So many folks have asked me about the story of why Walter Payton used that funny, straight-legged almost kicking style of running when he broke free that I feel like I was inadvertently teasing you. I didn't feel right about that, and as it turns out, I had quiet, nice day today. I had time to put together the things that I know about the tale. I hope that you enjoy it.
A brief background - I grew up in several cities, but I was born in Cook County Hospital and my family moved back to Chicago in the 60's, when I was 10. A friend over on MHR sent me this link (find it here) regarding some of the most memorable players in history. It's no shock that some of the Bears were first on the list. As these things tend to do, memory took me back to the prevailing 35 mph SW wind, the bitter cold in Wrigley Field and the experiences that I had there. i lived most of my life in Denver and Colorado, but with these being Chicago stories, I hope that you can enjoy them. Peace.
Some years back in Denver (Doug or TJ could tell you how many), Dan Reeves fired a young coach who was, in fairness, trying to get around Reeves with regard to the type of plays that would be run for star QB John Elway. Reeves was also reputed to have a personal dislike for the somewhat cocky young coach, and despite the value and importance of this individual personally to John Elway, Reeves went ahead and fired Mike Shanahan. Ironically, Shanahan went to the raiders to get some head coaching experience. Oakland is where he found out why so many coaches dislike Al Davis, where Shanahan won a court case that he never bothered to collect on and then came back as a friend of Elway's, as head coach of the Broncos (a job that evolved into head coach and general manager), and won two Super Bowls for a grateful Denver and all of Broncos Country. He holds a very high place in the annals of the Broncos history and in the hearts of many of the Broncos fans who were around during the miraculous period when Denver won 2 super Bowls, one against a heavily favored Green Bay team, a 'team of destiny', as they were being called. He also took apart a pretty good Atlanta Falcons team the following year that was, ironically, coached by Dan Reeves. By a seat-of-the-pants calculation, Mike Shanahan gave well over 15,000 hours of his life to the Denver Broncos and is rightfully a legend in this town.
Every time Richard Quinn's name comes up, you begin to hear the same Greek chorus - "He's only a blocking back. He only caught 12 balls in college." The second statement is true. The first is up for considerable debate. What many people don't seem to know about Richard Quinn is that before he was a TE, he'd been a WR/TE in high school. He was a good one, too, and highly recruited. Sometimes you don't get the whole story when you only see headlines. Quinn is an unknown quantity to most Denver fans. That's going to change over time, and I'm betting that Broncos fans will like what they see.
I was chatting with another member this afternoon, and he mentioned his discomfort with the article in today's Denver Post on the 'It' factor. He brought up a few very legitimate concerns, too. I understand his feelings. I agree with much of it, too. I'll tell you the good side that I see, though, for whatever it's worth. Please bear with me - it covers a few different areas, but there is a point to the journey, I promise.
There are players who come into the NFL, seemingly immediately ready to take on the challenges of the game. You may find them in the 1st round or the 7th - you may even find them in the ranks of the undrafted college free agents. Regardless of where they are found, they all have one thing in common - they're very, very rare. Only a gifted few players are ready to contribute immediately. Most NFL teams will give even 1st round prospects 2 full training camps before even considering how well they might be working out for the team. The NFL game is bigger, faster, stronger and a lot more complex, and it takes most people time to figure it out. One of those players is Marquez Branson.
I've been one of the folks who would prefer a more balanced view of the Broncos newest quarterback. He's done some great things, and he has some weaknesses that are not minor issues. In the midst of all the laudatory arguments that seem to claim that the Broncos are now Super Bowl bound, I'd like to add some centrist reasoning. I'm hearing quite a few straw men arguments, and perhaps there's a middle road to be considered on that.
I tend to read and research quite a bit. Contrary to a recent post, I've heard very few people claim that Tebow 'wasn't accurate' in college. It's extremely important for the chances of future success that a QB making the leap from the college to the pro level to have a minimum of a 60% completion rate in college. Tebow's was well over that, and I haven't hear much in the way of comments that differ on this. College and the NFL, however, are vastly different. I have heard the criticism that he has trouble with accuracy on certain throws. That will or won't be true at the NFL level with the new throwing motion that he is trying to develop - certainly, there is a great connection between Tebow and McDaniels, and TT's in the best spot that he could be in that sense. He'll get the best help that he can to work on all throws.
The Option of Drafting a Later Round QB
I was wandering through the day's information, casual as you please, when this next bit from walterfootball.com jumped up and bit me on the imagination. As most of you know, I tend to be a big Bill Walsh fan, and Mike Holmgren was his star QBs pupil. That made me think about the following blurb:
Holmgren has never spent a first-round pick on a quarterback. There's a reason for this. Like Bill Walsh, Holmgren firmly believes that he can take "inferior" quarterbacks and make them into really proficient passers. These "inferior" signal-callers don't have to possess a great or even a very good arm; they just need to make quick decisions, and be accurate in the short and the intermediate passing game. Clausen could absolutely thrive in Holmgren's offense, but I don't think Holmgren would be willing to spend the No. 7 overall pick on the Notre Dame product - even if he is the top quarterback prospect in this class.
About 3 months before this time of year, you start to hear terms bandied about, sometimes accurately, sometimes carelessly. The most common point of discussion is talked about as 'need' versus "BPA' or best player available. The fact is, no team drafts exclusively for one or the other. Both come into play when a team talks about any player. Let's start wth scouting and move along the path to the draft.
One of the complaints that you will hear yearly at this time comes from the scouts in the game. I'll explain in a little while. Some teams use services, like BLESTO (which was originally and acronym for the Bears, Lions, Eagles and Steelers scouting organization. National Scouting Service, knows simply as 'National' is the other larger scouting house. More and more, though, teams have their own scouts arranged usually by region or by conference. They may still subscribe to the info from the scouting services, but they do their own legwork once the early work is done.
In Part I, I tried to look at where Denver stands right now, and to establish how a year's familiarity with the team and systems could, for most of the players and coaches, provide a noticeable benefit. In this installment, I'm going to dissect the defense and look at some strengths, weaknesses, and potential for the future.
There's a new defensive coordinator in town, and Don 'Wink' Martindale has been unabashed about his feelings on the game. He's enthusiastic, he's excited and he plans to increase the aggression level of the Denver D. There was a lot of 'read and react' during the unlamented 2008 version, and it didn't work well. You still saw some of that in 2009, but it was (thankfully) limited. What you did see a lot of was what Renaldo Hill called 'vision coverage' - the DBs watched the QB's eyes to take their cues, which is somewhat different from read and react, an approach that deals with both run and pass. Vision coverage is, according to an interview with Renaldo Hill, a little moment slower and leaves some openings that receivers can take advantage of as a result. According to Hill, that won't be the case this year. You can expect to see the players locking harder onto the offensive players who come into their zones. Hill seemed to think that dropping this coverage and implementing the different approach would improve the secondary and the pass defense. There will also be more blitzing, and there will be an effort to avoid using eight in the box as much as is possible unless it's being done to exploit an offensive weakness. Nate Jones, the newest cornerback, is said to specialize in cornerback blitzing, so there should be some opportunity there which adds a weapon to the arsenal.