DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 12: Punt returner Eric Decker #87 of the Denver Broncos hugs head coach John Fox after Decker returns a punt 90-yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 12, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
"There are no excuses, no explanations; just find solutions," coach John Fox said. "Our solution is next man up."
Sometimes a quote just jumps out and grabs your attention. John Fox made that statement while addressing the addition of Champ Bailey, Brandon Lloyd, Knowshon Moreno and Elvis Dumervil to the rapidly growing list of injured starters.
Linebacker Joe Mays added this perspective:
"The next man up is the best man up " linebacker Joe Mays said, "and whenever your number is called you have to go out there and execute whatever the coach asks you to do. Every single player on the team deserves to be here and you never know when your number is called"
I thought it might be interesting to see how the "Next Man Up" has performed in the Broncos' first two games.
LB D. J. Williams, DT Marcus Thomas, WR Demaryius Thomas, and DT Ty Warren were all listed as inactive for Denver's game against Oakland. All had been projected to be starters during the preseason. The players who saw significant time in their stead were LB Wesley Woodyard, DT Kevin Vickerson, WR Eric Decker and DT Brodrick Bunkley.
Against Oakland, Woodyard recorded five tackles (which was tied with three other players for 2nd in tackles on the team) and one assist. Vickerson recorded one tackle. Bunkley recorded three tackles, one assist and one quarterback hit. This was not a tremendously impressive effort on any of their parts.
On the offensive side in the Oakland game, Decker caught three out of the five passes thrown his way for fifty-three yards. His longest catch and run was twenty-three yards. His average per catch was 17.7 yards. Not particularly poor, nor particularly good.
Overall, the "Next Men Up" were adequate but not spectacular in the first game of the season.
In Week 2, facing Cincinnati, the Broncos were without: CB Champ Bailey, RB Knowshon Moreno, LB D. J. Williams, DT Marcus Thomas, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Derrick Thomas, and DE Elvis Dumervil. It should be noted that WR Eddie Royal went down to injury during the game.
The "Next Men Up" for this game were: CB Cassius Vaughn, RB Willis McGahee, LB Wesley Woodyard, DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR Eddie Royal, WR Eric Decker, and DE Jason Hunter. Matthew Willis saw some reps when Royal went down.
On the defensive side of the ball, Woodyard led the team in tackles with ten tackles and three assists. He also defensed one pass. Vaughn recorded four tackles (tied for 3rd on the team), one assist and defensed two passes. He also returned one kick off for twenty-three yards. Bunkley had an unimpressive one tackle and one assist. Hunter added two more tackles. Woodyard was the standout among this group and raised the level of his play to meet the needs of the Broncos.
It was on the offensive side of the ball where we saw some of the "Next Men Up" really rise to the occasion. McGahee turned twenty-eight rushes into 101 yards and a touchdown. He also caught one of the two passes thrown his way for another five yards. Decker was the receiving version of McGahee, catching five of the nine passes thrown his way and turning them into 113 yards and two touchdowns. Royal and WIllis were less impressive, combining for four catches on seven targets and a combined total of forty yards. But still, they both helped move a sputtering offense forward.
Thus we are left with a conundrum after two games: Fox has chosen a philosophy of The Next Man Up as opposed to wheeling and dealing in the Free Agent market, and has met with mixed results -- one loss, one win.
With WR Demaryius Thomas, DT Marcus Thomas, CB Champ Bailey, WR Eddie Royal and TE Julius Thomas all in question for Week 3 at Tennesee, it will be interesting to see how the Next Man Up plays out this week, and throughout the 2011 season.