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John Elway hopes offseason changes help Broncos rebound

The Denver Broncos have had a rough couple of seasons, but John Elway is hopeful the changes they made to get better this season pay off.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos opened up Training Camp at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado on Wednesday, with their first practice on Thursday. On Wednesday, President of Football Operations/GM John Elway met with the media to discuss the franchise and the upcoming season.

With another head coaching change, Elway is most optimistic about what Vic Fangio will bring to the table this season.

“Obviously with a new staff and Vic [Fangio] coming in—we’re excited about Vic being here. I think that looking at what happened in the offseason, the draft that we had, the UFAs that were signed with Joe Flacco coming in—I think it’s this time of year that everybody’s always excited about their team, but we had a good offseason,” Elway said. “We’ve got a long way to, and just under two months until the first game, so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Hopefully we can get there, but this is always exciting. We’ll see what we have once we get going in training camp.”

This is the time of year when every team has tremendous optimism. It’s the time of year when executives, coaches, players, and fans all believe there is hope for a big season.

For the Broncos, the optimism is around the new coaching staff and the new players Elway brought in to help shore up the defense and improve the offensive productivity. Bryce Callahan and Kareem Jackson should help return the No Fly Zone to form, while Ja’Wuan James and Joe Flacco both improved major areas of concerns from last season.

Elway spoke to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated about that process and for Elway it is about finding talented football players whose desire to win football games outweighs all other factors in the nations biggest sport.

“We’ve been looking for guys where football’s No. 1 to them, and winning’s No. 1 to them. That’s what we have in a Von Miller and Joe Flacco and a Ja’Wuan James. They have that mentality, they want to come in here and win.”

As fans, we can recall those kinds of players that help the franchise win Super Bowl 50. Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware were tremendously talented, but their desire to win games mattered more than anything else. That’s the kind of mentality Elway looks for in the draft or free agency.

We’ll have to see if those are the kinds of players Elway signed this year. Which is why the hardest part to training camp for us fans will be tempering expectations. Are the Broncos a playoff team? Elway probably thinks so, but having been a player for 16 seasons, he knows all too well how it goes in the NFL.

“I’ll let you guys set that,” Elway said. “We know what our goals are. The bottom line is I never went into a season saying, ‘We’re going to be 10-6.’ I think we walk into every game with the idea that we can win it. The bottom line is we’ve got to go out and execute and play well. Obviously, you’ve got to get a little bit lucky and stay healthy, but our expectations are to take it a day at a time. Get through preseason, see what we have and then look forward to the opener in Oakland. Really take it one week at a time. Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns because it’s a new staff and a lot of new players. We put that all together. We’re hopeful to have a good year.”

The backbone of this franchise will continue to be the defense. Elway made that side of the ball the focus first by hiring Vic Fangio who was fresh of leading the number one overall defense in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and then again in free agency with the players he added there.

“I think that obviously we played good defense the last four years,” Elway said. “Maybe not as good as we’d have liked the last couple years, but I think with Vic’s expertise on the defensive side as well as [Defensive Coordinator] Ed Donatell and the whole defensive staff, with the scheme that we’re going to change on the defensive side and the people that we have, I think that we have a lot of flexibility in the secondary and a lot of good football players. That gives the coaches a lot of options.”

Elway then made the 2019 NFL Draft an offensive one, using three picks in the first two rounds on the offensive side of the ball with Noah Fant, Dalton Risner, and Drew Lock. He also added the league’s best offensive line coach in Mike Munchak and added a right tackle in free agency.

However, his biggest move might have been the trade he made in February for quarterback Joe Flacco.

“A lot of times you don’t get to see a guy throw every day,” Elway said. “I think when you watch Joe Flacco throw, he’s got the ability to make every throw and throw it with touch and throw the ball down field. He’s got a strong arm, he can see and he moves well in the pocket. I think that when you get a guy, and a lot of times systems pick guys and a lot of success comes with the system. I’m excited about [Offensive Coordinator] Rich [Scangarello] and the system that he brings from San Francisco. Joe’s best years were in that system. Combining all that with Joe—anytime you get traded midway in your career or two-thirds of the way through your career, you’ve got something to prove.”

Anyone who has watched the Broncos play the last three seasons could see that their biggest hole on the roster was at quarterback. First, languishing through two seasons with Trevor Siemian, who should have never been trotted out as a starting quarterback, then expecting first-round bust Paxton Lynch to suddenly evolve into one, set the franchise up for a colossal disappointment in 2018 when they expected the addition of veteran backup Case Keenum to be a thing.

With Flacco, the franchise finally has a veteran starter who has actually led teams deep into the playoffs and come up big in big games. The only caveat is whether Flacco’s recent lack of success was a symptom of the Baltimore Ravens franchises decline in talent or the decline was Flacco’s.

We’ll just have to wait and see on that.