There has been a lot of speculation since the end of the season as to what the Broncos ‘team' will look like once offseason training begins and/or by Training Camp mid-summer.
And between the drama over Peyton Manning's return plus losing almost all of our free agents, concern among fans has been at an all-time high to say the least.
In John Elway We Trust, right?
But that means, "In Gary Kubiak We Trust."
And Kubiak took to the podium during yesterday's annual meeting of the NFL to talk a few specifics about the team's direction just weeks away from the Broncos first official gathering April 13 and just more than a month away from the Draft.
So even if you're nervous, Kubiak is on board with the offseason moves so far.
"We've just got to get back to work. We've lost a few players, but we've got some good young players, too," Kubiak said, noting that's just part of football business nowadays. "You can't hang on to everybody, but you've got to be able to develop players and get them going in your system and give them an opportunity. That's what we'll stay focused on."
And there are a lot of young players currently on the team Kubiak will be looking to, beginning with a few on the much-maligned offensive line.
Kubiak indicated the "three older guys" - Ryan Clady, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez - will "continue to go but after that it will just be very competitive."
The new head coach acknowledged that Vasquez will move back inside but the Broncos still have "an issue" at guard and right tackle. What happens at guard, he said, could depend on how the Broncos fill the center position.
Garland at center?
Will Montgomery is a free agent but so far with little interest around the league, so his future with the Broncos remains unknown. Apparently Kubiak is considering Ben Garland as a potential center.
"We have these young players at the center position. We like the [Michael] Schofield kid too, so we'll see. We think he's got some flexibility," Kubiak said as a response to a question about Ben Garland and new free agent Shelley Smith competing for a spot at guard. "I would like Shelley to calm down and just play guard - because I think he can be very competitive from a starter's standpoint at the guard position - but how the center position pans out probably has a lot to do with that. We have multiple players we think are swing players."
Kubiak noted he has a lot of confidence in his coaching staff to "get better up front."
"I feel good about our ability to develop these young guys. That's our job as coaches. We have a lot of confidence these guys have done this before," Kubiak said. "There is still free agency and there is still the draft going on. The key is going to be the young guys we have. [Matt] Paradis, Garland - we've got to get these guys playing at a bigger level as they move to years two and three."
"I said to Chris Clark, 'Chris, we’re going to let last year go and going to start over.’" Kubiak on fixing O-Line. pic.twitter.com/v83eONrasT— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) March 25, 2015
And adding a little mystery to Kubiak's and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's plans for the O-Line, the head coach mentioned Chris Clark.
A swing tackle, Clark came in at left tackle in the 2013-14 season to replace Ryan Clady after the Pro Bowler got hurt. Clark began last season as the starting right tackle but was benched midway through and came in for a handful of snaps the rest of the season.
"I talked to Chris Clark. I said, ‘Chris, we're going to let last year go, and we're going to start over,'" Kubiak said. "He's done some good things. I think it's a fresh start for everybody."
Stay tuned, Broncos Country, but one thing seems likely - Kubiak, Dennison and offensive line coach Clancy Barrone won't be shuffling this line during the season; O-Line issues will be worked out long before Week 1 of the regular season.
"We're going to kind of take it a step at a time and see how much progress we can make this offseason - make sure we settle down before we go to [training] camp," Kubiak said.
Running backs to compete
While Kubiak praised the performance of C.J. Anderson last season, he also indicated the starter's job is still up for grabs - though Anderson will be listed first on the depth chart going into training camp.
"I think he's earned the right to walk into the offseason program or OTAs and line up as our starter, but it's something that he's got to continue to earn and continue to earn on a daily basis," Kubiak said, adding that the running back made a big jump as a player this year. "I think he's shown he's got the ability to be a heck of a starter in this league. We're really looking forward to working with him."
But Kubiak wouldn't commit to saying Anderson was the best fit for his zone blocking system, just that he's one of them.
"All good players fit your system, and he's a good player. So we've got some good young backs," Kubiak said, adding it's going to be very competitive. "[Anderson] has proven that running zone schemes and doing those types of things seem to fit him very well."
Kubiak seems to like letting his guys compete and fight for their position on the team, something the running back squad is going to get to try a lot.
"I think all three of those guys [Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman] have all kind of had their little spurts of success with the club when they've had their opportunity," Kubiak said. "Who is going to be the bell cow? Who is going to be a three-down player? They have to sort that out. C.J. showed the flashes of doing that. The fact that they are young - I like that. So we'll give them all a chance and see how it pans out. Obviously C.J. had a good head start on things."
Manning's or Kubiak's offense?
Aside from the question of Manning's return to football, Kubiak is probably tired of answering whether No. 18 can fit in his scheme.
But Kubiak answered it again, this time with perhaps some more insight into the plan.
Promising once again to "do what our players do best," Kubiak insists that they'll teach the ZBS to everyone but incorporate doing what is necessary to make Manning comfortable in the new offensive scheme.
The coach added that Manning has played "extremely well" under center in the past and he anticipates the 39-year-old can still do it.
"In my conversations with him, he was not under center much because he wasn't feeling real good," Kubiak said. "When I've watched him play under center, the steps and all those things, he's been doing it for years. I don't think that's a big adjustment."
The adjustment may be how much Kubiak does it and that will depend on how comfortable Manning is and how successful the offense is with it. This will likely involve the pistol formation.
"The pistol has created a good situation because even though you're in the gun, the back is still directly behind the quarterback and you have a two-way go," Kubiak pointed out. "It's something as an offense that you don't want to be too tell-tell from that standpoint."
As far as calling the game, Kubiak is a firm believer in the coach preparing the quarterback for success in calling plays at the line of scrimmage. I am no expert in this area, but I have to think this is already a few steps ahead of the John Fox/Adam Gase plan of attack last season.
"I think you prepare to help him call that game throughout the course of the week. In a lot of ways you're still working together; you're just going about it a different way," Kubiak said. "You never want to put a player in a position where he's doing something he's uncomfortable with."
It's important to Kubiak to prepare Manning but not take him out of his comfort zone. And the former Broncos quarterback is very familiar with helping veteran, star QBs stay in their comfort zones - whether it was John Elway, 49ers' Steve Young or now Manning.
"They're all different, but they're great players for a reason, and so you need to listen to them. They're all very bright guys, but you get in there, battle together and come up with the best product you can possibly come up with," Kubiak said, adding that it's been challenging to cross systems among the old and new staff. "Now we get to do that with [Manning.] I'm excited to do that."
The offensive coaching staff has been prepping for the Manning Factor for the past two months, and Kubiak said it involves a lot of "meshing." If anything, Kubiak noted, he is the one who needs to adjust, not Manning.
"Obviously I love to run the ball and I love the play[-action] pass. I love to do those things so there is going to be a commitment there, but there is 17 years of investment in what he's done better than anybody, and we're not going to run away from that," Kubiak added. "Basically, what I've done is study what he's done. Then you take the things that we do and feel are very important to us to be successful offensively, and we mesh them all together. Now it's time to go to work on the total product."
The amount of movement his quarterback is going to do depends on who is back there, Kubiak admitted, but he anticipates the bootleg being part of the repertoire.
"I think it helps you run the ball regardless of who your quarterback is. If it keeps people honest on the backside when you're running the ball, it helps you run the ball better," Kubiak said. "I know we'll run the ball, and we'll play fast. Peyton's been one of the best play-action players in the game for many, many years. I think we can obviously do that well."
Kubiak also indicated he has a very good idea what this offense is going to look like next season.
"What we've done is study what Peyton has done for many, many years and taken some things that I feel good about and kind of crossed two systems together," Kubiak said. "I've got a pretty good vision of what I want it to look like, and now we've got to get to work on it."
Von Miller to play 'on the ball' more
On the other side of the ball, Kubiak is just as confident in his plan and that of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. It is well-known that Phillips plans to use a 3-4 scheme, which most believe the Broncos D can easily transition into. But losing a high-profile player like Terrance Knighton leaves a question at the nose tackle. Kubiak gave no clues as to what the Broncos are planning for that, but he did indicate a lot of trust in his defensive line coach, Bill Kollar, who you may remember wrestles bears. This may come in quite handy this fall.
"If you're a 3-4 team, people are playing five, six guys a game and they are rotating them, So we have to put a good group together," Kubiak noted. "I know one thing - we have one hell of a coach in Kollar. He will get the most out of them. It's obviously a priority as we move forward, but we'll play a lot of people."
Kubiak on V. Miller: "His ability to get after the QB - it's as good as there is. He'll play on the ball a lot more." pic.twitter.com/ttnwd6rPvO— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) March 25, 2015
One thing Broncos Country can count on - more actual rushing from our premiere edge rusher, Von Miller. No. 58 is going to be unleashed this season to show off what I like to call his general "badass-ness."
"Von's ability to run, to get after the quarterback - it's as good as there is in our business," Kubiak said, adding that while Miller played "off the ball" a lot more last year, we can expect him "on the ball" a majority of the time. "You're always looking for guys like that on the edge that are difference makers week-in-and-week-out as far as rushing the passer, knocking the ball out, those types of things."
Expectations are high
The exact shape of the offense and defense - as well as the new players that may fit into it - is still in flux as Kubiak and his staff prepare for offseason workouts and training.
What's not in flux is Kubiak's mindset to compete. He knows there are high expectations - and that's what ultimately drew him back to Denver.
As the coach who built the Houston Texans into a playoff contender and the offensive coordinator who made something out of an offensive nothing in Baltimore, Kubiak is not known for backing down from a challenge - something Broncos fans grew to expect when No. 8 was backing up No. 7 and never once was afraid to do his job on the field when called upon.
"It's something that you want to be a part of," Kubiak said of the expectation to win a championship. "Does it make it tougher? I don't know. People can say what they want to say but that's why we do what we do. That's why I love going to work every day."