Watching the Denver Broncos defense over the years has been rough. Before I go into structure needed for success, we need to understand what has kept us from succeeding.
The issues are structural: general manager, coaching and player evaluations (drafting and free agency). When it comes to coaching, over the years the Broncos have consistently replaced their defensive coordinators in one or two years. This only sets the development of players backward. Every time a new defensive coordinator comes in, there is always change. Players have to learn a new scheme, new positions, develop new chemistry with each other, etc. In the NFL, it's impossible to build an identity when you change coordinators. The question is, was every defensive coordinator formerly with the Broncos a bust or was it the head coach? The answer to that question lies with the individuls with power.
Mike Shanahan, a coach whom I have a great deal of respect for, was too much of a dictator. He is the type of person who didn't believe in building for the future. His thoughts have always been on winning right now. This clearly explains why all throughout his years as a coach he has always relied heavily on veteran players. These veterans were either no name players, players past their prime, or players with character issues. The success he had with winning two Super Bowls enboldened him to continue to built this way. Even in the Super Bowl wins, the Broncos defenses were woefull. They were opportunistic and played from ahead most of the time. He built the defense through free agency, not the draft. When he decided to draft a defensive player in the draft, the player was always a project and was over drafted. His plan was to sit the players the first year and then play them the second year. There were a few exceptions along the way with young players playing early (i.e. John Mobley, Al Wilson, etc.) . However, these were exceptions and not the norm. This path lead to the Broncos not being able to make good evaluations on young players who did play well towards the end of their contracts (i.e. Eric Brown, Kenoy Kennedy, Ian Gold, Reggie Heyward, etc.). It also cost us players we didn't draft (i.e. Bertrand Berry). Can you really evaluate someone after seeing them only two years? These players were young, we developed, and should've re-signed. Keeping your own young talent is always the way to go. Even with having time off from coaching, nothing has changed with him. Most of the players on the Redskins acquired by Mike on the defensive side of the football are what? You guessed it. Old veterans past their prime.
Josh McDaniels, whom I still like as a coach, followed the same script from Mike Shanahan. Build the defense through free agency. I give him credit for acquiring the veteran talent he did last year. We clearly had a lot of holes and needed some temporary fixes. Where he went wrong was neglecting the defense, especially the front seven, in two drafts. Like Mike, he choose to build an offensive machine. It's clear that the current defense is old, slow, lacks talent, and overall depth. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it. The offense should've been left alone and the defense should've been the focus.
So, how do we change it? Seperate the G.M. and coaching responsibilities. This apparently is the direction they are taking and it's a good one. This means, whether a coach comes or goes, the structure of the team and it's identity will remain the same. Think of the Steelers. Coaches are to fit the mold of the organization, not the other way around. This structure allows for good personel decisions to be made from year to year. Players can be drafted into the same scheme year in and year out. This is definately crucial for young players development. They can't develop where there is no stability. This also keeps the coach from completely blowing up a team. There are good young players on this team. Some, with good coaching, can develop into quality back ups.
Through this structure, the draft will become the focus, not free agency. Why? Because the structure is for the long term success of Denver, not the short term.
Be encouraged fellow Bronco fans. Things will get better. There is always an opposite to everything in life. The darkness will soon go away and the dawn of a new day will arrive.