To Build A Fire -- Injuries Mount in Dove Valley


Fans are pyromaniacs.  Sometimes they need to be put out.

But with the most recent reports out of Broncos training camp that now Chris Kuper (right ankle injury of unknown severity), LenDale White (unknown injury), and Jarvis Moss (broken second metacarpal in left hand), perhaps the fans are right in burning up.  To make matters worse, all of these players were considered solutions, on some level, to problems the Broncos already faced.

Offensive line in dissarray with injuries to the bookend tackles and likely at least one, if not two rookie starters on the inside?  It could be worse, we said, at least we got Kuper signed long term.  He'll be our rock.  Starting RBs dinged up, and current stable not picking up the slack?  At least White was available to keep the position deep.  Dumervil out for a season?  At least Jarvis Moss appears to be coming on strong, finally.

Sometimes the fires we light do little to keep us warm.

I shouldn't even be here.

I am as much of a pyro as the rest of you.  I get caught up in the tremors of the moment as easily as anyone, but that would have been ok, as I had planned on spending this training camp insulated far from the activity, safe from the speculation, building my cabin in Nowhere, Alaska.  By the time I returned in September the first regular season game would be upon us, and the ups and downs of preseason would have glided underneath me as effortlessly as the six inch northwesterly chop in Clarence Strait glides under my boat.

But, unfortunately, the weather was fantastic, the best I've seen in ten years here in Alaska.  Good weather meant good opportunities for all the work I had planned at the cabin, and in no time (16 days) I had completely devestated my larder of building supplies.  The weather also coincided with an amazing salmon run, and after bagging almost 200 fish, it was clear that their wasn't enough room on the boat to process, not enough space in the cabin to store, nor enough ice to preserve, and so an impromptu trip back home was planned, at the cost of approximately ten days of continuing beautiful weather before I could return to the cabin.  I was less than happy about the development, but an exhausted shrug and smile is about all I could muster in defiance of it.  My wife had brought me a copy of the Broncos Annual, and so I had Broncos on my mind again, and I suppose secretly, I was looking forward to getting back and checking in on the beginning of camp, and the goings on at MHR.

The decision to resupply and divest ourselves of fish, preempted a plan to burn some brush.  I have been clearing the property out there for two years, and the burn piles have reached the level of grand annoyance.  But again, the good weather had something to say about that.  Everything was incredibly dry, with no rain for the last two weeks.  Now, I should mention this is the Tongass National Forest, a rainforest by definition, and my chance of starting a forest fire are exactly equal to the chance of me suddenly being able to throw a harpoon left handed, pretty slim.  But I'm a conservative guy by nature, and the risk of burning off even just the thick mossy groundcover made me stay my matches.  It'll be a long summer, with plenty of opportunity to start fires when the conditions are better.

But what do I find when I return home?  Elvis out for the season.  Barrett and Mckinley to IR.  Correll and my man KnoMo injured and missing valuable practice time.  And now, Kuper, Moss and White add themselves to the conflagration.

Sometimes fires start whether we want them to or not.

*****

Where in the world is the Broncos pass rush going to come from?

I'll be clear about this, we had pass rush problems to address BEFORE Elvis went down.  His absence should have McD scrambling, and for what it is worth, what I am hearing from McD so far has all the markings of putting a good face on a bad situation.  You can't always have everything you want, and sometimes, the need for a contingency is betrayed by the lack of resources available to address that need.  The Broncos pass rush is a prime example of this.  The effort was there for the starters on the outside:  Doom just got paid some serious ducats and Ayers was a first round draft pick.  After that, the problem is primarily addressed through volume, though their is still a level of selectivity that makes one hopeful of the focus paid to the pass rush.

Before camp, the Broncos had ten OLB/DE prospects listed on the roster.  For perspective, six is typical for camp, and no more than five will likely be carried on the roster.  The Broncos doubled the number of bodies at the position for a reason, namely that we needed to find pass rush solutions somewhere.  When you factor in the attention to the pass rush on the DL, including Jarvis Green and Marcus Thomas moving to DE, there are a lot of irons in the fire in the hopes of getting some inseason production.

When I worked in the Bering Sea, a constant was the fire alarm.  We didn't worry much about freezing or drowning out there.  The number one concern was always fire, despite being surrounded by an ocean of water.  You wake up to it, from a meager ration of four hours of sleep, far ffrom home, and you are standing and walking out on deck without ever waking up, in a stupor, still dreaming.  I once got all the way into my survival suit before it really clicked in my mind that I didn't need to find the dog and take her for her morning walk.

The monotonous drone of the offseason has us in a similar somnambulist state.  There aren't any games to play right now.  We aren't home, there aren't any dogs to walk.  Right now, we are just going through the motions and we haven't yet left the dream state of the offseason.  We try to imagine the Broncos without Elvis.  How do we replace him?  What will they do without him?

We are missing the point.

Ayers should be a hot topic.  How would he be used in the 4-3?  What will it look like?  Can we capitalize on some of his past strengths?  Haggan should be an even hotter topic.  He has been a different person after being told of his move inside.  It was like the culmination of something for him, and he responded well to it, and was embracing the role as I have not seen him embrace anything in his career.  If the Broncos move him back outside, and they probably will, they may extinguish one bright fire in the attempt to start another.  That doesn't sit well with me.  While the move would appear to be in the service of the "team" concept, it seems more akin to the paradigm of drafting a chef into the army and making him a mechanic.  It is possible to have a group of people all sacrificing for one another, but still not have a team.  Moving Haggan back may be akin to moving the ceiling of the team.  Moss was a hot topic, and may continue to be despite the injury.  His story may ultimately become one of bad timing, a theme which the hand injury fits well.  Because all his story needed was more adversity to face.  This will either be the final nail in the coffin, or the true begining of a legend in Denver, I'm afraid there really isn't much in between.  And one of those results is immeasurably more likely than the other.  I'm fond of Ben Garland myself to have a role in this mystery, but I am understanding of the idea that he isn't a hot topic.  He has specifically been trained to take advantage of opportunities, but to hear McD speak, there is little to no chance of him being in a Broncos uniform due to his commitment.  But I don't know that it is that clear.  Garland's camp seems to be waiting more for some sort of confirmation from the Broncos that Ben would have a solid role on the team, a decision that is still months away, before he decideds how to handle his commitment. Either way, I see longshot written all over it.  If I have time, maybe I will try to start a Ben Garland fire here at MHR.  Doc Bear has written up Jammie Kirlew, so the tinder is alight for that talented young man, and I am as excited by his prospects as anyone.

It isn't the Broncos I sympathize with in this plight though, it is Doom.  I know how it must feel.  I did my final contract in the Bering Sea in 2007.  In one of the fire drills, it was learned there weren't enough survival suits to go around, something many of us had long suspected.  No one was surprised, and many didn't seem to care.  Real life isn't like the books or movies.  It isn't a page turner, and boats don't burn.  You have to keep a close eye on life, and even then sometimes the big stuff goes up in smoke before we really see it. You have to build a pretty big fire in your heart to feel its warmth and you have to keep it stoked all the time.  I've known too many people who didn't have the will to do that, and in my mind they are missing out.  I think somewhere in there is the point we are missing about Dumervil, about many of the preseason injuries.  At a certain point, the fires we build, for good or ill, grow beyond our control.  We start them, we raise them up, and somewhere, control passes from us to them, and then they become everyone's fire, not just ours, and we all become a part of the bucket brigade.

In 2008, the boat I worked on burned.  Fiber left to close to a dryer vent was the likely culprit.  Most of the crew was evacuated by the Coast Guard, but a handful stayed behind to fight the fire.  One of them was a friend of mine, and I talked with him on the phone--or more accurately, I talked at him--he didn't have much of a voice left and had to have fluid drained out of his lungs twice a week for months.  The best part of the story, of course, is that they were able to put the fire out.  The ship was mangled enough to have to return to Norway for rebuilding, but it wasn't a total loss.  The crew who went in to fight the fire still have the jobs they loved on the boat they had come to be a part of.

I suppose that is why I feel for Dumervil, more than the Broncos.  This is no longer his adventure.  The story goes on without him.

*****

This goes beyond just a pass rush too.

The offense will need to pick up the slack if the defense has trouble getting off the field.  With this kind of lead time, things that may have seemed like risky in-season strategies before may seem worth tweaking.  The Broncos may very well survive this by simply being more exciting, which fans will find a way to live with.  To be sure, this team was going to see a lot of close games, and the injuries lingering over the team like a malevolent cloud really have nothing to do with that part of the game.  The blowouts of yore were leadership issues, and are addressed on a different level than talent.  I'm not saying that the Broncos have entirely fixed all the leadership issues (though I am of the mind that they very well may have), just that the injuries are unrelated to the solutions in that department.

Additionally, on defense, a strong storyline throughout the season will be the Broncos defensive first and second down efforts, where Dumervil wasn't a huge impact anyways.  Facing better third down situations on defense will give the Broncos the luxury of operating without a hoss like Doom in the stable, and make them more versatile overall.  This is entirely a front seven issue, and one reason I would like to see Haggan stay in the middle.  Despite losing so much in the pass rushing department when Doom went down, we may find that the best bandage for the wound will be how we perform against the rush, which, thankfully is a department as yet unaffected by early injuries (especially if you view Barrett as a bubble player, as I did).  And yes, I just knocked on wood.

It can't be underestimated how much time we have left before the real bullets start flying.  While some of that time may be useful in terms of getting some injured players back, I think it has far more value in preparing the backups for what they will be facing.  That is, in itself, an opportunity that would be a blessing if it occured in midseason, and should not be overlooked.  Prepared is going to be the new catchphrase out of Dove Valley, and there are probably a lot of players who have felt it sink in around camp that you need to work like you will be a starter tomorrow.  The practices figure to continue on in their intensity because of this.  Despite the injuries, an air of competition is going to be cultivated in camp.  This is the kind of adversity that the whole team can face together, amidst all the individual battles.  It is never too early to start coming together.

In between fishing seasons I used to go to Oregon to work on a wildland firefighting crew.  On my first contract, after we had been out for a few months, it was clear that we were really a poor crew.  We had made several fire lines, but our ability to work together was as poor as they come.  Most everyone on the crew was a newbie, and the vets and crew boss acted like having us was a punishment for something they had done wrong, and had little time to devote to our training or communication dynamics.  The jobs we were being sent out on did little to foster our continued growth as firefighters.  We successfully, if inefficiently corralled several small fires, and a few lone lightning struck trees, assignments that could have been accomplished by a modest crew of four or five good firefighters, as opposed to our twenty man crew.  The writing was on the wall though.  Anything more difficult than a basic drill was going to probably push our abilities beyond their current limit.

Around August of that year, as the fire season was raging, our crew boss abruptly quit, and word came to us that our crew would be dissolved, and where possible, we would get absorbed into other working crews in the area.  The vets on our crew took the opportunity to opt out of their contracts, and most went home.  Six of us new guys were told that there was a short handed crew stationed in the Strawberry Range in Eastern Oregon.  They were sitting right on top of a huge fire, but weren't being allowed to go in and fight it because their numbers had dwindled from contracts coming up and people opting out.  The six of us loaded up a crummy and headed for the Strawberry Range to meet up.

I won't ever forget the day we got there.  The new crew met us on the road leading into the fire, and after taking the crummies as far as we could, we began the hike in.  The excitement started almost immediately when we crossed a water truck that had gone in too far and been surrounded by flame.  After sorting that out, we finally made it in to the first of the abandoned firelines and started beefing it back up.  It was nightfall before we got word that we were the last crew on the western side of the fire.  They asked us to hold it by ourselves, since the weather was supposed to push it away from us.  So we dug in and started our patrols.  Just like the boat without enough survival suits, there is a kind of numb feeling you get when you are that close to disaster.  An edgy 'fun,' to it that makes no sense.  The fire burned hot not twenty yards from our fire line, and we focused on putting out spot fires that jumped the lines all night.  We learned more in that one evening than we had in two months on the old crew.  For once, it was real adversity.  We felt like we were finally doing our jobs.

Around 1am, the fire topped out, jumped our line, and we retreated to a road about a mile away.  For all intents and purposes, we lost that first battle.  The new guys all felt terrible, like it was our fault.  One guy asked to be sent home, which they did, I don't know the exact reasons why.  But when the company owner contacted the crew chief to let him know that he could get replacements, he took only two crew members on, and never asked any of us new guys to go.  It was a huge vote of confidence for us.  I was on that crew until I moved on from that job, and we had a lot of success on a lot of fires.  And it all started with an untimely mess of unplanned chaos.

Now is the time for the Broncos to line up their recruits in the heat and dirt and find out what they are capable of.  Many of them will learn faster than they ever have before.  Its exciting to think about, and it could accelerate the growth of this team exponentially.  And if there have been errors in scouting and signing?  We'll find those even sooner as well, and be able to address them.

You would be crazy not to worry about the Broncos chances for success, especially with the rash of injuries, but you would be even crazier if you ever became so complacent about it that you felt some kind of guarantee of success going into the season.  You can relish this moment of fear for your team.  It is what gives this whole thing meaning.  I had the most ridiculously goofy grin on my face when I watched the fire top out over us, and if my crew chief hadn't smashed my face down into the cool dirt of the big hole we had dug, I'd probably have that stupid smile still.

I feel bad for those that won't be a part of the adventure going forward, but I still can't help but smile.

Because even without them, there is still going to be an adventure.

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