As the silly season of mock drafts and GM-speak ratchets up to full gear, it's easy to lose sight of the second and third columns of the depth charts. There's been plenty of chatter about the Broncos potentially drafting Von Miller out of Texas A&M to upgrade their linebacker corps. But for today, let's hop off the rumor/speculation carousel and focus on what Denver actually has in terms of young linebacking talent: Braxton Kelley.
Kelley was introduced to the Broncos as an undersized 6’0”, 226 lb. college free agent in 2009, a player many of us had hoped would turn out to be another Wesley Woodyard. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad and under strength and conditioning coach Rich Tuten’s constant tutelage (along with Tuten’s assistants, Greg Saporta and Justin Lovett). Kelley suffered an injury in June of 2010 and was placed on IR, but he's stayed with his training while recovering from his injury and has emerged from the experience as a 242-lb middle linebacker on a team that is in dire need of faster linebackers and talented depth. Kelley’s 40 time leading up to the 2009 Draft was 4.74, with a peak time of 4.65 - he was hardly a burner, but his speed was more than functional since he has an explosive first step and takes great angles to the ball. He was in a classic situation: a player who played much faster on the field than he timed in a straight line 40.
Syd’Quan learned about responsibility early on in his life. Born the oldest of four boys, he grew up in Sacramento, California in an extended family and community-focused neighborhood. As he put it, “Everyone was the cousin of somebody. Everyone went to the same high school and the high school was in the center of the neighborhood.” His youngest brother Shaquille is a five-star recruit by Scout.com and is being pursued by several Pac-10 teams.
Syd’Quan became a father during college, and he now has a young daughter of whom he is extremely protective. Much like Denver safety David Bruton, whose son has been the focus of his life, Thompson learned that he had to grow up early, and is very upfront about how it has matured him and changed his life. He noted, “When you have a kid, it makes you appreciate life more. You never find a love like that, nowhere. I see why my mom was always overprotective of us when we were kids. That love for your child is real different, real special.” So it is. A player with a daughter at home is a lot less likely to be out getting into trouble when they should be concentrating on family and football.
He was born a Chicago boy, but was raised on a farm in the town of Glennville, Georgia. His family had made a decision to flee the violence and grit of the city to raise their boys in a rural community where life was simpler. But working a farm means 12 hour days, day in and day out, from the first touch of light to its last rays. Sterling and Shannon Sharpe grew up knowing how to work hard and to never give up. It was a lesson that would serve both in good stead.
Sterling, by three years the older of the two, was in elementary school when the family moved. Shannon was still too young for school, but he never forgot the lessons that the farm would teach him: patience, perseverance and dedication. Keeping enough food on the table for two rapidly growing boys was often a challenge, back in those days. The farm taught him other things, too. Shannon once joked that the family was so poor that when a burglar once came to the house to rob them, the family caught him and robbed him. It wasn’t a joke by much.
And so it begins...
The Denver Broncos went with the candidate who had the most experience at the head coaching position, and the most coaching experience, period among their three finalists - Rick Dennison, Dirk Koetter and John Fox. The announcement of Fox’s hiring came via Twitter from John Elway; Fox will be the 14th head coach in Denver Broncos history.
Much like Denver's last head coach Josh McDaniels, Fox has a reputation as a man who is devoted to making sure that the details are taken care of. Said Fox,
When I went into the Panthers at 1-15, it was very similar. We had a second (overall) pick, the rebuild (here) is probably going to require a little more on defense than offense, but I have a blueprint that we executed in Carolina, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t work here. I’ve been doing it. I have a plan, whether it’s a bye-week schedule, a training-camp schedule. It’s not my first rodeo, so to speak. I do have a blueprint to do it. We’ve had success — some years more than others — but I think the full body of work is a blueprint for success.
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.
The Broncos promoted LB Lee Robinson from the practice squad last week, and I'm thrilled to see him. Why the fervor for a PS player? Robinson was originally signed by Denver as a college free agent following the 2009 Draft, and I thought he was well worth an enduring look at the time. Robinson was an outside linebacker in college who, like so many Broncos linebackers, has also spent some time with his hand on the ground at DE. However, Robinson is also a player whose maturity and dedication have given the Broncos a new level of competition for any and all of their linebacker slots. Inside linebacker is as good a place to begin as any.
To start, he’s a solid 6’2” and 256 lbs of linebacker. The Broncos once moved to smaller, lighter linebackers, but it’s fair to say that Josh McDaniels preferred something contrastive. He said that he wanted big, physical players who are versatile and can work in multiple situations, which is a choate description of Robinson. One way to consider Robinson is as a bigger version of Wesley Woodyard. In 2008, Woodard took the Broncos by storm. Robinson might be the player at ILB that Denver right now is lacking, freeing up Mario Haggan to stay with his move back to OLB. He can also move into OLB situationally.
Note: This is the conclusion of a three-part series on the history of the spread offense. Part 1 appeared Wednesday, and Part 2 came yesterday. Special thanks to TJ for providing the play diagrams that appear throughout this series.
Jack Neumeier had always been a smashmouth kind of coach. When there was a fight at practice, he made the combatants remove their jerseys and pads and duke it out without protection (that suddenly cut down on the fighting). He believed in the ‘3 yards and a cloud of dust’ kind of offense, one that just dominated the individual matchups and made your opponent fear you. He was the head coach of Granada Hills HS in the San Fernando Valley, and he had a bone-deep belief that ‘tough’ was the only way to win at football. It was a belief that he drummed into every player who came through his program.
Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the history of the spread offense. Part 1 appeared yesterday, and the series will conclude tomorrow with Part 3. Special thanks to TJ for providing the play diagrams that appear throughout this series.
Some coaches have argued that the development of the spread offense was inevitable. That’s not an unreasonable perspective - if the trend in football is to stack your big guys together defensively, some offensive coordinator or head coach is going to spread out their guys to force you to respond, and they’re going to use those open spaces to fling the ball right down your throat. Even so, it took both a tiger and a mouse to really bring the spread into the modern lexicon. The specific form that it took may not have survived in its early form - none of them do, really - but its influence on the game hasn’t slowed, whatever directions it may have taken. While there is nothing truly new under the football sun, Glenn Ellison challenged that axiom, and the way he went about it changed the face of football for all time.
Note: This is the first of a three-part series on the history of the spread offense. Part 2 will appear tomorrow (Thursday), and the series will conclude on Friday with Part 3. Special thanks to TJ for providing the play diagrams that appear throughout this series.
You’ll find very few Broncos fans who would argue that John Elway wasn’t the greatest Broncos quarterback of all time. Many fans in and out of Denver have called him the greatest quarterback of all time. That’s high praise for anyone, especially a player who was once dedicated to becoming a running back. The story of how that changed, and its link to the current Broncos QB Kyle Orton, is a tale worth telling. Settle in, and I’ll set the stage for you. The full production will begin in the second section, but without the background, you won’t catch the full effect. Let’s begin in the State of Washington. In fact, let’s begin with Washington State University.
Last week, Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels announced that rookie tackle Zane Beadles had beaten out injury-prone Ryan Harris for the right tackle slot. This wasn’t a total shock, when considering both Harris’ lingering health problems and Beadles’ high draft selection. Denver had taken Beadles in the 2nd round of the 2010 Draft, 45th overall. CBSSports.com had the following to say about the big rookie out of Utah:
Regarded as one of the elite offensive tackles in college football, most professional talent evaluators view Beadles as the ideal guard at the next level. The four-year starter does have past experience at that position, moving from guard to tackle during his sophomore season. The consensus feels that he is the school’s best offensive lineman since the Jordan Gross era (1999-2002).