To say that John Elway left some mighty big shoes to fill in Denver would be something of an understatement. The man who had been the face of the Broncos for sixteen seasons was now no longer in the picture. From 1969 through 1982, I had watched the Broncos struggle to become a contender. Those changes can be found here. The came those glorious years with John Elway. The changes and successes may be found here.
Now the Broncos would have to find a way to move forward without John leading the way.
The first season without Elway started by having a quarterback controversy. It was anticipated that veteran quarterback Bubby Brister would succeed Elway as the starter, but in an unexpected and sudden announcement, head coach Mike Shanahan passed the reins to rookie Brian Griese, and this was just one of the changes:
After the jump, the changes to the starting lineup that came during "Life After Elway"
|QB||Brian Griese||MLB||Al Wilson|
|RB||Olandis Gary||RLB||Glenn Cadrez (from MLB)|
|TE||Dwayne Carswell||RCB||Dale Carter|
|RT||Matt Lepsis||SS||Tyrone Braxton|
|FS||Eric Brown (from SS)|
Sadly, the Broncos failed to defend their Super Bowl title, starting the season with four straight losses on their way to a 6-10-0 season and a fifth-place finish in the AFC West.
Denver surged back in 2000, behind minor changes:
|RB||Mike Anderson||LDE||Maa Tanuvasa (from RDE)|
The Broncos finished with an 11-5-0 mark, a second-place AFC West finish and a wild card playoff berth. Unfortunately, Denver was hammered 21-3 by the eventual Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens.
2001 saw an equal number of turnovers in starters on both sides of the ball:
|RB||Terrell Davis||LDE||Keith Washington|
|FB||Patrick Hape||LDT||Chester McGlockton|
|WR||Eddie Kennison||LCB||Deltha O'Neal|
|LT||Trey Teague||RCB||Denard Walker|
|LG||Lenny Friedman||SS||Kenoy Kennedy|
Strangely enough, this equal distribution of new starters led to an equal distribution of wins and losses as the Broncos finished at 8-8-0 and in third place in the AFC West.
A large number of changes in 2002 led to an improved record:
|RB||Clinton Portis||LDE||Trevor Pryce (from RDT)|
|FB||Mike Anderson||LDT||Lionel Dalton|
|WR||Ed McCaffrey||RDT||Chester McGlockton (from LDT)|
|TE||Shannon Sharpe||LLB||John Mobley (from RLB)|
|LT||Ephraim Salaam||RLB||Ian Gold|
|LG||Steve Herndon||FS||Izell Reese|
Although Denver finished with a 9-7-0 record and in second place in the AFC West, the Broncos lost tie breakers which would have given them a spot in the playoffs as a wild card team.
2003 saw the Broncos bring in a new quarterback, among other new faces, and saw the team begin an upswing in their fortunes:
|QB||Jake Plummer||LDT||Mario Fatafehi|
|WR||Ashley Lelie||RDT||Darius Holland|
|TE||Dwayne Carswell||RDE||Bertrand Berry|
|LG||Ben Hamilton (from C)||LLB||Jashon Sykes|
|C||Tom Nalen||RLB||Donnie Spragan|
Plummer led the Broncos to a 10-6-0, second place AFC West finish, and a wild card playoff spot. Unfortunately, Denver was demolished 41-10 by a Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team.
2004 brought some more changes:
|RB||Reuben Droughns||LDE||Marco Coleman|
|TE||Jeb Putzier||RDT||Monsanto Pope|
|LT||Matt Lepsis (from RT)||RDE||Reggie Hayward|
|RT||George Foster||LLB||Donnie Spragan (from RLB)|
|RLB||D. J. Williams|
The Broncos again went 10-6-0, finished second in the AFC West, earned a wild card spot and were again demolished 49-24 by the Colts.
The following season, however, was quite different:
|RB||Mike Anderson||LDE||Courtney Brown|
|FB||Kyle Johnson||LDT||Michael Myers|
|TE||Stephen Alexander||RDT||Gerard Warren|
|RG||Cooper Carlisle||RDE||Trevor Pryce|
|LLB||D. J. Williams (from RLB)|
The Broncos posted the second best record in the AFC at 13-3-0. They won their division and entered the playoffs with confidence. They earned a spot in the AFC Championship game by defeating the New England Patriots 27-13. Denver was undoubtedly relieved when the Pittsburgh Steelers downed the Indianapolis Colts 21-18 in the other AFC divisional round game. Hosting the AFC Championship game led to high expectations. Alas, this was not meant to be as the Steelers came into Denver and soundly defeated the Broncos 34-17.
2006 saw another quarterback controversy erupt, after making only minor changes, when Jake Plummer was replaced with five games left by rookie Jay Cutler:
|RB||Tatum Bell||LDE||Kenard Lang|
|WR||Javon Walker||RDE||Ebenezer Ekuban|
The Broncos started 7-4 but finished at 9-7-0 and in third place in the AFC West.
Denver made major changes in 2007:
|QB||Jay Cutler||LDE||John Engleberger|
|RB||Selvin Young||LDT||Sam Adams|
|FB||Cecil Sapp||RDT||Alvin McKinley|
|WR||Brandon Stokley||RDE||Elvis Dumervil|
|WR||Brandon Marshall||LLB||Nate Webster|
|TE||Daniel Graham||MLB||D. J. Williams (from LLB)|
|LT||Matt Lepsis||RCB||Dre Bly|
|LG||Chris Kuper||SS||Hamza Abdullah|
|RT||Erik Pears (from LT)|
These changes did not bring success on the field as the Broncos took a step backwards, finishing 7-9-0, yet still finished ahead of the 4-12-0 Chiefs and Raiders in the AFC West.
More significant changes occurred in 2008, and the team took a step forward:
|RB||Peyton Hillis||LDE||Ebenezer Ekuban|
|WR||Eddie Royal||LDT||Dewayne Robertson|
|LT||Ryan Clady||RDT||Marcus Thomas|
|LG||Ben Hamilton||LLB||Jamie Winborn|
|C||Casey Wiegmann||MLB||Nate Webster|
|RG||Chris Kuper (from LG)||RLB||D. J. Williams (from MLB)|
|RT||Ryan Harris||SS||Marquand Manuel|
|K||Matt Prater||P||Brett Kern|
The Broncos finished 8-8-0. They tied with the Chargers for first place in the AFC West but lost the playoff tiebreaker.
2009 saw the Broncos change head coaches and approximately half of the total roster. Most of the changes impacted the defensive side of the ball:
|QB||Kyle Orton||LDE||Ryan McBean|
|RB||Knowshon Moreno||NT||Ronald Fields|
|LG||Russ Hochstein||LOLB||Kenny Peterson|
|RILB||D. J. Williams (from RLB)|
|ROLB||Elvis Dumervil (from RDE)|
All of the changes failed to bring improvements to the Broncos as they finished 8-8-0 and in second place in the AFC West for a second year in a row.
Denver made more changes on the defensive side of the ball in 2010, but a number of questionable decisions led to the firing of head coach Josh McDaniels with three games left in the season:
|WR||Jabar Gaffney||LDE||Kevin Vickerson|
|LG||Zane Beadles||NT||Jamal Williams|
|C||J. D. Walton||LOLB||Jason Hunter|
|LILB||D. J. Williams (from RILB)|
|RILB||Mario Haggan (from LILB)|
|SS||Brian Dawkins (from FS)|
|FS||Renaldo Hill (from SS)|
This ended up being a disastrous season for the Broncos as they finished 4-12-0 and in last place in the AFC West. The only dubious upside to the season was that Denver earned the 2nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
2011 saw the addition of John Elway as the Executive Vice-President of Football Operations and Head Coach John Fox. Between the two of them, major changes were made to both sides of the ball -- including the replacement of starter Kyle Orton with Tim Tebow after a 1-4-0 start:
|QB||Tim Tebow||LDE||Robert Ayers (from ROLB)|
|RB||Willis McGahee||LDT||Broderick Bunkley|
|WR||Eric Decker||RDT||Marcus Thomas|
|WR||Demaryius Thomas||RDE||Elvis Dumervil|
|TE||Daniel Fells||WLB||D. J. Williams (from RILB)|
|LG||Zane Beadles||MLB||Joe Mays|
|RT||Orlando Franklin||SLB||Von Miller|
|FS||Brian Dawkins (from SS)|
Despite a 1-4-0 start, the Broncos finished 8-8-0 and in first place in AFC West. They hosted the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild card game. Denver won on the first place of overtime -- a touchdown pass from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas. The following week, the Broncos were destroyed 45-10 by New England in the divisional round.
Some Final Thoughts
I think we can all see how changing faces is nothing new to the Broncos. Over the seasons since my parents moved to Denver, the Broncos have averaged four new starters on offense and four new starters on defense each year. They have averaged a new kicker or punter every other year.
Just as the new faces are nothing new, they are not something which should generate angst or concern. Some seasons the changes have brought improvement. Some seasons the changes have not helped. Overall, it has gone in cycles as the Broncos have worked to redefine themselves throughout their history. They have moved from a perennial bottom dweller early in their history to a back-to-back Super Bowl winning team. Now they are in the process of returning to playoff relevance once again.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what new faces will be in the starting lineup for 2012 and just how far they will be able to take the Broncos -- not only in this upcoming season, but in the seasons to follow.