Broncos camp countdown: Can Denver survive McDaniels’ my-way-or-highway mentality?

This is the 25th in a series of team breakdowns to be published before the start of training camp.

Josh McDaniels knows how to make an entrance. A personality clash ushered franchise QB Jay Cutler out of town just weeks into McDaniels’ head-coaching tenure. Once training camp began last summer, a petulant Brandon Marshall tested the organization’s patience and, again, McDaniels put his foot down in the form of a suspension.

The Broncos will expect more from Knowshon Moreno after an up-and-down rookie year.
The Broncos will expect more from Knowshon Moreno after an up-and-down rookie year.

But the flashiest entrance was Denver beginning ’09 as one of the league’s hottest teams.

Then everything crashed. Denver became the third team ever to open 6-0 and fail to make the playoffs and the first not to finish with a winning record. At the same time, an adequate defensive line fizzled; Orton went back to being solid instead of spectacular; and running back Knowshon Moreno hit the rookie wall.

Though McDaniels was more calm this offseason, the rest of the front office was busy replacing a defensive coordinator and revamping a conditioning program in hopes of avoiding another late-season slide. The Broncos also traded Marshall to Miami and tight end Tony Scheffler to Detroit. Then Tim Tebow was drafted in the first round, putting McDaniels in the crosshairs of media and fans.

What’s new

Offense: McDaniels and coordinator Mike McCoy want a more power-based rushing attack, and they have tweaked the personnel up front to accommodate that style. With Marshall gone, the passing game will feature a spread-it-around approach. But it remains unclear whether McDaniels can capture the magic with Orton that he once did with New England quarterbacks. If not, he won’t hesitate to turn to newcomer Brady Quinn or Tebow.

After the departure of Marshall, the Broncos used their other first-round pick on Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas, who has a similar skill set. There will be some adjustments for Thomas in route-running, but his 25.1 average yards per catch last year demonstrates game-breaking ability.

The offensive line is a big question mark because of injuries. Left tackle Ryan Clady sustained a patellar tendon injury in the offseason, which required surgery. The team is hopeful he’ll be ready for the start of the season; if he isn’t, Tyler Polumbus will fill in. If veteran Russ Hochstein (knee) isn’t healthy, third-round pick J.D. Walton could start at center. Several players, including second-round pick Zane Beadles, will compete at left guard.

Defense: It’s no secret the Broncos needed to beef up their front line, and they did in the offseason with the additions of Justin Bannan, Jarvis Green and Jamal Williams. But Denver also is going on its fifth coordinator in five years with Don Martindale’s promotion from linebackers coach. He’s expected to bring an aggressive mindset in the team’s 3-4 system.

Breakout player

Robert Ayers will have a chance to excel with additional playing time this year.
Robert Ayers will have a chance to excel with additional playing time this year.

Robert Ayers, OLB. A ’09 first-round pick, Ayers had a sporadic role last season. He was used mainly in nickel pass-rush situations but failed to record a sack. Mario Haggan’s move to inside linebacker should give Ayers the opportunity to be an every-down player—if he beats out Jarvis Moss. Ayers (6-3, 274) has the quickness and size to excel off the edge in the 3-4.

"I’m definitely not comfortable with where I am right now. I still want to get better. Come time for the season to start, opening game, I still won’t feel comfortable. I’ll still be thinking there’s more to improve on. You’ve got guys like Jamal (Williams) still trying to find ways to get better. That’s the attitude I’m trying to take." — Ayers

OPPONENT’S VIEW

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Broncos)

"They started really fast and died down the stretch last year. It looked like they played really solid defense, then just collapsed. With a new head coach, and then all of sudden with a new defensive coordinator and now another new defensive coordinator, I would have to use the word unsettled. …

"To me, all the things that happened last year showed McDaniels’ inexperience. He looked a little impetuous in trying to make a stand and portray an image as a tough guy. You don’t really need to portray an image. You just have to be smart in what you do. I don’t know all the insides and outs of what happened, but while he looked like a ‘boy genius’ early on, it certainly wasn’t built on anything substantial because it collapsed. …

"But with all the stability that team had through the years with (former coach Mike) Shanahan, once they ran him out of there for whatever reason, from afar, it looks like it’s gone from something very stable in Denver to something unstable."

Bottom line

The Broncos are trying to morph into McDaniels’ vision. The young coach made his point that it’s his way or the highway, and the locker room is receptive to his team-oriented message. But talent wins out in the NFL. This team needs more playmakers and a continued infusion of youth to be a Super Bowl-caliber franchise.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn
RB: Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter
WR: Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker
WR: Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley
TE Daniel Graham, Richard Quinn
LT: Ryan Clady, Tyler Polumbus
LG: Russ Hochstein, Eric Olsen
C: J.D. Walton, Dustin Fry
RG: Chris Kuper, Seth Olsen
RT: Ryan Harris, Zane Beadles

Defense

DE: Justin Bannan, Marcus Thomas
NT: Jamal Williams, Ronald Fields
DE: Jarvis Green, Ryan McBean
OLB: Robert Ayers, Kevin Alexander
ILB: D.J. Williams, Wesley Woodyard
ILB: Mario Haggan, Akin Ayodele
OLB: Elvis Dumervil, Jarvis Moss
CB: Champ Bailey, Alphonso Smith
CB: Andre Goodman, Perrish Cox
SS: Brian Dawkins, Darcel McBath
FS: Renaldo Hill, Nate Jones

Specialists

K: Matt Prater
P: Britton Colquitt
KR: Perrish Cox
PR: Eddie Royal
LS: Lonie Paxton
 

This is the 25th in a series of team breakdowns to be published before the start of training camp.

Josh McDaniels knows how to make an entrance. A personality clash ushered franchise QB Jay Cutler out of town just weeks into McDaniels’ head-coaching tenure. Once training camp began last summer, a petulant Brandon Marshall tested the organization’s patience and, again, McDaniels put his foot down in the form of a suspension.

The Broncos will expect more from Knowshon Moreno after an up-and-down rookie year.
The Broncos will expect more from Knowshon Moreno after an up-and-down rookie year.

But the flashiest entrance was Denver beginning ’09 as one of the league’s hottest teams.

Then everything crashed. Denver became the third team ever to open 6-0 and fail to make the playoffs and the first not to finish with a winning record. At the same time, an adequate defensive line fizzled; Orton went back to being solid instead of spectacular; and running back Knowshon Moreno hit the rookie wall.

Though McDaniels was more calm this offseason, the rest of the front office was busy replacing a defensive coordinator and revamping a conditioning program in hopes of avoiding another late-season slide. The Broncos also traded Marshall to Miami and tight end Tony Scheffler to Detroit. Then Tim Tebow was drafted in the first round, putting McDaniels in the crosshairs of media and fans.

What’s new

Offense: McDaniels and coordinator Mike McCoy want a more power-based rushing attack, and they have tweaked the personnel up front to accommodate that style. With Marshall gone, the passing game will feature a spread-it-around approach. But it remains unclear whether McDaniels can capture the magic with Orton that he once did with New England quarterbacks. If not, he won’t hesitate to turn to newcomer Brady Quinn or Tebow.

After the departure of Marshall, the Broncos used their other first-round pick on Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas, who has a similar skill set. There will be some adjustments for Thomas in route-running, but his 25.1 average yards per catch last year demonstrates game-breaking ability.

The offensive line is a big question mark because of injuries. Left tackle Ryan Clady sustained a patellar tendon injury in the offseason, which required surgery. The team is hopeful he’ll be ready for the start of the season; if he isn’t, Tyler Polumbus will fill in. If veteran Russ Hochstein (knee) isn’t healthy, third-round pick J.D. Walton could start at center. Several players, including second-round pick Zane Beadles, will compete at left guard.

Defense: It’s no secret the Broncos needed to beef up their front line, and they did in the offseason with the additions of Justin Bannan, Jarvis Green and Jamal Williams. But Denver also is going on its fifth coordinator in five years with Don Martindale’s promotion from linebackers coach. He’s expected to bring an aggressive mindset in the team’s 3-4 system.

Breakout player

Robert Ayers will have a chance to excel with additional playing time this year.
Robert Ayers will have a chance to excel with additional playing time this year.

Robert Ayers, OLB. A ’09 first-round pick, Ayers had a sporadic role last season. He was used mainly in nickel pass-rush situations but failed to record a sack. Mario Haggan’s move to inside linebacker should give Ayers the opportunity to be an every-down player—if he beats out Jarvis Moss. Ayers (6-3, 274) has the quickness and size to excel off the edge in the 3-4.

"I’m definitely not comfortable with where I am right now. I still want to get better. Come time for the season to start, opening game, I still won’t feel comfortable. I’ll still be thinking there’s more to improve on. You’ve got guys like Jamal (Williams) still trying to find ways to get better. That’s the attitude I’m trying to take." — Ayers

OPPONENT’S VIEW

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Broncos)

"They started really fast and died down the stretch last year. It looked like they played really solid defense, then just collapsed. With a new head coach, and then all of sudden with a new defensive coordinator and now another new defensive coordinator, I would have to use the word unsettled. …

"To me, all the things that happened last year showed McDaniels’ inexperience. He looked a little impetuous in trying to make a stand and portray an image as a tough guy. You don’t really need to portray an image. You just have to be smart in what you do. I don’t know all the insides and outs of what happened, but while he looked like a ‘boy genius’ early on, it certainly wasn’t built on anything substantial because it collapsed. …

"But with all the stability that team had through the years with (former coach Mike) Shanahan, once they ran him out of there for whatever reason, from afar, it looks like it’s gone from something very stable in Denver to something unstable."

Bottom line

The Broncos are trying to morph into McDaniels’ vision. The young coach made his point that it’s his way or the highway, and the locker room is receptive to his team-oriented message. But talent wins out in the NFL. This team needs more playmakers and a continued infusion of youth to be a Super Bowl-caliber franchise.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn
RB: Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter
WR: Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker
WR: Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley
TE Daniel Graham, Richard Quinn
LT: Ryan Clady, Tyler Polumbus
LG: Russ Hochstein, Eric Olsen
C: J.D. Walton, Dustin Fry
RG: Chris Kuper, Seth Olsen
RT: Ryan Harris, Zane Beadles

Defense

DE: Justin Bannan, Marcus Thomas
NT: Jamal Williams, Ronald Fields
DE: Jarvis Green, Ryan McBean
OLB: Robert Ayers, Kevin Alexander
ILB: D.J. Williams, Wesley Woodyard
ILB: Mario Haggan, Akin Ayodele
OLB: Elvis Dumervil, Jarvis Moss
CB: Champ Bailey, Alphonso Smith
CB: Andre Goodman, Perrish Cox
SS: Brian Dawkins, Darcel McBath
FS: Renaldo Hill, Nate Jones

Specialists

K: Matt Prater
P: Britton Colquitt
KR: Perrish Cox
PR: Eddie Royal
LS: Lonie Paxton
 

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