How do you quicky replace 35-50 players? Part II

Note: This is the second of a two-part article, the first of which appeared yesterday.

Roulette Wheel II, the Sequel: Waivers
You can also find players like the new stealth offensive lineman (no one seems to have heard of him), Chris Clark, in the waivers system. According to the Broncos’ website:

Clark is a first-year player who spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons on Minnesota’s practice squad after competing in training camp with Tampa Bay in 2008… Earned All-Conference USA recognition as a senior at Southern Mississippi… Awarded to the Broncos via wavers from the Vikings on Sept. 5, 2010.

Waivers can hurt or help you - Denver lost safety Josh Barrett earlier this year, although they expected him to clear waivers and reach IR before stepping back in on STs next season and perhaps to develop his skill at covering tight ends. Bill Belichick managed to slide in his vote, and Barrett was a Patriot. Denver almost immediately picked up Kevin Vickerson - if you don’t have that big safety (although Bruton may make that jump), you’d better get a good rush on the QB.

Just to make this clear, Kaptain Kirk Davis was kind enough to share his understanding of waivers with us:

Waivers are the method used to make a player’s contract or NFL rights available by his current team to other teams in the league.

This process is applicable to any player who has less than four (accrued) seasons of league experience and have been released from any of the league’s 32 teams. Once a player with less than four seasons of league experience is cut or released from a team, the other 31 teams are given the chance to claim him from the waiver wire. A team that claims a player from the waiver wire assumes the terms of the original contract agreed upon between the player and the team that released him.

A player qualifies for an accrued season if he is on a team’s 53-man roster, IR list or physically unable to perform list (PUP) for at least six regular-season games in a league year.

During the procedure, the 31 other teams either file a claim to obtain the player or waive the opportunity to do so, thus the term waiver. The claiming period is typically ten days during the off-season, but from early July through December, it lasts only 24 hours. If a player is claimed by two or more teams in this period, priority is based on the inverse won-lost standing of the teams. The team with the worst record has priority. If no team selects the player, he is a Free Agent and may sign with any team, including his previous one. If no one signs him, he is unemployed.

Denver won one and lost one this season. That’s about normal. I don’t know that much about Chris Clark, but Stanley Daniels came out of a few teams’ practice squads and he’s done a good job for the Broncos. Like all of these methods of acquisition, there is the crapshoot factor. It seems that you really can’t get away from it.

Free Agents II

Josh McDaniels has had some of his best success with free agents, including Brian Dawkins, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Jason Hunter. McD’s also done well with minor backup players (or PS players) like Mario Haggan and Ryan McBean (may he ne’er touch a facemask again….lol). Haggan was actually on the 53-man roster when McD arrived: he just wasn’t used much. He got some game reps in 2008 at MLB (and was replaced by Nate’ The Helmet’ Webster, for reasons that still elude me) and a few reps at strongside LB when Boss Bailey got injured again. Often, Jamie Winborn, who I admire as a person and distrust as a LB, would get that slot (it was odd to see him as a Titan earlier this year, but he didn’t do much in that game, either. Matthew Willis came in on the PS and was on the 53-man roster until his recent injury. He’s got a tough ways to go - we have a lot of great WRs, and it’s hard to get them all playing time. It’s a good problem to have, and injuries will happen - Willis will get his catches, hopefully next year. And as far as Haggan goes, he’s been elected as a team captain, so the men around him think a great deal of him, which tells you what you need to know.

That loud thud that you heard in the Dove Valley locker room was Jarvis Green:  he just didn’t seem to be putting out full effort, and as a result, something seems to have hit him in the gluteus medius on his way out. If he was holding back, (even if he wasn’t), his career may be over. The jury is out on Jamal Williams - he’s lost a step, there’s really no question. He’s also still very large, has excellent technique and knows the position inside and out, so it’s not like he’s in any way a bust. I have to admit, I’m still hurting about not having a young stud NT for him to train, but since Ronald Fields, Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas can all play the position, it’s not like Denver is without options. Even so - I’d have loved to have seen one of the top NTs developing in the middle. Dan Williams comes to mind, and….ah well. It’s done and over.

Jason Hunter is a great example of the kind of FA that Denver both wants and needs. He’s experienced, but still young enough to be effective for years. He was playing in a system that didn’t fit him as well - it’s hard for a 6’4, 271 lb DE to make it in the NFL working solely off the 4-3 formation. On the other hand, in Denver he still gets to put his hand in the dirt at times, yet has found a niche as a 3-4 OLB, and he’s doing well at it. Hunter, Robert Ayers, DJ Williams and Jarvis Moss are a good group, although we’re still thin on coverage. That will vary with the opponent - no one stops Peyton Manning unless he or his OL has a lousy day. He didn’t, but Denver found that Mario Haggan can’t cover the TE. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; while I’m a big supporter of the man,  I can’t pretend that the elephant isn’t in the middle of the living room. I’m not saying that he should move back to OLB permanently, but he’s got some serious work to do to keep his position once Ayers comes back. Someone - anyone - has to learn to cover.

There’s no shortage of good players that Denver has brought in via free agency. Brian Dawkins is as much of an experience as a player - his outrageous enthusisam combined with his high level of skill and production is both rare and beautiful. Andre’ Goodman and Renaldo Hill were excellent pickups, and Nate Jones can handle any DB position. While Darrell Reid didn’t impress as a LB, he was a warm body when Denver needed one, and was, as always, an excellent ST player. Best of fortune to him on his recovery - he is a good guy. There was a pair of trades last year that brought in Russ Hochstein and Le Kevin Smith for what amounted to a single 5th-round pick. Smith never seemed to catch on - there was that knee problem, and it may not have recovered but without Hochstein, even though he’s not my favorite player, Denver would have been even worse in the second half of the 2009 season or early 2010, and now he’s starting at LG. Getting a guy who knows the system and can play any slot on the OL (plus blocking TE/FB) isn’t a bad exchange for a 5th. I hadn’t thought of Hochstein as a ‘value’ player, but when the injuries hit, it’s a very good thing to have one in your bag of tricks.

Successes and Failures

Regardless of the team, the coaches, scouts and management, every team is going to have both successes and failures. The Broncos have had some of each, but I feel the successes have dominated. Players like Nate Jones, Ryan McBean, the new offensive line players, Jason Hunter and several others have stepped in and played well. Alphonso Smith has been traded, as has Peyton Hillis, and both have immediately played well. But JD Walton is showing early signs of being the kind of center that Denver will be happy with for a decade to come. Zane Beadles had never played RT before, but has improved in each game, despite some very stiff competition. The problem on the Denver OL is still the running game, but expecting two rookies, plus Ryan Clady, Chris Kuper and Russ Hochstein to learn to come together in communication and approach after training camp and a few games - some of which needed different substitutes - is asking for far too much. Even so - the pieces are there, and time, training and effort wil provide the rest.

Justin Bannan lookes like everything that many Denverites expected after watching him damage the Denver OL last year. Joe Mays is another player that McXanders picked up (via trade for RB JJ Arrington) after noticing that he was everywhere on STs when Denver played Philly. The STs for Denver so far this year have still not gelled, but there are some new additions, some good players. It’s something the Broncos need to do quickly, though - too many games have been lost over the past 5 years due to ST implosions. David Bruton was one of the top ST players last year, Spencer Larsen is still the Stormin’ Mormon (although he’s recovering from another injury), and Joe Mays may help to replace the loss of Darrell Reid. Wesley Woodyard is also slowly getting back on the field, and he’s another excellent ST player and a good LB.

TE is another position that seems to be rough for McX. Sending a 2nd-round player in Alphonso Smith, who had just had his best performance as a Bronco to Detroit for a low-pick TE wasn’t the best trade that Denver ever made, and what was worse was that it was done to help cover the debacle that is Richard Quinn. Bet on a higher-round TE in the next draft - or obtaining one that some team imagines is too old, as happened with KC and Tony Gonzalez. Imagine someone like him next to Daniel Graham - it would help.

Three Acquisitions that have helped the team

Since there are a lot of options that can help a team like the Broncos - deeply mired in mud on a deer track while trying to negotiate a boulder, 4-wheeling, you can get the same sinking feeling in your belly that needing to replace 35-50 players may bring - I wanted to look at the brighter side, too. Some of those players, coming from very different approaches, can come together to make up a heck of a team. We all know the list that came to Denver through the draft. Each of these arrived a little differently:

1. Stanley Daniels - came to us off of two other PS. Started several games this year at LG.

QUICKLY: Daniels joined the Broncos as a free agent on May 14, 2010 after spending time on
the Packers’ practice squad in 2009 and the Jets’ practice squad in 2008… Entered the league
as a college free agent with the Rams in 2007.
2010: Daniels made his first NFL appearance in the season opener at Jacksonville (9/12), earning the start at left guard.
2009: Daniels saw time on the Packers’ practice squad.
2008: Daniels competed on the New York Jets’ practice squad.
2007: Daniels entered the NFL with St. Louis in 2007 as a college free agent.

2. Matthew Willis - came to the Broncos PS and was taught what he needed to know to be an NFL receiver. Fast was something that he already had down.

QUICKLY: The third-year receiver finished the 2008 season on the Broncos’ practice squad and spent the first 16 weeks of the ’09 campaign with that group before making his first start of his NFL career in Denver’s season finale vs. Kansas City (1/3/10)… Tied for fifth in the NFL with 13 catches in the 2010 preseason and was second in the league with 263 receiving yards.
2010: Willis saw action in the 2010 season opener at Jacksonville (9/12) but did not record any stats.
2009: Willis spent the first 16 weeks of the season on Denver’s practice squad before he was signed to its active roster on Jan. 2… Made the first start of his NFL career and had one special-teams stop vs. K.C. (1/3).
2008: Willis spent the final week of the year on Denver’s practice squad after signing with the club on Dec. 23… Competed in training camp with Baltimore and was signed to its practice squad on Sept. 1… Waived by the Ravens on Sept. 16 and was out of the NFL until joining the Broncos late in the year.

3. Jason Hunter - A free agent who has, until this year, played at defensive end. Green Bay let him go to Detroit because they were convinced that he couldn’t play the 3-4. Now he moves back and forth from OLB to DE, and has been productive at both. He hits hard, has a great motor and has played in at least 12 games per year for the past 4 years.

HUNTER AT A GLANCE:
• A fifth-year player who has played in 56 career games (9 starts) with Detroit (2009) and Green
Bay (2006-08) and totaled 42 tackles (31 solo), seven sacks (32 yds.), one forced fumble and
three fumble recoveries.
• Has appeared in at least 12 games all four years of his NFL career.
• Recorded career highs with 34 tackles (27 solo) and five sacks (27 yds.) to go along with two
fumble recoveries in 14 games played (9 starts) with the Lions in 2009.
• Earned Division I-AA second-team All-America selection after leading Appalachian State
University to the NCAA Division I-AA National Championship as a senior in 2005.
• Joined the Broncos as a free agent on August 19, 2010.
• Entered the NFL as a college free agent with Green Bay on May 6, 2006.

What is similar among these players? First, two were on the PS when Denver acquired them and the third was playing at a different position. The cost was minimal, other than using a roster slot on a player that other teams weren’t that impressed with. Jason Hunter was a rotational player in a 4-3 defense, which may have turned out to be less than his optimal usage. His size, at 6’4 and 271 lb, his ability to obtain good angles and to play in open space has made him into a versatile OLB/DE. Like many players that Denver has brought in, he wasn’t being used to his own best capabilities. As the movement to increasing numbers of 3-4 defenses continues to climb, finding players like Hunter is the equivalent of panning for gold. You often have to wash away much more than half the pan, and you may need to look deeper than the next coach, but when you find the right player exactly when they’re needed, as Denver did with Hunter, it’s a great feeling. You could say that it’s golden.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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