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Ultimate Fan Guide: Looking ahead to next (er, a championship) season

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If we're anything here at the Ultimate Fan headquarters, we're optimistic. So as we close out the 2014-15 season with a look ahead to the immediate future of this Broncos' team, we're talking championships. After all, John Elway taught us to. That's how we roll.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As John Elway says, the only plan is to win a championship.

Man, is there anything not to love about this guy's approach to winning?

Within the first 24 hours of the Broncos losing their playoff game to the Indianapolis Colts in very "disappointing" fashion, the GM was making changes to ensure that does not happen again. John Fox and the Broncos "parted ways" while Elway let Jack Del Rio, Adam Gase and all the coaches underneath know that they should start seeking employment opportunities.

And just about the only Bronco whose job was mentioned as safe is the one guy who may choose to say goodbye.

But since our ultimate fans, ADanishMan and Jeremy Bolander - along with this writer - are hopeful that is most certainly not the case, let's finish our Ultimate Fan Guide finale by starting with Manning and the future.

Pursuing 'Plan A'

MHR - There is much speculation about what Peyton Manning will do next season. Do you think it is time for the quarterback to retire?

ADanishMan: I don't know. I just don't. As a fan, I want what's best for the team and for the organization's postseason aspirations. As a human, I want what's best for Peyton.

Peyton definitely gives this team its best shot at a championship, and while I love Osweiler's potential and want to see what he can do with the full offense as his disposal, we go from Super Bowl contenders to playoff hopefuls without Manning at the helm, especially in an up-and-coming AFC West division.

If Peyton believes he can no longer perform up to his standards and decides to hang up the cleats, then I'm OK with it. Like I said: I want what's best for the team, but if Peyton decides to call it a day, then so be it.

Jeremy Bolander: I believe Peyton still has a Super Bowl win in him, and I think he would forever regret not trying to get it.  But I can't assume I know how healthy he is or can ultimately be.  With his reinvented throwing motion, and with the knowledge that even 3 years removed from the neck surgeries he was still healing and regaining strength, it is hard to say just how much 'game' he would have.  I caution everyone who intends to make that judgment based solely on what they have seen over the last three months to be patient and understanding.  Over the offseason we will gain more and more perspective on the situation surrounding Peyton and the offense, from the impact of father time to the reality of coaching and personnel decisions that were made.

MHR - Regardless of what he decides, do you think it is time for the Broncos to move on from Manning as starting QB?

ADanishMan: No. As I said above, Peyton gives the Broncos the best shot at a championship. I know that Elway and the rest of the organization will welcome him back if he is willing to return, and if absolutely nothing else, Peyton deserves to go out on a much higher note.

Jeremy Bolander: No, and moreover, I don't think his situation is terribly different from any other player.  In other words, I think it will be business as usual on the personnel side of Dove Valley.  Players are going to be evaluated for fit and function going forward based on recent performances, but these evaluations span more than just the last quarter of the season.

These are evaluations based on bodies of work that began before these players were even on this team, or in the NFL, and I don't expect any short-sighted observations from this staff.  There has always been a plan in place for players like Julius and Demaryius and Moore and Osweiler.  And Manning is no exception.   His cap number is irrelevant at this point (though there are imaginable scenarios that could crop up that might change that), and we have positional stability behind him, so there is almost no reason for he Broncos to make a move before Peyton does.  In 4-6 weeks we will probably know more, but for now, no reason to assume the Broncos are changing their plans for this roster.

MHR - If Manning is no longer the Broncos QB next season, do you think he will feel fondly about Broncos Country or will he feel abandoned by fans after so much of the public sentiment this week was to run him out of town (or is that an inaccurate view of the "climate" among fans for Manning)?

ADanishMan: I think that he'll be plenty fond of Broncos Country. All recent nay-saying and ship-jumping aside, I think he's grateful for the fans over the last three years, as they stuck with him after the 2012 Ravens' loss and the Great Nightmare that was Super Bowl XLVII.

I'm sure he had equal amounts of doubters in Indianapolis as well, but he seemed to appreciate the fan base as a whole. The Denver Broncos is the organization and fan base that gave him a second chance; the fans (that I know, anyway) were ecstatic when the team took a shot on him after a scary neck injury that could have ended his career.

Whether he gives it one more shot or hangs 'em up, the fans will support him, and I think he'll appreciate it.

Jeremy Bolander: I believe that respect and admiration of Manning as a player and as a person runs deeper than anything bandied about over the past week, even among fans with handles like OzforPrez or ElwaysLongShadow.  There will always be the underwhelming minority that simply rejects reality, and there will always be a range of reactions spanning many extremes, but I don't believe that Peyton has done anything that could lead to a sustained rejection of him on the part of the fans.

Manning, himself, probably feels pretty low about how all of this went down.With a little time, he will get his head around it all and regardless of how the future shakes out, I don't think there will be any lasting ennui between Peyton and the fans.  -Jeremy Bolander

Additionally, Manning himself probably feels pretty low about how all of this went down.  And as a guy who prizes loyalty and integrity, in himself and others, I'm sure the coaching shakeup is No.1 in his mind right now.  With a little time, he and others will get their heads around it all, and regardless of how the future with Manning shakes out, I don't think there will be any lasting ennui between Peyton and the fans.

MHR - In my opinion, Manning deserves a hero's exit - however that turns out. Do you agree and how does Denver do that, whenever it may be?

ADanishMan: I, too, think Manning deserves to end on a much higher note than a trouncing by his former team. As a fan, I'm somewhat selfish, and as such, I want to see him return. I also want him to exit the game with glory. He's earned it.

Doing that, however, requires (first and foremost) hiring an ENTIRE COACHING STAFF capable of righting the ship and steering it to the postseason. The team also needs to retain its key free agents and acquire a solid player or two in free agency and/or the draft, especially on the offensive line.

TL;DR - Hire a good coach, fill roster holes.

Jeremy Bolander: I think about this scenario often, and not just for Peyton.  Elway recently mentioned in an interview that he doesn't know if he would have realized the success he had later in life he hadn't managed to win those final Superbowls, and not necessarily because of any lack of drive or ambition on his part.  It was more about the risk and struggle involved in being so much a part of public perception...when you tie yourself to that wagon, you don't get to choose when you get unhitched.  This isn't true of every athlete or public persona, but it certainly applies to Peyton.

So when I think of a "Hero's Exit," and when we are talking about one of the greatest athletes of his generation, there is only one exit that comes close and that is a run at a Championship, where Manning is involved and competitive.  It is a harsh reality of the diminishing returns that come with the sort of achievements Manning has reached, that anything less than the ultimate achievement can seem to reduce the worth and significance of what came before. But that is the reality.  And on top of that, such a sendoff may not even be possible.

But then, "possible" was never the point.  We like our heroes sublime in Denver.

MHR - Let's talk coaching. Do you agree with John Elway doing such a coaching overhaul and will that ultimately be good/bad/won't matter for the players?

ADanishMan: I trust Elway and agreed with his firing of Fox, but cleaning out the coaching staff like this makes me think that he might have lost his mind. I guess that the odds of Gase and Del Rio leaving were pretty high anyway, but now the three big coaching positions have to be filled from scratch. I think the players will adjust, and maybe even excel, but it's all a big question mark until some coaches sign the dotted line.

I trust Elway and agreed with his firing of Fox, but cleaning out the coaching staff like this makes me think he might have lost his mind. But it's all a big question mark until some coaches sign the dotted line.  -ADanishMan

Jeremy Bolander: I do agree.  After the game I said that "nothing would surprise me," and Fox leaving certainly wasn't a surprise.  This team has been brought along well, but they are ready to be challenged during the offseason and during the week, not just on Sundays.

The good/bad paradigm will be a matter of perspective.  There will be change, but nothing should disrupt this roster on a significant level (think Cutler/McD disruption) because the talent isn't really in question.  One risk we may face might be the development on the back end of the roster, but we will get to that...

MHR - What kind of coaching personality do you think is needed for this team?

ADanishMan: Aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. The era of Foxball is over. No more messing around for this team. Elway explicitly said that he wants a coach who wants to win as badly as he does, and I expect nothing less.

Jeremy Bolander: We need a field general.  Fox was more of a father figure - reassuring, even-keeled, grounded in the basics, focused on fundamentals.  We need the guy now who believes he has all the answers and shows up on game day eager to take the other team to school. We need the guy who knows what is coming next and has the players ready for it too. We need the guy who recognizes that the guy on the other sideline has pulled out all the stops to beat us, but knows that 'other' guy isn't ready for what we have cooked up.  Just.  For.  Them.

But perhaps, above all, we need the guy who will pull this team together and get them believing and playing for each other.  That isn't a function of charisma, or sideline "energy," or gum-chewing prowess.  It is a function of deep insight, into the game itself, and into the players and what they want and why they want it.

MHR - Does it matter whether the head coach comes from a Defensive or Offensive background?

ADanishMan: I'd have to say yes. Elway focused on bringing in defensive talent during last offseason, so a defensive coach would help to really capitalize on the talent there. That said, the strength of this team for the last few years has been the offense, and with offensive stars such as Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, C.J. Anderson, and Emmanuel Sanders, it's hard to move toward a head coach with a defensive mindset without hiring a good OC.

Jeremy Bolander: Not at all.  Great head coaches come from both sides of the ball, and we have elite players on both sides of the ball, so there is no "ideal marriage" based on scheme awaiting this team.

I do closely follow coaching "DNA" though, and depending on the candidates, I have distinct preferences.  Coaching "DNA" is different from the generic idea of coaching "trees," which tend to associate coaches who have little to nothing in common at a philosophical level.  Coaching DNA is more about the deep fundamental ideas that unite some coaches and separate them from others.

For example, Mike Shanahan is often thought of as a Bill Walsh disciple, but Shanny is closer to a lone wolf, along the lines of a Tom Landry or Dan Reeves.  Shanny brought a fully realized offensive schema to San Francisco, which he adapted according to Walsh's West Coast Offense principles.

What Shanny really picked up from Walsh was front office organization and how to design a practice schedule, among other off-field ideas.  A lot of Shanny's championship offense was actually closer to pre-WCO Gillman, and post-WCO airraid.  Kubiak and Kyle are both considered part of the Walsh tree, but this inaccurately portrays them as WCO, when in reality they are almost pure Shanny.

As far as our new head coach goes, his greatest strength will be his staff since that is how his message will get absorbed by the players on a daily basis.   -Jeremy Bolander

As far as our new head coach goes, his greatest strength will be his staff, since that is how his message will get absorbed by the players on a daily basis, and it is also how the HC will learn what makes his players tick.

MHR - How effective as head coaches do you think Adam Gase and Jack Del Rio will be?

ADanishMan: I think that of the two, Del Rio is best suited to be a head coach. He's a decent leader, but his schemes are lacking. Gase isn't a horrid offensive coordinator, but I don't think he's cut out to be a head coach just yet.

Jeremy Bolander: It depends on what we mean by "effective."

As we have seen, Fox was effective for one mission - extricating ourselves from a post-apocalyptic scenario - but ineffective for another - climbing the championship summit.

It stands to reason that both Gase and Del Rio could be the right man for the right job.  Unfortunately, I can't speak to what that might be.  We have seen JDR as a head coach before, to sustained underwhelming results, but I never took the time to analyze what he was doing there.  What he has done here indicates a muted response to challenges, from freeing up his best pass rushers, to generating turnovers, getting worse in one area while improving in another.  On the other hand, our pass defense numbers bordered on historically elite at times, and our run defense was outstanding in 2014.  If he gets put in a position to help a team establish a foundation to build from, similar to what Fox was asked to do here, he could be successful.

For Gase, I think he is one of the best designers in the league right now, and I could see him being successful somewhere but only if he delegates play calling.  He has the right idea when it comes to game plans, but it seemed like we had trouble shifting gears.  If I'm an owner, I want to see him delegating the offense, at least until I learn more about what Gase is all about.  As far as having either of them here, I would accept either scenario, but when I see the names available, I would be disappointed if we didn't take advantage of some of the new blood out there.

MHR - There are several head coaches in the mix for the Broncos (which will likely change even by the time this is posted) - Gary Kubiak, Dan Quinn, Mike Shanahan, Teryl Austin. Which of these - or a different choice - would you like to see at the Broncos' helm?

ADanishMan: I reeeeeally want Kubiak. I think he'd be best for the players, especially Oz. The chances that he leaves Baltimore, even for his old pal Elway, are slim, but there is a chance if you ask me.

Quinn would be good for the team, but I don't think I'm comfortable with somebody from, y'know, Seattle, at the helm.

And DEAR SWEET GOD, DO NOT HIRE SHANAHAN.

Jeremy Bolander: I am always willing to watch and learn. I'm signed up with the Broncos for life; I'm not in any hurry, so I can imagine all of these scenarios working out.  But my preference initially was Dan Quinn and Todd Bowles.

With Bowles immediately going to the Jets, my attention went to Teryl Austin. Every name on the list has solid coaching DNA, but when I look at Austin, I'm struck by the amount of quality coaching contributions he has had, and how familiar he is with championship-caliber football.  Half the battle is knowing how championship stakes affect you and your players, and Austin is a guy who should know.

Quinn, too, should be regarded as strong in that regard.  Kubiak and Shanny are pretty far removed from their championship years, but they do have that experience.  Right now I am leaning toward Austin, but both Austin and Quinn seem like good calls at this point.

MHR - Why would this choice be good for the Broncos (and does it matter whether Manning or Osweiler is QB)?

ADanishMan: I think Kubiak would help out the offense tremendously. He had success as Denver's OC in the 90's and didn't do too badly in Baltimore this season. I hope I'm wrong, but my gut says that Manning is done, especially if a HC is hired from outside the organization. I don't think Kubes' scheme would change with either Manning or Oz as the starter, but it would be more beneficial to a mobile QB like Oz.

Jeremy Bolander: For starters we would be getting coaches who are hungry to show what they can do with an opportunity, in either Austin or Quinn.  They are versed in the cutting edge defensive schemes, and you can bet they know a good offense when they see it.  They both know what it takes to get a defense playing at a championship level as well, and as we all know, defense wins championships.

As far as scheme goes, these guys are being brought in to execute Elway's vision with Elway's roster, but this doesn't specify any particular scheme.  When it comes to Manning, the only part of the offense that is predicated on Manning is the use of QB option.  There isn't a coach in the league that wouldn't want to direct an offense through Manning.  And I am a believer that Oz is ready to run any coach's offense, including the option, so there shouldn't be any limits there at all.

MHR - With so many huge changes in coaching immediately and player personnel on the horizon, are the Broncos in for several "building years" or do you see a quick return to dominance in the AFC and hopefully a return to the Super Bowl?

ADanishMan: Even if Manning doesn't come back, I think Denver has enough of the pieces to remain competitive, if not dominant. The defense is stifling, the offense is explosive, and Osweiler has been training behind a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback for three years...kinda like a certain quarterback over in Green Bay did before he took the reins.

Jeremy Bolander: These types of coaching changes tend to be done a year or two (or five) too late, so the ensuing "rebuild" is about fixing the contract and personnel problems that come from wasted competition years.

There is no player purge coming.  There are no "Fox" guys that should be expected to struggle without him.  There is an off chance that Elway brings in the Wrong Guy, and that could certainly waste a year, but it shouldn't be expected.  I believe that this isn't a step back in order to take two steps forward.  The step back came during the season.  Switching coaching staffs at this point is about taking the next step forward, with the team that we have now.

MHR - Which Free Agents do you hope the Broncos keep for next year?

ADanishMan:

  • Terrance Knighton - He has become a leader for this defense and is solid against both the pass and the run.
  • Demaryius Thomas - Need I say more? He's a top 5 wide receiver. No way does he walk.
  • Virgil Green - He can easily replace Julius' production if given the chance, and unlike JT, he can block.
  • Orlando Franklin - Big O is a solid lineman, which is an area of concern for Denver at the moment.
  • Nate Irving - He was actually playing relatively well at MLB before his injury. Good for depth if nothing else.
  • Rahim Moore - He has his ups and downs, so he could come fairly cheap.

Jeremy Bolander: Ask me again in a couple of months, after I get a handle on who might end up being available.  I will say that despite my disappointment in both JT and DT, I want to keep both of them and keep investing in them.  That shouldn't stop the Broncos from thinking about other options at both TE and WR, though.

MHR - How did you become a Denver Broncos fan?

ADanishMan: My folks are from western South Dakota, and we actually lived in Colorado for a little while when I was younger before moving back. I guess you could say I was born into it. My younger brother, somehow, became a Chicago Bears fan. Poor guy.

Elway's struggles were my struggles and I still remember sitting in a hotel room watching SB XXXII, unable to fully believe he had finally won. I learned then, and I still believe now, that no virtue shines so much as Perseverance.    -Jeremy Bolander

Jeremy Bolander: I was born into it.  Greeley, CO '78,  I was swaddled in orange and blue, and my dad made sure I had an Orange Crush t-shirt. I remember a complete orange sweatsuit that was my gameday attire for years, and I remember Elway's career like it was an extension of my own life.  His struggles were my struggles, and I still remember sitting in a hotel room in Seattle watching SB XXXII, unable to fully believe he had finally won, even as I was striking out for the Bering Sea, the farthest from home I had ever been.

I learned then, and I still believe now, that no virtue shines so much as Perseverance.  Never back down from the big goals, the scary goals, the goals that consume your best and throw it back in your face without so much as acknowledging your existence.  I owe the Broncos a debt that can never really be repaid.

The Favorites

(*editor's note: You can read the favorites from ADanishMan here, when he previewed the Chargers game in December. So the following list is all Jeremy's!)

Favorite team to watch the Broncos play? If the Raiders were relevant and playing well, it would be them, but right now it has to be Phyllis and the Chargers. Every game is like a home game, we have had some of our best recent performances against them, and we keep catching them in primetime, which I enjoy.  I'm still sore about a lot of the old LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates highlight reels having Broncos looking like fools in them, and Phyllis makes a great foil, so give me a San Diego game (and beatdown) anyday!

Team you most hate the Broncos to lose to? Raiders. Remember when they swept the AFC West a few years ago?  Worst. Thing. Ever.

Favorite current Broncos player? Von Miller.  Peyton is too obvious, and I feel like a question like this is really meant to be about a Bronco we have been with since he began.  I like Von a lot, as a player and as a real person, with his own struggles and his own chance to be great. I haven't been in a Bronco's corner like this for a long time, and I hope he achieves everything he is capable of.

All-time favorite Bronco? Elway.  Jake the Snake is up there too.  I love a competitor. 

Game day ritual/attire? Before the game I try to listen to AC/DC's "For those about to Rock," but before that I have to get some kind of work done before the game starts.  Chores are OK, but real results come if I can get something done like chopping a cord of wood, or finishing some household project.  The harder I work, the better our chances.  This is why I hate early East Coast away games.  It is almost impossible to get anything really serious done before 9 a.m. (the start time for early games in Alaska).  

As to attire, I got away from game day attire during the Super Bowl years (the Broncos were so good, nothing made a difference).  Years later I tried to start up a new tradition with a Clady jersey, only for him to get injured.  Gave the jersey away post haste.

Anyone who watches a game with me probably wishes I had some kind of Broncos-themed gag on my mouth - I talk constantly during a game. I even get on my own nerves.   -Jeremy Bolander

I haven't tried anything since, but anyone who watches a game with me probably wishes I had some kind of Broncos themed gag on my mouth:  I talk constantly during a game.  I'm calling plays and calling out coverages and fronts and critiquing every down. I even get on my own nerves, and I always end up chewing on something by the end of the bad games, just to shut myself up.

Best way to get through the offseason? Reading books on football, catching up on coaching clinics, working with kids, spending time with my family.  MHR is great because you can either be here every day or you can catch up weekly or monthly, and feel like you are right on top of what is going on with the Broncos.  I've never felt more up-to-date on everything from draft to FA to caponomics than my time here at MHR.

Best Broncos game in the 70s, 80s, 90s, Elway-as-GM-era, Manning era? This is actually kind of tough.  So many games stand out for me over the years, some for obvious reasons (Drive I and II), others just because they really impressed themselves on me.

  • The 1995 game where Glyn Milburn set the NFL record with 404 total yards stands out to me (not many people recall the guy that TD replaced, but he was the 43rd overall pick in 93, I believe).
  • I remember a lot of great games from Tecmo Super Bowl during those years (Mecklenburg was unstoppable).
  • I remember the game where Jake the Snake had a 40-yard run against the Raiders on Monday night.
  • I remember when the Jake, Champ and the Broncos beat the Pats in the playoffs in 2005 because the Pats were on an 11-game postseason winning streak, and the dynasty talk was circulating, and then Shanny put an end to that.  From that point on Shanny was a thorn in Belichick's side.
  • More recently, the Tebow playoff game, or Stokley's deflection touchdown against Cincinnati, or "Toro, Toro, Toro!!"

But best Broncos game has to go to Super Bowl 32, with as many amazing moments in one game as I have seen in whole seasons since then - the helicopter, Davis scoring a touchdown blind, Atwater knocking himself and two other players out, that final defensive stand with Elway on the sideline...chills.

(*editor's note: And how about that boss block by Eddie Mac?)

Elway is saying that we need something else to get us over the top, that you need a little extra to be a champion.  That is because you GET A LOT extra back when you win it. That win dwarfs anything I have seen before or since.

Hall of Fame Broncos team: I could belabor this for a long time, but I will say that my mind is on the offensive line as we head into the offseason, so I will point out that my choice at Center would be Tom Nalen.  Pound for pound the strongest man on that OL, very smart, very athletic.  I would love to see a GREAT center like that join the Broncos in the next four months.