Greetings friends. The 2011-2012 season has come to a close for the Denver Broncos following a rather embarrassing blowout loss to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round. Despite the season ending on a sour note, the 2011 season was a season that will be remembered forever as one of the most unbelievable seasons in Denver Bronco history. After starting off a putrid 1-4 under Kyle Orton, Head Coach John Fox decided to give Tim Tebow the starting nod; a decision that proved to be a good one as the team finished 8-8, won the AFC West, and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round. It was a season of ups and downs and one that this fan will remember for the rest of his life. As we head into the off season, there are numerous positions that require upgrades in order for the Broncos to take the next step. We will get more into that in a later post. For now, let's focus on the studs of the 2011-2012 season.
Is there any way this post wasn't going to start with the quarterback? As if we didn't talk about him enough, Tim Tebow deserves recognition for what he accomplished this year. It's easy to forget that Tim Tebow had only played 3 before this season, got no time as the starter in training camp and was thrust into a must-win situation with little preparation. Despite all the odds stacked against him, Tebow managed to lead the team to a 7-4 record and a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not bad for a guy who can't throw. He finished the year completing 126 of 271 passes for 1.729 yards, 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Additionally, he carried the ball 122 times for 660 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. He is an alternate and could potentially play in the Pro Bowl this year as well. Tebow is the starting quarterback heading into training camp. He has a lot to work on including his accuracy, footwork, and reads just to name a few. Knowing the way this year went, I will not be surprised at all with the Tebow roller coasters that come in the coming weeks/months. One thing is for sure, Tim Tebow far surpassed even my own expectations (A vocal Tebow supporter before we drafted him) and I'm proud to say he was my starting quarterback this year.
My Favorite Moment- TD run vs Jets
On Draft Day 2011, the Denver Broncos selected Von Miller with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. The pick was questioned by some seeing as Miller was going to have to learn to be the 4-3 linebacker and Defensive Tackle Marcel Dareus fit a glaring need. Fast forward 10 months and it is clear as day that the Denver Broncos made the correct decision when choosing to add the Aggie from Texas A&M last year. In his first year, Von finished with 50 tackles (5th best on the team) ,11.5 sacks (1st on the team), and 8 tackles for loss (1st on the team). Von's impact on the defense was immense. At his best, he made this team one of the most feared pass rushing teams in the NFL. When he was hurt at the end of the year, his injury affected his play and in result, affected the defense as a whole. Von has plenty to work on, especially against the run, but when he fixes the few errors in his game, he is going to be a truly special player. Be afraid AFC West, be very afraid.
My Favorite Moment- Von steamrolling a Jets RT and sacking Mark Sanchez
McGahee was a free agent pick up for the Denver Broncos. He was expected to come into this year and split starter duties with Knowshon Moreno. I don't think anybody expected him to have the kind of year that he had. The 30 year old running back ran the ball 249 times for 1,199 yards and 4 touchdowns. He tied with Arian Foster with 7 100 yard rushing performances this year. He was an alternate Pro Bowler and has officially been placed on the Pro Bowl team for the injured Arian Foster. McGahee deserves a lot of credit for transitioning from the traditional rushing attack he was using with Orton to the zone read option he was running with Tebow. McGahee gave the team its first 1,000 yard rusher 2006 when Tatum Bell rushed for 1,025 yards. McGahee will have a lot more help running the ball next year with Knowshon coming back from injury as well as the inevitable additions via Free Agency/NFL Draft.
My Favorite Moment- Game vs Oakland
Think back for a second. It's off season 2011. It's just another long, boring day. Then, the Denver Broncos send out a tweet: "Demaryius Thomas suffered Achilles tendon injury on Wed while working out in Ga. Recovery expected to take 6-8 months." Panic, disappointment and questions about the future of Demaryius Thomas came fast and swiftly. Many people, myself included, thought Demaryius should be kept out the entire year to fully heal. Boy, am I glad they didn't listen to me. Demaryius Thomas came back against the Miami Dolphins and caught 3 passes for 27 yards and 1 touchdown in his season debut. It only got better from there. Following a stretch of games where Demaryius was still trying to get his legs under him, Thomas had his breakout game against the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Vikings, Demaryius caught 4 passes for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns. Over the last 7 games of the year, including the playoffs, Demaryius caught 35 passes for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns. He developed great chemistry with Tebow that culminated in his 4 reception, 204 yard performance in the playoffs. What Demaryius needs more then anything is a full off season of good health. If he can stay healthy, Demaryius has Pro Bowl potential.
My Favorite Moment- Game Ending Touchdown Reception Against The Steelers
The 2010 season aka "The season from hell" was a bad one for fans, but an even worse year for Elvis Dumervil. After tearing his pectoral muscle, Doom was forced to watch his team suffer loss after loss from the sideline. In 2011, Doom came into camp with a fire in his belly and ready to return to his dominant ways. However, an ankle injury slowed Doom down and hampered his play. Through the first 5 games of the year, Doom was struggling to apply pressure due to his ankle injury. However, after that, he went on a tear. Over the next 10 games, Doom had 9.5 sacks including a 2 sack performance against the arch rival San Diego Chargers and Phillip Rivers. On the year, Doom had 42 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Doom is a key part of this defense. He is the power to Von's speed. Together, they are one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL.
My Favorite Moment- Huge sack on Tom Brady
If there was ever a move I could point to and say "This is how I know Brian Xanders is a good GM", it would be the acquisition of Brodrick Bunkley. Arguably the #1 need going into the 2011 NFL Draft, was defensive tackle. Bronco fans waited all 7 rounds, but there was no defensive tackle selected. Fans were rather upset. You can check the Draft Threads for proof. On August 1st, John Elway sent out a tweet saying "Added DL Brodrick Bunkley from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2013 draft pick." Little did anyone know how important this acquisition would be. Bunkley stepped in day 1 and was the starting Defensive Tackle. He was an absolute stud all year long, especially against the run. He finished the year with 43 tackles including 3 tackles for loss according to ESPN Stats. He was a part of the PFF All Pro team, an honor that is quite noteworthy. Bunkley is a free agent this off season. The Broncos would be very foolish to not resign him. He was instrumental in the Broncos defensive turn around this year.
My Favorite Moment- Sack of Big Ben in playoffs
The best Denver Bronco of the last decade, Champ Bailey just keeps getting it done. The 33 (soon to be 34) year old CB is still an elite player at his position. Routinely lined up against the opposition's best wide receivers, Champ was a big reason why pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil had such success. Champ finished the year with 39 tackles, 10 pass deflections and 2 interceptions. As Champ gets up there in age, it is going to become increasingly important that the Broncos find a replacement for him. At the very least, it is important to get a young CB in there to learn from Champ before he retires. Another year, another Pro Bowl year for Champ. When all is said and done, Champ Bailey will be a first ballot Hall of Famer and a Broncos Ring of Famer.
My Favorite Moment- 2 Interception Performance Against Oakland
Every year, the Denver Broncos sign 10+ undrafted free agents. Most fans blow them off as just camp fodder. Chris Harris is yet another reason that fans should not blow off undrafted free agents. The former safety from Kansas came into the Broncos training camp and made an impact on special teams. He worked hard and eventually made his way into the starting lineup as the starting nickel corner. He finished the year with 72 tackles, 6 pass deflections and 1 interception. Harris had a fantastic rookie season. He even made PFF's All-Rookie team. Harris could have a very big role on this team moving forward.
My Favorite Moment- First Career Interception Against Oakland
One of the few great decisions Josh McDaniels made was to sign Brian Dawkins. The veteran safety has been the heart and soul of the defense since donning the orange and blue. His impact on this team is unmeasurable as seen when he was out due to injury. On the year, Dawkins finished with 51 tackles, 3 sacks and 6 pass deflections. The big question with Dawkins is whether or not he will be back next year. His neck injuries are becoming more frequent and nobody wants him to come back and have to see him leave the football field for the last time on a stretcher. Regardless of what happens in the future, Dawkins did a great job as a player and as a mentor this year. I would love to have him come back after he has retired and be an assistant DB coach.
My favorite moment- His 2 sack performance on Dolphin's QB Matt Moore
DJ is an odd player. He flashes moments of brilliance but then will disappear for long stretches of time. He can be as dominant as he wants which makes it all the more frustrating when he disappears. Nevertheless, for the majority of the year, DJ was a Stud. He finished the year with 90 tackles, 5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. DJ played very well for the majority of Denver's winning streak and has proven to be an effective blitzer. The soon to be 30 linebacker continues to be a source of debate among Bronco fans. Some say he is one of Denver's best players while others say he is an underachiever. While I can see a case for both sides, it is impossible to ignore the positive impact he made numerous times throughout the year.
My favorite moment- Strip-fumble on Dolphin's QB Matt Moore
Going into the year, nobody could have expected how good Britton Colquitt was going to be. Colquitt was the best punter in the NFL last year. Is that a homer comment? Sure, but I think there is a legitimate argument to be made. Colquitt had the 8th best yards per punt average with 47.4. Additionally, he had 33 punts downed inside the 20 (2nd in the NFL). The Broncos Special Teams were drastically improved in 2011 and a large part was because of Colquitt.
My Favorite Moment- Colquitt's Insane 60+ yard punt vs Cincinnati.
Matt Prater has gotten better every year he has been in Denver. In 2010, he connected 16 of 18 field goals including 3 from 50+. In 2011, he connected 19 of 25 field goals including 4 from 50+. Most importantly, Prater has become one of the most clutch kickers in the NFL. Thanks to the closeness of many of Denver's games, Prater was able to show off his clutch gene with several game winning kicks (Miami, Minnesota, etc). He is a free agent this summer, but Denver would be foolish to let him go. He has proven to make the big time kicks and has one of the strongest legs in the NFL.
My Favorite Moment- Game Winning Field Goal vs Chicago
Carter stepped in as a rookie with no off season as a 4th round draft pick and had a very nice year. The rookie from Oklahoma replaced Rahim Moore as a starter with his steady tackling. He finished the year with 56 tackles, 1 sack and 2 interceptions, both in the playoffs. Carter has much to learn, but he looks like a guy who can be a starter in Denver for a long time.
My Favorite Moment- Interception of Big Ben in the Playoffs
The former 1st round pick from the University of Tennessee has not lived up to expectations. He has always been a strong run defender, but his pass rush skills have left much to be desired. Starting as a 4-3 DE, Ayers really came on strong at the end of the year. He had 5 sacks on the year including 2 against the Steelers in the playoffs. If Ayers can continue to improve on his pass rush skills, Denver's defense would be that much more lethal in 2012.
My Favorite Moment- 1st sack on Big Ben in the Playoffs
Wesley Woodyard is a guy who I think could start for a number of teams. The problem for him is that he has been playing on the same team as DJ Williams. With DJ as the starter, Woodyard has not gotten an opportunity to start. Despite being a backup, Woodyard was 1st on the team with 97 tackles including 3 forced fumbles. Woodyard is an athletic LB who is Denver's best linebacker dropping into coverage. Woodyard is a free agent and there is no guarantee that he will be back next year. If we have seen Woodyard for the last time, I will give him a big Mile High Salute on the way out, but I hope he is back.
My Favorite Moment- Strip-Fumble on Marion Barber
That's it folks. These are the players who made Denver's season a memorable one. Looking ahead, I will break down the roster, look for positions of need, and start putting out scenarios for ways to fill those needs. It's a long off season and I look forward to spending it with you all. Until next time, MHR.