Posted by Will Brinson
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Remember when the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls? Yeah, that was a long time ago. But the Broncos were relevant as recently as 2005, which is the last time they won the AFC West. Since then? Well, um, er, you see. Yeaaaaaaah, about that: one winning record (9-7 in 2006) produced a third-place finish in the division, while one losing record (7-9 in 2007) produced a second place finish. Two-straight .500 seasons followed after that and then -- BAM! -- the bottom fell out in 2010, as the Josh McDaniels train derailed en route to a 4-12 finish and his firing.
Enter John Elway, John Fox and the new, "new look" Broncos who appear to be all about transparency. They also appear about to undertake a pretty massive rebuilding project. Fortunately, Fox that's he polar opposite of Josh McDaniels -- methodical, defensive-minded, doesn't care for too much personnel control, likes to run the ball and unlikely to tape anyone else's practice.
The question for Fox is whether or not the system he wants to implement will work with the roster that McDaniels built. The immediate answer is "hell no," but it's not as far off as you think; Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd could be a poor man's Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith (a reasonable comparison, although I feel like it might insult someone, I'm just not sure who), who didn't exactly suffer through miserable seasons, statistically-speaking, their whole time in Carolina.
The defense, rather, is the bigger problem for Fox to address, because it acted like a sieve last season, and even with Elvis Dumervil returning, there's no guarantee that it will instantly become better.
The defensive line in Denver is a disaster, particularly at defensive tackle. That's why the Broncos are mentioning so many different possibilities at the No. 2 pick -- if the Panthers end up taking Marcell Dareus first overall, Denver's suddenly in a nightmare situation where they need to trade out of the second spot and try and recoup some value a few picks later. Fortunately for them, a pair of teams -- Cincinnati and Arizona -- could be interested in playing some hopscotch to try and acquire Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton should the draft unfold in such a manner.
What's even left to say about Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow? Well, actually a lot, I guess -- the two quarterbacks on the Broncos' roster are polar opposites (can you imagine Orton running a draw and/or circumcising babies in a third-world country during spring break?) but they're in similar situations, because no one can figure out whether or not the Broncos actually want them.
Could John Fox actually love Orton? Considering he saw -- first-hand -- how Orton can "manage" a game into right into the L-column when the Bears visited Charlotte a few years back, it's hard to believe. But surely he doesn't think the same of Tebow as Josh McDaniels did, right? Well, probably not, but there's always a chance, especially considering that Fox and Tebow got friendly during the draft ... right before Carolina took Jimmy Clausen.
1. Defensive Tackle
If the Panthers draft anyone other than Marcell Dareus with the first overall pick, it's hard to imagine the Broncos taking too much time to wait on selecting the Alabama product with the No. 2 overall pick. They'll definitely still listen to trades, because, well, who wouldn't, but Dareus is a pretty perfect fit with not only what Fox wants to do on defense, but how he wants to do it.
Patrick Peterson's there too, and could be a candidate for the No. 2 spot if Carolina goes Dareus and no one will trade up, although you have to think Denver would rather add a DB in the second round, or potentially trade back up to try and snatch a guy like Jimmy Smith if he falls. Of course, the depth at defensive line in this draft could have John Elway thinking he nabs Peterson to mentor under Champ Bailey during the legendary cornerback's home stretch, and then snag a defensive tackle with a later selection.
3. More Draft Picks
That's only a half joke -- Denver's got piles of holes to fill; they need another running back to pair with Knowshon Moreno in Fox's system, they might need a quarterback, they could use a defensive end, they need help at linebacker (making Von Miller a sneaky potential selection at No. 2 as well), they need more secondary help and they also need help across the offensive line. Moving down in the draft and accumulating potentially talented bodies to plug these holes is Elway's ideal scenario.
2011 could be another long season for Broncos' fans. It looks like the division should improve, though in the AFC West, no one's scared to keep falling back to the pack throughout the season. But it's hard to imagine that Denver will be as successful on offense, numerically speaking, as they were in 2010, and unless the defense improves leaps and bounds, four wins might be a stretch ... again.
But there's hope, at least: Elway's immediate legacy will be somewhat determined by how he drafts this coming year, and it's going to take time to heal the wounds of the McDaniels era. Fortunately for Denver, they've got a coach who's turned around a moribund franchise before, and a front-office guy who knows a thing or two about the city and success.
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