Team identity, the Broncos and the Steelers

The always excellent Mike Lombardi wrote another fine column on Wednesday - this one on the coaching carousel - which coaches are still on the ‘hot seat’ - and why. I think it should be required reading for the Denver Broncos' front office. Lombardi has a long history with the Broncos, and his insights should not be taken lightly - he’s among the minority of writers who have been involved in nearly every facet of the game, and he’s worked with Denver. 

His reference to the Steelers comes near the end of the article - it points to the biggest vacancy on the Broncos, and it isn’t the head coaching position. It isn’t the GM either, nor is it the scouting setup; rather, it’s the utter lack of a clear team identity. This has been Denver's problem for years now, and it’s far past time to figure this one out. Josh McDaniels tried to instill one, but the time and effort it would require wasn’t going to be accepted (although the team is starting to see in retrospect that he did a lot of things right). In the wake of his scapegoating firing, Denver should take the opportunity to make some hard decisions. Frankly though, plenty of solutions are already in place.

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Happy New Year! Lard 1-1-11

Good Morning, Dear Readers - and Happy 2011 to you and yours! Thank you so much for being here - without your remarkable support, TJ, Emmett and I would just be three guys emailing each other about the Broncos from our moms' basements (in our underwear, of course). Granted, some visitors may view us as doing precisely that, but it is your loyalty that has given us the confidence everyday to write about our favorite team, and hopefully to improve continually. Thank you for sharing your opinions, for challenging us, and for your suggestions. IAOFM is growing faster than we had ever envisioned, and that is undoubtedly a result of your endorsements.

We resolve in 2011 to bring you the finest and most thorough Broncos analysis and commentary around, and we resolve to do so while making you think, smile and laugh in the process. Sadly, our offseason arrives tomorrow evening (although in some senses it began the day Josh McDaniels was fired), and there will be plenty to ponder: a new head coach with new schemes, a new CBA (hopefully), and of course the 2011 NFL Draft. We have several exciting ideas to help enrich the IAOFM experience, and we look forward to sharing them with you. Again - thank you for your readership, and may the new year bring you great health, happiness and fortune.

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The Broncography of Brandon Lloyd

As the 2010 season approached, speculation and dark commentary abounded regarding how Denver would clearly be unable to replace the 100+ catches and 1,000+ yards of production that they had come to expect from Brandon Marshall. How could they replace his blocking, which had always been one of Marshall's strong suit? What could Josh McDaniels possibly be thinking (a question which ignored the common rumor that Mike Shanahan had considered cutting Marshall outright, just to get him off the team)? The national sports media were overwhelmingly critical of Denver’s move to trade Marshall.

There was nothing new there - they’d been critical of nearly everything Denver had done since the day they hired McDaniels. A few writers, here and there (mostly here) noted the many options that Denver had in the receiving game, including new acquisitions DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, practice-squad promotee and former track star Matthew Willis, and returning veterans Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd. Among tight ends, Marquez Branson had been injured and Richard Quinn was struggling to find his game, but Daniel Graham was still playing well. The trade of Alphonso Smith for Dan Gronkowski was yet to occur, but there was clearly no shortage of possible options for receiving. At this point, though, no one could have predicted Lloyd’s league-leading performance.

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If not Kubes → Fassel? Lard 12-31-10

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! Mike Lombardi is hearing that if Gary Kubiak does not become available, then Denver's next choice for head coach may be former Broncos OC and Giants HC Jim Fassel thanks to his strong relationship with John Elway. Fassel had been an assistant coach at Stanford while Elway was there, and Fassel's 1993 arrival in Denver led the QB to a much higher level of efficiency, which Elway would carry through the rest of his career. Fassel is known as a quarterback guru, primarily for his work with Elway and for helping revitalize the career of Kerry Collins with the Giants - but most of his NFL career was spent coaching QBs who are towards the end of their primes, including Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason and Steve McNair. Still, if Tim Tebow is the future (and he sure looks the part), bringing in a head coach with plenty of experience working with QBs makes sense - especially one with the wisdom to hire John Fox as his first defensive coordinator.

Although Fassel led the Giants to SB XXXV (where they lost to Baltimore), his tenure in New Jersey was one of wild inconsistency; in seven seasons, Fassel's G-Men made three playoff appearances but also had three losing seasons and blew a 24-point third-quarter playoff lead in San Francisco in 2002. Most recently, Fassel has coached Las Vegas to two UFL titles.

Friends, have fun ringing in 2011 however you celebrate; be safe, and if you're drinking, please don't drive!

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A Second Helping of…Brian Xanders

Call off the bloodhounds.  It appears as if the search for a general manager was over before it even began. 

At least you'll have a shiny new John Elway doll to distract you.

Enter Brian Xanders...stage bereft.

According to multiple reports, Pat Bowlen, Joe Ellis, and John Elway will make it their first order of business to give Xanders full control of personnel decisions next week.  For an organization set to have one of its worst records in franchise history, this seems a little rash.

Right now the NFL is teeming with hungry and talented GM candidates, but the Broncos already have their inside man.

Within one week of ending the season?

If only the Rooney Rule applied to the search for a general manager.  It would at least force the Broncos to interview candidates for the job.

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Xanders PR Week Lard 12-30-10

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Apparently it's Brian Xanders PR Media Tour Week, or didn't you hear? First, Xanders goes on radio with Vic and Gary Monday and says he got his PhD in football from Dan Reeves, that he spends 90% of his time scouting, that he's more than a cap guy, and finally he issues a "no comment" on the Peyton Hillis trade. Next up, an article on that repeats those first few points verbatim and then completely disavows Xanders from the Hillis trade by stating that Josh McDaniels went rogue on that one. It's a very fluffy article, one that reads to me like a PR piece - spoon fed perhaps by the guy with 'marketing and media relations' in his job description - Joe Ellis.

It sure makes Xanders out to be a swell guy - he's hard-working, started at the very bottom, and has Charley Casserly (who has been media guy for over 4 years now and works for NFLN) and an anonymously-quoted agent vouching for him. The article not only disconnects Xanders from several of the most controversial moves the Broncos have made over the past two years, but it goes so far as to say that Xanders was either vehemently opposed, was left out of the process entirely, or had much better ideas that lost out (like drafting Clay Matthews Jr.). Heck, it even paints him as partly responsible for the Falcons' best decisions (hiring Tom Dimitroff and Mike Smith, signing Michael Turner and drafting Matt Ryan).

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Broncos sign DT Louis Leonard

The Broncos have signed DT Louis Leonard today and placed LB Lee Robinson on injured reserve after he suffered a knee injury in Sunday's victory over the Texans. Leonard is a fourth-year player out of Fresno State who was originally signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent and has played 25 games over the course of a career spent with St. Louis, Cleveland, Carolina and New England. Leonard is 6'4" and weighs 325 pounds.

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The Playbook Abides - Tebow’s encore

Last week we took a look at all 16 throws Tim Tebow made in his debut as the Broncos' starting QB.

The verdict?  This cat is an NFL quarterback.

I'm happy to report that I reached that conclusion before Christmas, so you can't accuse me of pounding too much egg nog.

This week in The Playbook Abides, we're putting up for your review four of Tebow's passes from Sunday.  Each one of them is instructive in its own little way, and helps us to chart Tebow's growth as the Broncos' signal caller.

(Note:  I don't believe I need to convince you of Tebow's inherent leadership abilities, but if so, don't take my word for it.  Champ Bailey and Jabar Gaffney can tell you).

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BLloyd Pro Bowler; Champ snubbed Lard 12-29-10

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Brandon Lloyd got a much-deserved nod yesterday from his peers with his first Pro Bowl selection. His conference call (linked below) with reporters was a gem, and he continues to show himself to be a humble and well-spoken guy.

Unfortunately, Champ Bailey did not make the Pro Bowl, which would have been his 10th selection. I should correct myself for suggesting last night that he was not snubbed in getting beaten out by Devin McCourty for the roster. It was one of those things I thought was a bit iffy when I typed it, and after more thought it was pretty dumb. McCourty getting chosen over Champ is clearly about stats, more specifically the stats that the fans see (interceptions) and what shows up on the weekly highlights. This is the same manner in which our old friends Deltha O'Neal and Tory James made it to the Pro Bowl, and frankly it sucks. I'm not equating McCourty's play with that of those two overrated guys, but his selection over Champ is an example of what's wrong with the Pro Bowl.

Usually the problem is guys getting in on their name and popularity; this time it was an unimportant statistic. Quite simply, interceptions are not the measure of a great cornerback. In fact, this season Nnamdi Asomugha has zero INTs, Darrelle Revis has zero INTs, and Champ has just two. But please don't use this as fodder for the "Stats are Meaningless" argument. Stats can tell you almost everything you need to know - it's a matter of finding the right ones...

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Brandon Lloyd elected to Pro Bowl

The NFL has announced the 2011 Pro Bowl rosters, and the Broncos have but one representative - WR Brandon Lloyd. 2010 has been a breakout season for Lloyd, who has accumulated 72 catches for a league-leading 1,375 yards through 15 games. Lloyd's 19.1-yard average per reception trails only Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson and 60 Minutes' Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, while his 10 TD receptions are tied for fifth-best in the NFL. Lloyd's 72 receptions have produced a remarkable 67 first downs, for a league-leading 93.1% rate. All of these numbers have far surpassed Lloyd's previous career highs.

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