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.
The Denver Broncos came into 2009 on the heels of a shocking dismissal of long-time head coach Mike Shanahan. The next few months would be filled with the hiring of Josh McDaniels and his entire coaching staff, the dismissal/firing of both Jim and Jeff Goodman, the architects of the 2008 draft class, a tiff with QB Jay Cutler that resulted in his trade to Chicago, rumors of trades of Tony Scheffler (who ended 2009 in the doghouse of the new coaching regime), a very active role in free agency and a hotly debated role in the 2009 draft. Other than that, it was unusually calm in Dove Valley, unless you include redecorating and even removing some pictures, resulting in some (even more) irritated fans. Comparatively, 2010 has been very quiet. The two worst problems are trying to know if we have an interior line guy on either side of the ball and trying to understand who folks are talking about when they just say, 'Quinn'. Brady or Richard? Richard is the taller one....
When I was asked for a piece on Mario Haggan and the inside linebacker position, I went through the three research files on Haggan that I had already developed and quickly realized that there was a lot more to the situation than just a story on Mario. Since I've covered him a few times already, I felt it best to deal more directly with the question, "What options do the Broncos have for ILB this year?" Since getting it all done solo wasn't an option right now, I gave a call to the Dude, admired the way his rug pulled the room together and enticed him into the project. Never one to miss out on some play time, TJ tossed in with gusto. At this point, you hopefully can't tell where one of us stops and the other begins, in a literary sense. We both hope that you enjoy the offering. - Doc and TJ
We've been talking for weeks now about the nose tackles in this league, on this team and in this draft. It seems that every time I turn around, some other NFL team has decided that the intelligent answer to the short passing-based attack that has been sweeping the NFL is to move to the versatility of the 3-4 formation. As more and more teams use this attack as their primary or secondary weapon (in the case of some of the hybrids formations, another commonality in the NFL right now), there is a growing demand for nose tackles. Big ones and shorter ones, faster and slower ones, nose tackles are becoming one of the talks of the league.
Perusing the list of offerings from this past week, I particularly liked the article Trends that Ivan put together, and I want to compliment him on that great effort. It was a very nice job of organizing a lot of disparate information in a way that brought out and clarified many of the concepts that were within its scope. As good articles tend to do, I found that I did have a couple of questions and thoughts from it. I thought they would fit best in an article rather than a comment - I try not to write a 'War and Peace' comment more than once a month.... After the response to the historical retrospective on choosing a quarterback, it brought me to the understanding that it will take a little time to cover the issues that have to be considered when choosing a nose tackle for a 3-4 defense. Much of this originally came up in regard to T. Cody, but this is equally important regardless of which NT you decide to draft for your team.
One of the most important abilities as a general manager, a coach or a scout is the ability to analyze talent. Each of these professions needs to understand what a players strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and what they will and won't be expected to be able to do. It's particularly important - and difficult - when it comes to talking about quarterbacks. What is it that makes a quarterback successful? How can you structure an understanding of how effective a player will be in 1, 2, 3 and 5 or more years from when they will be drafted? Why is it, historically, that so many quarterbacks have failed to make the leap from college to the NFL? There have been many quarterbacks who we can look at, to try to discover why it's such a difficult decision.
One of the big questions going into the 2010 offseason is deciding exactly what, if anything, the Broncos are going to do about their linebacker position. Given that Coach Don Martindale has been named to the defensive coordinator position, it's clear that that Broncos both like his style of coaching and appreciate what he's done with a group that was cobbled together from continuing players, castoffs from other squads and players from Denver moving from different positions.
It says here that Martindale has been one of the top coaches on the team, and if they move him up to DC, I hope that they can find someone nearly as good to take his place. By the way, for those who asked - the style of defense and the terminology were part of the package that Josh McDaniels impressed Pat Bowlen, Joe Ellis and Jim Goodman with. It's not going to change, so there will be continuity.
After reading two of BShrout's articles this week, I liked them both very much. The article on the running game was very interesting to me, and I thought I'd bring a little extra info to your attention. Most of it probably isn't new.
The points that were made on the comments were quite accurate. One of the things that came out was that it was very effective for Denver, under Mike Shanahan, to use the passing attack to get ahead, and use the running game to close out the game. This is taken directly from Bill Walsh, the inventor of the West Coast Offense. Although other coaches have used this same line over the years, he understood (and used that phrase in an interview I saw with him) the phrase "Pass to score, run to win". At the very least, he based much of his system on it. Lots of teams know this principle and use it - as in, all of them - in degree.
Born in Arkansas, the son of Amos and Elsie Branson, and growing up in Starkville AK, Marquez Branson is one of two things. Depending on exactly how you like to see the world, either he's a converted wide receiver who doesn't really fit anywhere in the NFL game, or he's another of the multi-talented, versatile players that coaches like Josh McDaniels is looking for. After only a single season on the Denver Broncos practice squad, it's really anyone's guess which one he is, but right now he's someone who is clearly worth keeping an eye on.
Branson's name has come up in two different capacities in the past week. First of all, he's ostensibly a tight end and the Broncos seem to be debating the future of Tony Scheffler with the club. At about 6'3 and somewhere between 242 and 250, he's obviously somewhat light for the position right now, but has the frame to fill out another 10-20 lbs over the next few years.