Our 2009 Denver Broncos Preview concludes with today's section on the Linebackers. This is, perhaps, the group that has seen the most change from the forgettable performances of the 2008 season. The move to a base 3-4, using an attacking two-gap approach (which several players have indicated that they are learning) and being varied at time in some hybrid form (such as a 4-3 under or over) is about the farthest thing possible from the speed-oriented base 4-3 approach of the Broncos' past. However, it harkens back to a day when Joe Collier pulled the strings on a fierce defense.
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:
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.
There are a few things that you can count on with Tom Brandstater. He's a big quarterback with nearly perfect size for the position. Drafted with the 1st pick of the 6th round (pick #174), Tom Brandstater is a 6'5", 222 lb. solid physical specimen. He's very intelligent and finished his degree in communications at Fresno State in only three years, also earning academic honors each year, a three-time Academic All-WAC choice. He's already finishing his Masters degree in psychology. His last name is pronounced Brand-STATE-ur. And after that, no one really agrees.
With 3rd-and-5 the offense is in the shotgun. The quarterback takes the snap and steps up into the forming pocket. The defenders come screaming in off of both sides and the MLB comes up the middle on a delayed blitz but the quarterback coolly performs his checkdowns and threads the ball between two defensive backs towards his receiver. The ball falls just out of reach and the play is over. What just happened? The truth is, we'll never know.