With the anticipation of the upcoming offseason and the inevitable changes among the coaching ranks looming, there has been much talk about any or all of the following: 1. the Broncos are a terrible team because they have no talent, 2. the Broncos are a terrible team because they can't run the ball consistently, and 3. the Broncos are terrible because their defense is talent poor, old, and slow.
We have begun to do mock drafts, started taking a look at possible General Manager and Head Coaching candidates, and have wondered if there will be a season of football next year. Realistically, there are too many unknowns to have a real shot at guessing what the new Front Office and coaching staff will look like next season. But regardless of whether Brian Xanders keeps his job as GM and receives more personnel power from Pat Bowlen, or whether an up-and-comer such as Eric DeCosta will be given the opportunity going forward, there is little doubt that the next GM will decide who the coaches in Denver should be.
As disappointed as I have grown in the FO in the past two years, I do take Joe Ellis at his word, that the next HC will not be given as much authority as Mike Shannahan and Josh McDaniels had held:
Ellis indicated the next Broncos head coach would not have the same authority as McDaniels. "We probably burdened Josh with too much responsibility," Ellis said. He indicated it was "very likely" the team won’t empower the next head coach to have as much responsibility as McDaniels was "burdened" with.
In addition, in a recent interview, Brian Xanders has mentioned that the focus for the near term in terms of the roster, will be on the defensive side of the ball:
"There likely will be a major investment on the defensive side of the ball in the draft and free agency in an attempt to get it to the top-10 level," Xanders said.
Since I do not expect the next HC to decide who will run the Denver Broncos' defense, I do expect the new or current GM, with possible input from John Elway, to find the best Defensive Coordinator available. If Bowlen wants to bring back someone who is familiar with the organization, has a good reputation as a coordinator, and gives this defense a chance to become respectable again, there ought to be one name at or near the top of a very short list.
As much as I hate the notion that Denver will once again make a coaching change at the DC position, Wink has not exactly made the best of his opportunity. Despite a rash of injuries and a few good FA acquisitions, he was not able to take advantage of at least some of the available talent that he had. In my opinion, the 2010 defense had more talent on the roster than the 2009 version. The D-line upgraded at DE with Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson, the NT position saw a minor and short-term upgrade with Jamal Williams, as no one can argue that he isn't a better player still, than Ron Fields. The linebackers were the least improved unit from the previous year, but McX did manage to bring in a few capable guys that came on by mid-season: Jason Hunter filled in nicely for Elvis Dumervil and Joe Mays began to show promise after showing impressive run-stopping skills on the strong side and steadily improving in coverage.
DJ did not improve enough for my taste, as he can still be moved out of a play by offensive players, and although Robert Ayers showed improvement in the beginning of the season, once he suffered a broken bone in his foot, he just wasn't the same afterward. The secondary was also hard hit with injuries, as only Ronaldo Hill managed to stay healthy all year, but there are some capable young CBs who can help settle this overall unit, at least in the near future.
Despite various excuses, Wink should've been more unpredictable and aggressive, in an effort to disguise his blitzes and disrupt offenses. He seemed hesitant, if not patient to a fault in this area, lacked creativity, and good quarterbacks took full advantage of the middle of the field against this defense. I love the fact that he relates well to his players and they love to play for him, but this defense could've been better than 32nd in the league, even without Doom's services. Mike Nolan made better use out of his less talented defensive unit the previous year, although he did have a healthy #92 on the active roster.
On a side note,Ted Bartlett has recently posted an article, in which he was making a case for trying to obtain the services of Gregg Williams from New Orleans, but as a HC instead. Personally, I'd rather he be considered as another DC candidate, since most coordinators tend to do their best work as coordinators, and not head coaches. But Sean Payton took a paycut in 2009 to have the opportunity to work with Williams, so the idea that he'd be willing to part ways this soon from someone that's made it possible for them to win the Superbowl last year, seems far-fetched. If it was possible, I'd be on board as I have a great deal of respect for his body of work over the years, but for now, the odds are stacked against this becoming reality.
Besides - Denver would have to switch back to the 4-3 more exclusively, and the idea of being able to currently run either the 4-3, 3-4, or the 5-2 ought to stay. It's understandable that many may prefer the 40 front, but with the recent upgrades at DE and OLB, this type of switch may send guys like Hunter, Bannan, Ayers, and even Dumervil (via a trade) packing, since they're either not suited for the 4-3 as a DT or a DE. In the case of Doom, many believe he is now too small to play end and best remain as an OLB in the 3-4.
When there are players such as McBean and Fields who need to go yesterday, changing schemes back would result in another major overhaul on the D-line and impact the LB corps. In my opinion, the main problem with the defense is how the current scheme is being run, and not so much the personnel. I am not a fan of doing-undoing-doing every year to see what works and since there is a basic scheme in place after already making wholesale changes with some better players than Denver has had in a few years, I think it is better to stabilize and continue to upgrade, where possible.
Other options for DC may include trying to lure Mike Nolan back to Denver, but it has been said time and time again that he prefers the East Coast and wants a HC gig again. Vortex7 recently offered some great ideas for hiring some current assistants from the Steelers, Packers, and Seahawks organizations, which are definitely more frugile options, but unfortunately, none of them have any ties to Denver.
With few coordinators available who Bowlen knows well and thus will likely approve, I think the already short list of options becomes pretty clear. Wade Phillips stands the best chance of not only getting the job in Denver, but improving the defense as well.
Phillips says he is not ready to retire and still wants to coach. He doubts he will get another head coaching job but predicted he will be back in the league as a defensive coordinator soon.
"I think they're going to look at me more as a coordinator and that's fine with me. I just want to coach," Phillips said. "I got 33-34 years now in the league and I enjoy coaching. I enjoy the players and you know, once you're away from it, even for a small amount of time, you miss the camaraderie. Just the great feeling of guys working together and the people involved, so I'd like to get back into it. I think there will be an opening somewhere for defensive coordinator that has a pretty good reputation."
Other than to coach against his old friend Dan Reeves in the upcoming East-West Shrine Game at the Florida Citrus Bowl, he has nothing lined up just yet. Because of this, I think the Broncos should give strong consideration and be the first to offer him his next gig.
Wade Allen Phillips (born June 21, 1947 in Orange, TX) is the former head coach for the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, and Atlanta Falcons. Phillips began his professional coaching career in Houston as the linebackers coach in 1976 for the team coached by his father, as well as defensive line coach in 1977–1980.
He was best known for his work as a DC for the New Orleans Saints (1981-1985,) the Philadelphia Eagles (1986-1988,) the Denver Broncos (1989-1992,) the Buffalo Bills (1995-1997,) the Atlanta Falcons (2002,) and the San Diego Chargers (2004-2006.)
In his last stint as a DC:
In 2004, Wade Phillips took over a defense in desperate need of a tourniquet and a transfusion. The year before, the Chargers just couldn't seem to stop the bleeding during a grisly 4-12 campaign.
They couldn't stop the pass, allowing a league-worst 36 touchdowns through the air.
They couldn't stop the run, surrendering 2,218 yards and 4.3 yards per carry.
They couldn't rush the quarterback, tallying just 30 sacks all year.
Since then, the Chargers have taken a surprising leave from professional football's infirmary to become a lively playoff contender. And, though it still has its trouble spots, the 3-4 defense installed by Phillips has been a big reason for the remarkable change in prognosis.
"He's got a system that is a very, very effective system," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's been doing it for a considerable length of time."
Sound familiar, Bronco fans? With his vast knowledge of the 3-4, it is no wonder San Diego became a playoff contender. Steve Nichols had this to add about Phillips:
Phillips was an innovator who turned the 3-4 upside down. His system is one-gap. The DL penetrates, and is charged with constant harrasment of the QB. The LBs are typically fast, and at least one of them will blitz on any given play.
The reason for the near constant 1-LB blitz is to account for the fact that the outnumbered DL is also relatively undersized and only one-gapping. However, the adjustments work out well. The OL never knows who the blitzer will be, or where he will come from. The Phillips is more aggressive that the Bullough. The school of thought for the Phillips 3-4 is the need to pressure against the QB to stop the pass threat, and this is done by varying who the "fourth rusher" (who is really a blitzer) is.
Add another blitzer in here and there, and the speedy/aggressive Phillips system is a threat to QBs, and attempts to get turnovers by slashing the time that a QB has to make decisions.
Phillips' return to Denver is quite possible. Reuniting with Bowlen as well as D-line coach Wayne Nunnelly and his old NT JWill, would make this a relatively smooth transition for Wade.
In looking ahead to the draft, there is one problem that stands out and here is where I believe Wade could be a most valuable addition to the staff: the 2011 draft is not talent-rich at the LB position. Since Denver may have to consider upgrading at ILB, FA may or may not have much to offer. David Harris, for example, cannot be counted on to be available. We could only assume that the Jets can't afford to resign him, and so that is an option, but not one that we can count on being available to the Broncos. Because of this, I believe that Phillips' ability to use his 1-gap variant of the 3-4 would offer enough compensation for our average LB play, by forcing the pass-rush to also come from the D-line. With his scheme, pressure could be taken away from the ILBs who have proven that they can't be counted on to stop the run or rush the QB.
He'd know how to use Jamal Williams to be effective in most likely his last year of playing football. He'd know how to maximize the talents of Marcus Thomas, Elvis Dumervil, and Robert Ayers. He may even coach up a relative unknown, David Veikune to add to the pass rush that Doom brings for this defense. And with Denver picking possibly as high as #2 overall in the next draft, he'd also make great use out of an impact player such as Nick Fairley.
All of this, without having to rebuild the defense again or changing schemes.