We are now into the third year of the Second Elway Era. If you were to judge based solely upon the reactions here on Mile High Report, you might walk away with the impression that the Denver Broncos are nothing more than a train wreck waiting to happen.
Our star line backer is serving a six game suspension. We cannot generate any pass rush without risking the house and sending extra men. Robert Ayers is a joke in the pass rush, he did not get a single sack against the G-men and only one against the hated birds.
All everything cornerback, Champ Bailey, is out with a sore foot. That bum Tony Carter does not know how to play his position without mugging every receiver in his area. We simply cannot continue to take P.I. calls if we expect to win games. We are in serious trouble if Champ cannot make his way back onto the field, and like right now!
It was not bad enough that we lost J.D.Walton/Dan Kopen, now our left tackle, Ryan Clady, might be out for the balance of the season. Peyton Manning’s life is now on the line. Before snap five of the Raiders game, Chris Clark is bound to let his man sail free and end the career of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever ... and leave us desperate with that scrub of a back-up, Brock Oswieler, to finish the season.
Yes, we face the prospects of entering the Raiders game missing three pro bowl players. Not many teams can handle losing even one player of such magnitude, but we might be down three. There goes our super bowl dreams: or at least that is what one might think by reading these pages.
It is really not our fault. We have been conditioned to think in such ways. For the past 30 or more years it has seemed that every time we lost a key player the opposing teams would single out their replacement and turn the game through that weakness. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
I have been watching the Denver Bronco’s since 1976. I know the impact of losing key players and how great squads can be lost to a single injury or free agency move.
Something changed two years ago. We transformed from the typical NFL team which struggles to maintain quality across its starting line up into a team that can count on every member of its roster to give a quality performance every time they are asked to take the field.
Last year we lost our starting center, starting running back, and a starting cover corner. We still pulled off the best record in the AFC. Our "best" line backer was suspended for a significant portion of the season, returning to find that an undrafted free agent had taken his role.
To some extent, the Broncos remind me of Pee Wee football - everyone plays. Out side of the backups on the O-line and Brock Oswieler, I cannot think of anyone that is not called upon to make meaningful contributions each and every game. Although we name starters, every man that dresses can expect significant playing time every Sunday. This is only the tip of the iceberg that is the Elway Philosophy.
John Elway has made it clear that we are in a ‘Win Now’ mode. In two short years he has assembled a team that is now expected to win the Superbowl. He has made it equally clear that ‘win now’ does not supercede the need to build an organization that will be capable of winning well into the future. He is building an organization that can withstand significant injuries and account for the free agents that move on to greener pastures (get your fax straight Elvis).
From my cheap seats I see something significantly different in the way John Elway and his front office approaches talent evaluations. They are not overly swayed by the gaudy stats or flashy big plays. They are looking more at the intangibles and basic fundamental skills. Players that possess these qualities can be coached to the level they need to be competitive. Three players come immediately to mind: DRC, Julius Thomas, and Nacho. The list is actually much longer than that. DRC was pathetic last year, this year, after accepting coaching, he is living up to his athletic potential. JT was tagged by most here as a wasted draft pick. Three years in the making, he is poised for stardom. Where the he** did Nacho come from? I count these all as home grown talent. Elway and staff took potential and developed that into pro bowl caliber performance. Most encouraging, this is a repeatable process.
Losing a pro bowl player, such as Ryan Clady, is bad news for any team. We are no exception. But we grow our own here in Denver. We would really rather have the luxury of not needing to pick the fruit just yet, but it is time to see what the harvest yields. Chris Clark is not anyone’s idea of the perfect starting left tackle, but it is now his job to be one.
Last year we faced the loss of two other great O line men. J.D. Walton had finally blossomed into a great center, then down he went. The free agent, Dan Kopen, stepped in and continued without interruption. Then Kuper went down. That left us with Man Ram. MAN RAM!!! Oh god how bad he was. I can clearly remember members of this community begging for him to be cut before the final roster. The consensus of this community was that he was not capable of playing in the NFL. Well, even with Kopen and Ramirez we were able to keep Manning upright and allow Willis and Knowshon room to run.
Everytime someone goes down, someone unexpected steps up to fill the void. This has happened far too consistently to be considered simply good luck. This is now a hallmark of the John Elway organization. It is now Chris Clark’s turn.
To be honest, I was very unimpressed with Clark’s performance in preseason. But then again, I was also very disappointed in the performance of Manny in each of the previous two preseasons. Clark is being pressed into service in what has to be the most difficult circumstances imaginable - he is replacing a pro bowl player that protects the greatest QB playing the game today. I predict that he will do well and the drop off in play from that position will be minimal.
How can I make such a prediction? Well, I have inside information (not really). Elway just extended Clark’s contract for two years. I read this transaction as John Elway saying he knows what he has, and he wants to tie Chris Clark up before anyone else in the NFL figures out what he is worth. If Clark were simply a body to throw into the meat grinder, there would have been no need to extend the contract beyond this seasons end, he would be available next season if nothing better came along. Obviously, Elway sees the potential and has faith in his coaching staff to exploit that potential.
How many times in the past has defeat seemed to be an almost certainty, then number 7 works his magic and produces a victory. The Elway Magic is still very much alive and well in Denver!