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Team Building and the Denver Broncos

The weekend of the draft is past, the main part of free agency as well as undrafted free agency is behind us and now we have to long opportunity to consider, in some detail just what it is that the Broncos brain trust has done in terms of making over this team. The Broncos are a team whose record was 8-8. This was a team who made history by being three games up with three to go and dropping them all, including the tiebreaker. It was historically bad on defense and special teams, but not as much better on offense as some have held. Passing yards are a poor measure of a team - red-zone percentage, points scored and similar measures mean far more. Weaknesses abounded, as statistics and analysis made clear. It was a team whose record was mediocre, but whose framework was as flimsy as cheap wicker

The free-agent period, draft and undrafted-free-agent signings have been a study in team-building. Whether you do or don't support the way it is being done, it's important to step back for a moment, lower your shields and be willing to take a long look at what has been done before judging one way or the other. Hoosierteacher's analysis of the draft strategy and how it plays out was a masterpiece. I don't care if you agree with him or not and it shouldn't matter - his careful attention to detail, knowledge of the game and application of rational discourse to the subject was a textbook example of how to break down a process. I used to write textbooks - I'm not speaking in hyperbole. It was brilliant.

Then I looked at the new Broncos roster, the one that we will mostly (there will be additions, I suspect) bring into training camp, including the people that we brought in, the ones changing assignments/positions, the ones that we drafted and the undrafted-free-agent signings. You can certainly argue the individual picks. Many people have strongly-held opinions about the draft. They feel that we should have done X, taken Y or not done Z. It's understandable - the draft style, strategy and individual choices are matters for intense scrutiny, personal feelings and sports-information judgments.

I don't have those strong opinions, really. Am I a ‘homer' or ‘drinking the kool-aid'? Some will certainly think so, but if so, they don't know me. I'm a SunnySider by nature, but I'm generally analytical in my thinking. I went into last season thinking that we'd be 7-9 if things didn't fall our way and 9-7 if we did very well. I was close. I'm frequently not close, but the point is that I don't tend to be (with great affection to Mike Clark) in La La Land. I'd love 13-3, but I'm not expecting it this year.

We have, on the current face of it, a very hard schedule. A dispassionate viewpoint would say that we have a new coach, QB, offensive coordinator and scheme, defensive coordinator and scheme, and a large quantity of new players. Those things are hard to overcome in the short term, and for that reason I hope for a good year, but don't expect it. If we achieve an 8-8 year, I'll be content.

One of the things that I think that I know is that the scouts are pros, the GM looks at thousands of hours of film that I don't have and talks to lots of folks who have forgotten more than I ever learned on the subject. I think that in light of free-agent acquisitions, undrafted-free-agent signings and the draft picks that we effectively improved the defense, offense and special teams.

It might help to know that I began this project simply to find out a central question -

Did we make a concerted attempt to address each position and try to make the changes needed to mold this squad into a contender?

My thinking was this - if we addressed each position, one can still (and should) argue their thoughts or ‘feelings' about this player or that. However, there has been a large debate as to whether we even made a bold attempt to change the team. To find out, I started by listing all of the changes in personnel that we made. I used the term ‘Brought in' to describe a FA signing, traded for is obvious, and signed was used to delineate undrafted-free-agent acquisitions.

I started with the front office. Unsurprisingly, Pat Bowlen remains the owner. After that, however, this is what the Broncos have changed:


  • Mike McCoy - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
  • Clancy Barone - Tight Ends
  • Adam Gase - Wide Receivers
  • Quarterback - Brought in Chris Simms, traded for Kyle Orton and drafted Tom Brandstater
  • Running Back - brought in Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan, signed Kestahn Moore, drafted Knowshon Moreno
  • Fullback - Please note that we signed UDFA Marquez Branson, who is a perfect prototypical h-back and can play fullback, h-back or TE. For convenience, I listed him at TE but he might end up here.
  • Tight End - Drafted Richard Quinn, signed UDFA Marquez Branson
  • Wide Receiver - Drafted Kenny McKinley, brought in Jabar Gaffney, signed UDFAs Travis Shelton, Swift, David Grimes and Taylor
  • Offensive Line - Started with the best in the NFL, brought in Matt McChesney and Brandon Gorin, drafted Seth Olsen and Blake Schlueter, signed UDFAs Stanley Bryant, Marcus Gordon


  • Mike Nolan - Defensive Coordinator
  • Wayne Nunnely - Defensive Line
  • Ed Donatell - Secondary
  • Don Martindale - Linebackers
  • Defensive End - Brought in Darrell Reid, drafted Richard Ayers, signed UDFAs Rulon Davis, Everette Pedescleaux, resigned Kenny Peterson
  • Nose Tackle - Brought in J'Vonne Parker, Ronnie Fields, signed UDFA Chris Baker
  • Linebacker - Brought in Andra Davis and linebacker Nick Greisen, moved players Elvis Dumervil, Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, at least in theory or part/most of the time. Signed UDFAs Lee Robinson, Braxton Kelley and Jeff Schweiger
  • Cornerback - Brought in Andre' Goodman, drafted Alphonso Smith, signed UDFAs Tony Carter and D.J. Johnson
  • Strong Safety - Brought in Brian Dawkins, drafted David Bruton
  • Free Safety - Brought in Renaldo Hill, drafted Darcel McBath

Special Teams

  • Mike Priefer - Special Team Coordinator
  • Keith Burns- Coaching Assistant/Special Teams
  • Long Snapper - Brought in our most-argued Bronco, Lonie Paxton
  • Punter - Signed UDFA Britton Colquitt

There you have it. With the single exception of kicker (look for one between now and training camp), the Xanders/McDaniels team addressed every position on the team, in addition to bringing in new coaches to teach a new set of systems and a new Director of College Scouting. The option of debate of the individual players and the merits of various systems can and should continue. But one fact is now established - not a single position was simply left to chance. All of them were given new players and increased competition for the squad. In one SunnySider's opinion, that's a very good start.

As an example of the changes we are going through, let's accept that we changed QBs. One of the things that folks have bemoaned is the loss of a big arm and the arrival of a coach and two QBs (I'm interested to see how well they train Brandstater, and for how long) who don't throw the long bomb as well. Just as a final thought:

I want to win a lot of games over the next few years. One weakness that we had last year was that we didn't throw well in the red zone. Our QB only threw for 46.4%, 3.25 YPA, a nasty 4.76% interception rate, a touchdown rate of 20.24% and a very weak 74.1 QB rating in that area of the field.

For argument's sake, let's also note that Orton was sacked more than twice as often (4.8 to 2.3%), yet his completion percentage was 52.5% for 4.22 ypa with a much better 1.69% interception rate, a touchdown rate north of 22% while dealing with a sack rate of 4.84% (I watched the film - it wasn't his feet, but his O-Line) and a QB rating of 96.0 in the red zone.

Given all of the facts, I'd have to conclude that Orton is generally a far better QB in the red zone. The ability to throw the ball far isn't an asset in the red zone - you need to be able to make throws accurately for a higher completion percentage while avoiding interceptions. That's what wins games. And it's my belief in looking at our roster that we've taken a lot of steps to make sure that we do.

Will Kyle Orton be our QB? I don't know. I do know that he achieved the above with a very limited scheme, a porous line and very weak receivers, which makes him a far better acquisition than many have suggested. I also know that our team now has better coaches (who among us misses Slowik?), receivers, running game and offensive line than we did last year, based entirely on performance. I don't know what our record will ultimately be this year, but I'm clear on this - we made a lot of long-needed changes. In my opinion, the future is brighter for doing so. Hoosierteacher said this in one of his comments:

"I imagine the schedule will be too tough to overcome. The wins just may not be there. But I also believe we'll have better players playing better football. By the following year, I bet it pays off."

I know that he's right. The record over the next three years will be the real test of this approach. But if you hear someone say, as many have, that the Broncos didn't address certain positions in this offseason - you can send them this link. They didn't just address certain positions. They addressed them all.