozen that they like, so it's what round and what player works out. He also said that they aren't interested in any projects right now, so I think that Sanchez is out.

The Quarterback Competition in Denver

"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." C S Lewis

The Denver Post:

Now, that Cutler is gone, swapped for Orton and draft picks to Chicago, what will happen with Simms, having arrived as a free agent expecting to back up Cutler. He's now battling Orton for the starting job. Yes, we've heard all that before.

"Chris has got a lot of things I value at quarterback," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "One of the things I value is his ability to learn our system, his intelligence, his decision-making. All of those things to me are important before you start talking about his throwing abilities, which Chris obviously has too."

Simms guided Tampa Bay to a 6-2 record in the second half of the 2005 season, and then saw a potential game-tying touchdown pass muffed late in a first-round playoff loss to Washington. He suffered an injury to his spleen in his third game the next season and has played little since. Still, McDaniels remembered enough of Simms' game to sign the blond southpaw to a two-year, $6 million contract even before knowing he would trade Cutler.

What do Chris Simms and Kyle Orton have in common other than Denver? Both were scouted pre-draft as being unready to enter the NFL game, of needing a few years to season. Both were taken by teams that are, shall we say, QB challenged? Simms in TB and Orton in Chicago were both tossed into the NFL fire with little preparation in their first year. Both struggled, predictably. Both have developed into good QBs, although we know more about Orton than we do Simms.

Strangely, the tendency to ask younger players to do too much has extended through the NFL, where younger QBs whose scouting reports indicate a need to be developed are too often tossed into the sea and told to swim. It happened to Orton in Chicago and Simms in TB, and both had exactly the problems that you would expect them to. Both have grown through it, and Denver looks ripe to reap the rewards.

Also from the Denver Post:

Simms can't help but be amazed at how the last month has unfolded. Until the trade Thursday that shipped Cutler to Chicago and added Orton to the Broncos' roster, Simms was the No. 1 quarterback actually present at Dove Valley.

He has had three weeks to work closely with offensive coordinator Matt McCoy to start learning McDaniels' offense and to familiarize himself with Denver's wide receivers.

He's shown enough to coaches in that time that McDaniels described Simms late last week as the "kind of guy we're looking for."

"He's tough, he's smart. He's already knee-deep in the offense right now and learning more every day," McDaniels said.

I like Simms. I just have some questions about his ability to be an effective QB consistently - ever since high school he's had a problem with running hot and cold. That's why he was in a constant QB battle with Major Applewhite while at Texas. His struggles at TB continued the theme.

In the two games prior to the one in which he was injured, he was absolutely terrible. He'd just won the starting job in Jon Gruden's offense and here he was, falling apart again. Then, in the third game, he pulls it all together until that cheap hit changed his life. Still - for unabashed sheer guts, (anything that smacks of intestinal fortitude is an unintentional pun here, so please forgive me) playing out a game with a ruptured internal organ ranks about as high in my book as anyone ever has. If we ever need someone with a lot of courage, he's the man.

Quality and Quantity

Wealth is in applications of mind to nature; and the art of getting rich consists not in industry, much less in saving, but in a better order, in timeliness, in being at the right spot. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882),

Collections and  Jon Gruden  What was it with Jon Gruden and QBs? He collected them like some guys collect stamps, but tosses them aside just as easily. I've never understood that approach. QBs will probably never again be drafted, handed a clipboard and taught for 3-5 years as they once were, but frankly, that's a shame. One reason that more than half of the teams have someone else's QB (about 44%) is that so many of these guys need more time to learn the NFL game. With more and more coming out at juniors, it's going to be even more important that someone teach them. There will always be some gems like Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, though, so the quest for the Next New Thing will continue. Before being fired, Gruden was said to be considering a quarterback in the draft this year. He probably would have taken one, too. Poor guy.

Doug turned me on to this article by Mike Lombardi on Gruden. It explains a lot, and that 'lot' explains a certain amount about Chris Simms. We don't know what besides courage Simms will bring to the table, but we do know that it's tough as heck for a QB to come right out of school, get tossed in the fire and have a coach that you can never, ever please. Whatever the outcome, I hope he has a better experience in Denver.

That said - are the Raiders just looking at Jeff Garcia as insurance and mentoring, or are they already losing faith in the Big Guy? JaMarcus Russell's situation was a similar kind of thing - he held out to a ridiculous extent, he never really learned the position on a pro level and then was expected to start right away. It was never going to happen. He wasn't ready.

All the fuss about his ‘big arm' misses the bigger point - the job of QB involves a whole lot of intellect, information and processing. The pro game is endlessly faster than college, and it takes time for the players to learn the newer system and get a feel for the field. The current emphasis on hitting the field running will always have a few QBs who can live up to it. The others will bounce from team to team until they learn the game, a la Kurt Warmer and many others, or get bounced out of it. Or, in Denver's case, until they get traded to the right situation at the right time. I suspect that Garcia is just insurance and mentoring, but in the psychotic crucible  that has been the Oakland franchise, anything is possible.

Locker Rooms and Loose Talk

"If the finished parts are going to work together, they must be developed by groups that share a common picture of what each part must accomplish. Engineers in different disciplines are forced to communicate; the challenge of management and team-building is to make that communication happen."  Eric Drexler, U.S. Teacher, author and lecturer

The task of creating a successful professional football team is, in its own way, every bit as challenging and complex as producing high technology. All the pieces must fit together; the different departments must each be of one mind, both within the department and regarding the place that each fulfills in the organization. The coaches must understand their own role and they must be able to motivate and coordinate not just the players but the assistants and trainers as well. The overarching goal can never be forgotten, and the ability to constantly change and adapt in order to get closer to it requires daring and constant innovation.

Becoming a writer is far easier. It requires only a computer, fantasy and a willingness to be wrong. We find these qualifications everywhere, and one of the most common outcomes is the ‘What If?" game. Andrew Brandt at the excellent National Football Post fell victim to the ‘What If?" game in fantasizing about the Broncos locker room.

From Andrew Brandt, NFP

It's interesting that when college coaches leave a program there's always intrigue about what happens to recruits who committed to the program in small or large part due to the presence and talents of the coach. In many of those cases, these players are allowed to leave and follow their coach to his new venue. Unfortunately, when binding contracts and millions of dollars are involved, this is something that can't happen with professional athletes.

For instance, are all the free agents whom the Denver Broncos acquired feeling like they signed up for something a bit different than they thought? When they signed, the Broncos had an elite talent at quarterback, an ascending young player with Pro Bowl ability. Now they don't. Certainly being set to compete at a high level at the most important position means something to players. And no, these free agent signees - Brian Dawkins, LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter, Jabar Gaffney, Andre Goodman, Andra Davis, Renaldo Hill, Darrell Reid, etc. - cannot follow Jay Cutler to Chicago. 

These players are bound by their contracts, as are the Broncos, but they may feel a bit differently about the situation now that the picture has changed since their recruitment.

Well, that's a rare fantasy. You know, I'm hearing this a lot, but not from anyone who actually knows it is happening. Do you think that the seasoned veterans that we brought in know that it's a business and that offseason will entail change? What are we really hearing from the ones that matter? How about a little reality?

"(Champ) Bailey said it wasn't really much of an issue, though. The saga made for good drama in the media, not the locker room.

"The one thing about this locker room is people come in and come out all the time," Bailey said. "You get used to it. Especially for a guy like me, I've played with so many different people. For a guy like that to leave, I'm not surprised. Nothing surprises me in this league."

Well, Brandon Marshall hasn't even talked to Cutler, so their relationship is obviously fractured; he's probably not too down about having two new quarterbacks come to town since, after all, that will be how he catches his passes. The same goes for everyone from Eddie ‘Good Attitude' Royal (who Marshall said would have structured the QB/Receivers voluntary offseason training, had there been any) to Brandon Stokley. Elvis Dumervil noted last week that the Trade really hasn't been a distraction and we're hearing great stories like the one involving Woodyard and Davis, talking about the mentoring and the excitement.

It's not like Orton is a terrible QB, a la Ryan Leaf. He's got a very good record (a better one than the man he replaced) and McDaniels can tailor the offense to his strengths. Orton's got to be excited about having an O-Line and receivers, too. Simms is healthy, is devouring the playbook like it's scripture and he's just glad to have a chance to compete for a starter's job. Do you think that he's excited about that chance? Right...

This is just the kind of speculative thing that assumes a lack of professionalism on the part of the players. It's kind of cheap - that old "You know, I'll just bet that....." Why shouldn't the players be happy, just for example? Jay was great, but he wasn't the whole team. We've got some very good players and a few much better coaches. Say, anyone here not like Mike McCoy over Jeremy Bates? How about Mike Nolan over Bob Slowik? Yeah, me too.....

Then they had the first mini-camp and it all was positive: the players were excited and the vibration was upbeat. The coverage by boydy  and others makes any extensive talk about this unnecessary, but I wanted to note what I said at the time when I heard Brandt's statement.

"I'll take the SunnySide on it and show a different option. I'll bet that the offensive line is pulling together and the fact is that you won't know because it's part of the ethos that they don't talk to anyone. But do you think that the rest of the team doesn't know that they have one of the best (the best!) in the NFL? That they don't know and love it?

How about the RBs - do you think that they're bummed about running behind that line? Ticked off at having to run behind Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris? It's something to be excited about, and both Simms and Orton are usually well-liked in the locker room. This won't be any different.

Some of these guys have played against Orton and know him already. He has a rep for being a likable leader, smart and dedicated, for working hard in the weight room, film room and the training room, and folks are already seeing that and liking it. Simms? He's been eating, sleeping and breathing the playbook. He's thrilled.

How about our receivers? They're a great crew. All of our best are coming back, and Jabar Gaffney is a good pickup. They're learning a new playbook and are getting excited about learning new possibilities, seeing how they are going to get used to create more touchdowns and smiling a lot. With the professionalism of Brandon Stokley and the maturity of Eddie Royal, Gaffney's ties to McDaniels plus Marshall's lack of current connection to Cutler, I'm guessing that they're doing fine.

Do you think that the defense is looking forward to play better than last year? Heck yes! Andre' Goodman and Renaldo Hill are excited to be still playing together, feeding off of each other. Do you think that anyone is excited about playing with Brian Dawkins? Do you think anyone isn't excited about our new Whizzer Award winner? How about Josh Barrett - how do you think that he feels? Don't you think that Champ likes the new players and that he's enjoying seeing a lot of skill, maturity and professionalism after the slapdash of the past few years?

Here's the thing - these sorts of comments from Brandt are mostly a matter of mirroring the perspective inside a person's own mind. I tend to see the positives. Others can see what they want. Each of us will experience the outcome of those attitudes and perspectives because that's how life works. To each their own, but I wouldn't look for hurt feelings on the part of these professionals. They understand the game - on the field or off. Each will respond just as their own inner mind dictates.

Final Thought:

"The struggle to reach the top is itself enough to fulfill the heart of man." Albert Camus

Whatever players the Broncos take in this year's draft have a big advantage going into the season - they are going into a locker room with vocal leaders like Brian Dawkins, Andra Davis and quiet professionals like Champ Bailey. You also have men like Brandon Stokley, Correll Buckhalter and Casey Wiegmann on the offense - all of these are men who know how to lead, to work hard and to apply themselves to their craft.

Making the jump to the NFL means learning to be a professional, to show dedication in the film room, the weight room and on the field. Having some solid role models matters - that was lacking on the defense last year and the coaching staff never addressed it. By Opening Day the team will be coalesced around a common goal - the playoffs! Bring on Training Camp! Let's get this thing underway!

 

Folks - As fate would have it, this is my 100th post. It was unplanned, but it has given me a lot of joy that it came today on the edge of a chance to refurbish the team with another year of draft picks.

Thank you for a year of constant learning, great camaraderie, challenges and triumphs, and a chance to be a part of something truly special. My deepest respects to John, who has created and maintained this space, HT and Styg whose knowledge and unstinting support have helped me so much, to Doug, Ted and the rest of the staff for their prolific and talented work and to you, all of the members, the people who, in the end, make the MileHighReport such a special place.

Thank you

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