The Broncos and Mike Shanahan developed quite a reputation for running the ball over the past 14 seasons. Denver basically became known as Running Back Central, where Shanahan and backs coach Bobby Turner turned several late-rounders into stars. While Shanny and Turner worked their magic in 2008 by turning seventh-rounder Peyton Hillis into a Denver cult hero, the season was noted more for its multitude of backfield injuries. New coach Josh McDaniels is no stranger to running-back attrition, as the 2008 Patriots suffered a similar fate; rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis started 3 games after being elevated from the practice squad.
Lesson learned, McDaniels and GM Brian Xanders spent the offseason turning over the depth chart. Among the pair's first moves were cutting P.J. Pope, Alex Haynes and Anthony Alridge; the departure of Cory Boyd followed soon after. Xanders and McDaniels began adding new runners at the start of free agency, signing Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan and J.J. Arrington in short order. Next came the draft, and the consensus of fans and experts alike was that Denver would emerge with at least one more back; the only question was when that would occur.
The cornerback position has reputedly been a strength of the Broncos since 2004, when Champ Bailey was acquired in a trade for Clinton Portis. Of course, that has never really fully been the case. Bailey struggled somewhat in that 2004 season, and his accompaniment at the position was terrible. I am sure we all remember the complete coverage debacle against the Colts in the January 2005 playoffs. In 2005, to make up for the shortcoming, the Broncos drafted Darrent Williams, Domonique Foxworth, and Karl Paymah, landing a very good player who tragically died much too soon, an average player who is a very bright and upstanding guy, and a total stiff who has never figured out the NFL game.
Going into the draft, a lot of folks expected that tight end was one position where the Broncos would stand pat. Before the first pick of the third round, that belief bit the dust. The Broncos shocked many observers by taking on second-round pick Richard Quinn. Having graduated from North Carolina in December of 2008, Quinn has a reputation as a talented blocker whose receiving skills were suspect, due to lack of evidence (12 receptions in his college career, which had several pre-NFL players on the roster). Tony Scheffler was the subject of trade rumors. Was Quinn a replacement? Where were the Broncos going?
Myth #3: Mobility and the Quarterback
"He makes plays with his feet!"
That's something that you frequently hear from color announcers on football games when trying to explain the value of a quarterback. They're talking about the guy who can move the pocket, who can gain you yards out of the pocket, who loves the bootleg and the roll out. There's not a thing wrong with that - in Elway Country, there had better not be if you want to avoid being spammed, flamed, tarred and feathered (in no particular order). But the quarterback who really makes plays with his feet isn't necessarily the guy who leaves the pocket.
Your recent post that mentioned the pass-happy ways of Josh McDaniels got me to scrounging around in my records and I found a few things that might interest you. The idea of pass-happy, to my thinking, has to involve what exactly the averages are and what is, therefore, unusual or extraordinary. Here's what came to light.
The Denver Broncos and Michael Lombardi
I was meandering through some old materials this weekend when I found a pre-draft set of concerns about the Broncos by Michael Lombardi. I had thought at the time that they were reasonable and a fair consideration, so I kept them around. Here is what he said:
Happy Tuesday to all MHR community members. I've been absent for a few weeks, mostly due to craziness in my day job, but at least partially due to a lack of awe-inspiring topics to write about. This is the worst part of the football year, where nothing is going on.
Today, we'll talk about the other teams the Broncos play this season, including AFC second-place teams and the AFC West, and time permitting, I kind of feel like beating up on some MSM writing. We shall see how far I am able to get, and for now, I am going to get right to it. Ready.... BEGIN!!!
Often, you hear someone say or post, "Yeah, he's this year's _____ (fill in your own blank)". It's a kind of verbal shorthand that can be useful if we are either on the 6th beer or clear on why a certain player has something in common with the one cited. Commonly, it's a just way to denigrate the player without giving any specifics, as in 'He's this year's Ryan Leaf'. Anyone who's followed football for a decade knows exactly what is meant by that - Player X is going to be an utter bust (and probably a felon as well). It's an easy way to say something. Sometimes he's just going to be this year's Frunobulax.
The Myth of the Short Cornerback
When the Broncos drafted Alphonso Smith with their first pick in the second round of the NFL Draft, a huge cry went up among the pundits. Smith? No! He's too short! Shorter cornerbacks are at too big of a disadvantage. The belief was that if a receiver is taller than the coverage guy, all the offense has to do is to have their quarterback throw the ball up out of the cornerback’s reach and they will have reception after reception. This is such a common representation that I started to fire up NFL Rewind and to look for instances when it was true. The more football I watched, the more I realized that it only infrequently happened. Receptions commonly occur when the receiver is in front of the cornerback (and height doesn't matter that that point) or when the quarterback places the ball perfectly out in front as both are running (in whatever direction) but I could count the receptions where the wide receiver snared a pass that was thrown over a shorter corner such that the receiver leaps for it perfectly on just one hand. If it didn't work with just one receiver (looking specifically at taller receivers vs. shorter CBs) or in one game, sure, but in game after game it was a rarity and in most it didn't happen at all. I started to wonder, 'Why?'
With the onset of yet another strange distraction this offseason, as Brandon Marshall ignores the effects of his injury and additional problems this offseason with his personal life (neither of which kept him from demanding a trade), there is a lot of talk about the Broncos and the potential receivers who are out there and might be part of a trade for Marshall. While I wouldn't rule those out, from one perspective it's difficult to imagine how an injured problem-child with more offseason issues on his radar (he's already been suspended once and has more court hearings upcoming) will bring a king's ransom in a trade. It's entirely possible that Marshall will be spending 2009 with the Broncos. Whether or not he is, however, I thought it worthwhile to do a quick rundown of who Denver already has as receiving options. For purposes of organization, I broke them down into wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. How they are used may not be the same as how they are listed, but I wanted to keep it as simple as possible.