New Broncos’ boss moving past offseason of drama
July 26, 2009
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos’ offseason of change and chagrin is about to give way to the team’s first training camp without Mike Shanahan in 15 years.
New quarterback Kyle Orton and recalcitrant wide receiver Brandon Marshall are due at Dove Valley with the rookies and rehabbers on Monday, three days before the rest of the squad reports for new coach Josh McDaniels’ first training camp.
Shanahan’s firing on Dec. 30 set off a stormy offseason that has divided the Broncos’ faithful into two camps:
-Those who welcome Shanahan’s two rookie replacements, McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders, as they try to restore the lost luster to a franchise that has just one playoff win in the last decade.
-And those who view McDaniels and Xanders as smug thirtysomethings who are in over their heads and hold out little hope for a quick fix.
McDaniels, 33, who tutored Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in New England, has never been a head coach at any level. He got off to a rocky start in Denver when he alienated Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler and eventually traded him to Chicago for Orton and a bevy of draft picks.
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The draft, however, brought more fodder for his critics who wondered why he didn’t address his front seven on defense more than he did. McDaniels said the talent simply wasn’t there, so he used six of his 10 selections on offense, including Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno with his top pick.
Fans were stumped when McDaniels traded Denver’s first-round pick in 2010 to Seattle to move up and grab defensive back Alphonso Smith in the second round, a move McDaniels insisted wasn’t ordered by a cost-conscious ownership.
The Broncos still own the Bears’ first-rounder, which they received in the Cutler trade, but detractors quickly blasted the Broncos for not sending Seattle the lesser of their two picks in 2010.
“There was a little discussion about that,” McDaniels acknowledged. “But we agreed that it could be ours after talking it through with the other team. We felt like, that’s OK, we’ll roll the dice.”
Bloggers had heydays with other moves by McDaniels:
-Replacing long-snapper Mike “Money” Leach, seemingly the safest of Shanahan’s holdovers, with Lonie Paxton of New England for $5.3 million, including a $1 million signing bonus.
-Hiring his little brother, Ben McDaniels, as one of his assistant coaches.
-Ditching defensive players such as Dre’ Bly and leading tackler Jamie Winborn but keeping Kenny Peterson, whom he played with in high school.
At Shanahan’s farewell news conference, the longtime Broncos coach practically begged whoever succeeded him to keep the Broncos’ high-octane offense intact. But McDaniels blew it up, along with the dismal defense he inherited.
McDaniels saw a unit that piled up yards but not points, that relied too much on the pass because of a battered backfield and was way too predictable.
Under Orton, he’s instilling the intricate Patriots-style spread offense that changes week to week and doesn’t require a cannon arm like Cutler but pinpoint accuracy.
On defense, he switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment where the fight for starting jobs will be a primary focus of training camp even if there’s a lack of big names vying for those positions.
“We’ve got a lot of big bodies rotating in and out of there, a lot of big bodies and a lot of young guys,” McDaniels said. “That to me means we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”
McDaniels rebuilt the secondary through free agency with Renaldo Hill, Brian Dawkins and Andre’ Goodman to go along with Champ Bailey, who is coming off an injury-filled season. The youngest of the foursome is Hill, who turns 31 in November.
“I think our confidence level is higher,” Bailey said. “Can’t do much worse than we did at the end of the year last year. Definitely gotta go up from there.”
Although Cutler is gone, Marshall is still providing plenty of drama in Denver.
The Pro Bowler missed all of the team’s minicamps, the voluntary ones while rehabbing from hip surgery and the mandatory one in protest over his contract ($2.2 million this season) and what he feels was a misdiagnosis of his hip injury by the team’s medical staff.
He insisted that owner Pat Bowlen told him in a private meeting that he would honor his trade request, but McDaniels isn’t about to let a second superstar force his way out of town before he’s even coached his first game.
So, Marshall has said he’ll report to Broncos headquarters on Monday along with the other players coming off injuries rather than risk a nearly $16,000 daily fine for skipping training camp workouts.
This will be his first chance to practice under the team’s new coaching staff.
Hanging over Marshall’s head, however, is an Aug. 13 trial date in Atlanta on a misdemeanor battery charge. A conviction could expose him to a suspension to start the season for the second straight year.