Watching the Denver-Minnesota was both a treat, and a frustration. I saw some very good things that made me feel like there was hope for the 2010 season. I saw some things that made me wonder whether or not the Broncos would be lucky to match the 8-8 record of the last two seasons.
Not wanting to start off a Friday at work with those thoughts bouncing around in my head, I fired off an email to the rest of the MHR staff -- an email that ended up taking on the tone of a rant, more than anything else. The responses I received prompted me to share that "rant" as a post, along with the responses from other MHR staff members.
Take a jump with me as I take one last look at the 2010 preseason.As I mentioned above, I fired off the points you will see below as an email. As such they were fairly terse. I've given not only the original points, but my fellow staff members' responses. Those responses are offered without comment. I would invite you to join with us, through your comments, in this reflection.
1)I've officially moved from the "unabashedly optimistic/we'll do fine" camp into the "I have some very serious reservations" camp.
This is a large move for me. I typically reside in La La Land of the Preseason during this time of year. I've always tended to go into the season seeing the upside of the coaches, players, team, etc. In 2009, I felt validated by the 6-0 start and crushed by the way the Broncos finished the season.
I too am in the reservations camp. Perhaps the biggest benefit of moving on from Shanahan has been the realism that has been imposed. I can't even imagine 13-3 at this point... (Jeremy)
I'm optimistic in the long term, but for the short term I am concerned. The talented youth on this team (Decker, Thomas, Thompson, Cox, etc.) is something that we haven't had for a while. I'm convinced that the 2010 draft class is going to be something special, much like the 2006 draft class was under Mike Shanahan. Will that translate to instant success in 2010? Probably not. I'm not even getting a whiff of 13-3 right now but I still think we will end up closer to .500 than we will be to .000 in 2010. (Troy)
I am always optimistic, but I never believe we will do fine. Regardless of our faults, I expect the Broncos to be able to win every game they have to prepare for. Not that they should go 19-0 every season, but I think as a fan, I have the mindset that they at least CAN win. This year is no different. I firmly believe we have made the necessary improvements to increase last year's win total. There's been some hurdles thus far, so we will see how well we can overcome. (Sayre)
2)If (and that's a mighty big if) all of our starters remain healthy throughout the season, we have a shot at an above .500 finish and a playoff berth. Having said that, (the rest of the points follow my fellow staffers' comments)
Not so fast. We have a lot of starters out already, so the results I have seen from the first stringers leaves me guardedly optimistic about the meat of our schedule. That said, there are some specific areas where I share your concern. See below. (Jeremy)
I do think that we have a more talented roster, though. If someone goes down, we'll suffer a little bit, but it won't be disastrous with the caveat that... (Troy)
Almost every other team is dealing with the injury bug. Some more than others. I still see 10-6 as a definite possibility. (Kirk)
If this team is healthy, I think it's the most complete team in the division from top to bottom. (Sayre)
3. If Orton goes down, the offense is screwed. Quinn, while I still believe he's better than Simms, has not shown that he can should the load. Tebow, all things considered, is still just a rookie -- he's shown flashes of greatness, and just as many (IMHO) rookie mistakes. With either Quinn or Tebow at the helm, we'll be doing well if we can go .500.
100% agree, but perhaps for a different reason. Orton is finally showing the confidence reserved for leaders, and if he goes down we lose his leadership, more than anything. Yes he has a grasp of the offense unrivaled by his backups, but last year he showed he could work the system well, within his and the offense's short-term limits. Losing Orton would be like losing steerage in a boat: great sails, good motor, a keen hull mean little without constant adjustments to account for the big picture. Losing Orton is about losing long-term viability, which is why I like John's question so much last night. Losing Orton for more than 4 games is a totally different question than which backup we like more; it is about asking who the Broncos will be long term. That is an important question too, but the brain can't answer both at the same time without short changing one or the other answer. Also, for the record, I voted Tebow over Quinn, specifically because of the leadership element I mentioned. Tebow's moral foundation is one of self-sacrifice, and that aligns well with one of the key traits needed from leaders, that they give without taking. He is very consistent in this regards, and that is the kind of solidity that a team can lean on, even if he makes tactical mistakes. He has a long record of living up to that particular demand. (Jeremy)
...it can't be Kyle Orton. Like you said, if Orton goes down, the offense is screwed. I don't trust Tebow or Quinn with this offense right now. That's pretty much a given. John has said it multiple times and I believe he is absolutely right. "Kyle Orton is the second most important player to his team behind Peyton Manning." If Peyton Manning gets injured, the Colts are done. If Kyle Orton gets injured, the Broncos are done. It's that simple. (Troy)
Agree. If he goes down, we're screwed. Brady hasn't progressed enough for my comfort, but I still don't want to see Tebow doing anything but charting plays this year. (Kirk)
I believe Orton is very, very important to the Broncos. Peyton Manning carries a lot of weight, and I have to say, it's hard to say he's the 2nd most important player in the league seeing as the Broncos are not yet a perennial Super Bowl contender, but it's a valid argument. That said, the Broncos backups seem far more serviceable than anybody the Colts have, and I have to think that this team could rally around someone if Orton went down. Simms was a major bust for the Broncos when they needed him, but both guys they have now are signficant upgrades. (Sayre)
The offense will go as far as the O-Line can protect Kyle. (Kirk)
4)If any of our defensive starters go down, the defense is screwed. Need I say more?
If our defensive starters start dropping, our struggles may be insurmountable. However, I think this applies primarily to the front 7, so there IS room for error. On the backend Denver is as solid as I have ever seen them, and we will end up cutting some good defensive backs in the near future. Chris Baker needs more time on the field, and I am starting to think this long development process may be hurting him more than helping. . .but, no way to know for sure. His power and athleticism seem gone, replaced by tentativeness. On the ends of the line our rotation seems sloppy and the backups (last year's starters) look slow and lost. I really want to chalk that up to preseason flakiness, but then I remember the front seven's disappearing act last year and I know that we simply don't know who they truly are. Pass rush is one dimensional, even for the starters, but that is to be expected, but our LB depth is shallow with a very severe ceiling. I love Woodyard as much as the next guy, but I honestly don't know what kind of defense we would have if he was one of the base guys full time. Wore down, methinks. Despite all of this I am very optimistic about our defense short term. With our secondary, we can count on being able to keep games low scoring, with long laborious scoring drives. 1st and 2nd down will be our weakness, but they play into our strength. To sum up, I look at our defense this way: the tougher the game situations get, the more suited our defense is for handling them. What really scares me on D is when I look at roster forecasts 2-3 years from now. (Jeremy)
All I have to add is that my concerns about our D have been validated (sadly) through four preseason games. I am quite worried about our front seven - they don't look any better than last year's front seven. Jeremy is right though, it could be 2008 and I could be complaining about both the front seven and the back four. LOL (Tim)
If any of our defensive starters go down, the defense is screwed. Need I say more? No, you don't need to say more. I agree. (Troy)
I am hoping we can stuff the run enough that we can live (read exist) without Doom this year. Getting more 3 and outs will go a long way toward that. I still worry about the missed tackle opportunities in the LB corps. I'm fine with Haggan, but DJ really needs to lead this team. (Kirk)
We could absorb a hit to the D-Line (except Jamal) and the DB's, but not any more LB's. (Kirk)
I think we have depth in certain areas on the defense. We could lose a guy like McBean and stick Marcus Thomas in there. We could lose Goodman and put Cox in. We could lose Dawkins and put McBath in. I think if we lost ANOTHER linebacker though, yes, we would be screwed. It's enough to lose the best sack artist in the game, we don't need to lose a guy like Ayers or something like that. (Sayre)
5)The WR corps has been a pleasant surprise. Gaffney & Royal are solid. Lloyd appears to have overcome his reluctance to take a hit. Decker and Willis have looked awesome. Stokley, as much as I like him, is probably going to be the odd-man out, unless they do something creative with Thomas and keep Stokes around til Thomas returns.
I don't know if I would call it surprising, but it has most definitely been pleasant. I think it is important not to get too high on Willis: I am excited at his prospects as a depth guy, but I still wonder what kind of role he can carve out on this team. He has made it almost impossible to cut him, but that doesn't mean we automatically have a place for him. Lloyd is a changed man. The dude looks like a zen master out of focus, and his ceiling has always been high, so it is great to see it clicking for him. Finally. Everyone else looks fantastic, Decker looks great, not tentative at all. Yep, the WR position is definitely a strength of this team, top to bottom. Now we just need to keep getting into position to use them successfully. Love our chances in an end of game shootout, if we can keep the QB clean. (Jeremy)
Absolutely. The depth of this group is outstanding. Gaffney, Royal, Lloyd, Thomas, Decker, and Willis are a solid team. I left off Stokley because I don't think he'll make it. His nagging injury has kept him out of the action for the most part and, since other players have stepped up, he's on the outside looking in. It was fun while it lasted, but I really like our receivers this year. (Tim)
I just hope that Cox or Squid can take over Eddie Royal's return duties. I hate having Eddie back there, despite how talented he is as a return man. It just takes one play, one hit, one concussion. . .Certainly you could say that about offense or defense, as well, but the risks are much higher when your eyes are watching a ball fall from the sky while a runner is sprinting directly towards you, ready and willing to crush your ribcage into a thousand tiny bits. It's a gruesome description, but it holds some truth. (Troy)
One guy I am comfortable saying will not have that problem is Eddie Royal. He has a personal assistant stretching his legs every day. (Kirk)
I have high expectations for this group. I think someone else said pleasant, but not a surprise. I am more surprised at how Orton has responded and made this crew as big a strength as it will be. (Sayre)
6)The running game seems to be coming around and will do just enough to keep defenses honest.
Agreed on the running game. I really like what Ball was able to do, and I think that some early season starts will be huge for him, and will help us work Knowmo and Buck in more smoothly. We will have a lot of versatility with our 45-man active rosters, from a personnel standpoint. The only thing that would be better offensively is if we had a TE corp we could count on...1 out of 3 isn't going to get it done. (Jeremy)
Indeed, and it certainly helps that Orton is leading our passing attack so efficiently, as well. Being able to keep the defense honest so that they have to respect the pass as well as the run is really beneficial to an offensive coordinator, in terms of how to approach calling plays. It makes the offensive coordinator's job much more easy because they can mix up their play calling a little bit more and catch the defense on their heels more often. (Troy)
This is still an unanswered question. Knowshon's hammy may not heal until the off season. Hamstrings are touchy. (Kirk)
I want Knowshon and Buckhalter. This is a pass-first team, but like you said, we can keep teams honest. We can't if we don't have those two players. (Sayre)
7)The O-line still needs a fair amount of work, but I think they'll come together as the year progresses.
They will come together, but there will be some ugly stuff. I am still making the mental switch from the plug-and -play zone-block, where no names could come in and succeed early, despite being overmatched physically (I won't miss watching them get bullied, however), to the gap schema where we really are relying on developed talents. But, I can't help but be optimistic about the line, especially long-term. These guys are the most dedicated, hardest working players on the team, a true team within a team, and more than anything, their ability to work together will determine their success. And if Clady is a go, even if he isn't 100%, they will be together at least, which is more important for our success this season than whether he lets a couple of guys into the backfield on occassion (which still makes him better than about 80% of the LTs out there...) Harris' injury is slightly more concerning, as is his overall health history. However, I love the idea of Beadles at RT, so I can't get myself worked up about Harris. Part of me thinks the Broncos, long term, may need to look beyond Harris. (Jeremy)
Good thing the offense is clicking, still worried about the run game though. Our O-line lacks depth and now that Clady is back, it appears to lack chemistry. These guys need to get used to each other, but I figure by midseason they'll be gelling. (Tim)
We all expected that would be the case. When you start so many rookies at a position and are also inserting guys who are rusty, coming off of injuries, there are bound to be growing pains. It's going to take some time, but I think we have a solid foundation of an offensive line that will get better with more experience. (Troy)
We can only hope. Will Harris make the season? Or will it be Beadles at RT and Stanley Daniel at LG? (Kirk)
Very much agreed. (Sayre)
8)Run containment is still a major issue. No way the defense can continue to let QBs be the 2nd leading rusher on teams. Need more be said?
Run contain and the QB rushing are two separate issues, and Joe Webb will get his yards on the ground, regardless of who he is facing. Discipline from underneath defenders can have a finger pointed at it, for sure, but I think contain is doing reasonably well right now. Still need those LBs to step it up, but I like what I see from the base seven guys. (Jeremy)
Certainly, and you described how to remedy the situation in number 9. Great job, Brian. :) (Troy)
9)The LB corps needs to stay in their positions & not over pursue, while at the same time, need to be able to put more pressure on the QB and contain him when he bolts.
Looks like I responded to this one with my closing comment in (8) above. :) Not too worried about this point, just some concern for the substitution packages at OLB. They will be under a ton of pressure. (Jeremy)
ILB's definitely. (Kirk)
9 and 10: Yes. (Sayre)
10)Too many tackles being made by the CBs & Safeties.
Our DBs are doing a fantastic job of run support. Remember, this could be 2008 and you could be saying, "Too many missed tackles by our safeties and CBs..." :) (Jeremy)
Totally agree. Our front seven has to make plays. Although, to be fair, we have gotten to see lots of second stringers and third stringers during the preseason. Many big plays came when the starters sat on the bench. (Troy)
9 and 10: Yes. (Sayre)
Maybe i should have said, too many tackles being made by CBs & Safeties after missed tackles by the front 7 (me)
11)This item has been omitted, as it dealt with Alphonso Smith.
12)I'm annoyed that we're continuing to see stupid/ill-timed penalties on both sides of the ball.
Stupid ill timed penalties tend to be products of confusion and lack of direction. For now I will chalk it up to a divided focus in the preseason: winning is secondary so things are on the plate that are contradictory to typical game prep. Team leadership has a lot to do with mental focus, so the scrubs making mistakes (where there are no developed leaders on the field) doesn't bother me much. Having said that, my final thought: We hardly knew ye Riar Geer.." (Jeremy)
So am I. Penalties are one of biggest pet peeves. If you are a player in the NFL, you know the rules of the game and you know how to play the ball and not the receiver and you know not to jump offsides and you know that you can't hold and you know that you can't yank on a guy's facemask and so on and so forth. Well, you SHOULD (my email lacks an italics button, for some reason) know these things if you are a professional football player. Penalties are a lack of discipline. You know what to do, but you just don't do it. I completely agree with you there, Brian. Penalties are infuriating. (Troy)
It pisses McD off too. (Kirk)
I will forever be annoyed by penalties. (Sayre)
Okay, rant over.
I'd like to offer a great word of thanks to the MHR staff for helping me find a sense of balance as we race towards the start of the 2010 season. I'm now sitting in a place in which I could see us finishing above .500 with a shot at the playoffs, and -- as I do every year -- that is what I'm going to root for. I'd like to leave you with these two final thoughts from my fellow staffers:
This team was .500 last year with a brutal schedule, no reason they shouldn't win 10 games this year. (Tim)
I've actually had the hardest time gleaning anything of import from this preseason for our Broncos. With the scale and scope of our injuries, it's been next to impossible to discern any real value from the games. I mean, how do you evaluate units missing their top performers when those same players will be back (with the notable exception of Dumervil) for the actually meaningful games next week? The offense has largely been without Clady, Moreno, Buckhalter and Demaryius Thomas. The defense has been missing Bailey, Dawkins and D.J. Williams for the most part. Each of those players' return will have a trickle down effect on the rest of their teammates. If anything, the only "new" information I'm confident in is that Kyle Orton really is THAT good. I expect our offense to be impressive, our defense to bend but not break and our special teams to be plenty of hit but some miss. I came into this season thinking we'd be 9-7 or so and I still feel that way, even if for different reasons. (Ernesto)