Denver Broncos 2008 Preview Report

August 3, 2008 by

Denver Broncos

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 2nd

2007 Record: 7-9 (2nd AFC West)

Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (14th year)

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new Veteran

Offense

QB: Jay Cutler Has one of the strongest arms in the game. It’s a strength and weakness in that, he can make some spectacular throws but also force balls in traffic.

RB: Selvin Young Gained 729 yards on just 140 attempts as a speedy undrafted rookie last season. But Shanahan’s right––he’s too small to handle a featured load.

FB: Cecil Sapp Mediocre in all ways. Can handle the ball from time to time but doesn’t have enough pop as a lead-blocker.

WR: Brandon Marshall Boundless potential––think T.O. with less strength but more speed. Injuries are a concern; maturity is a major concern.

WR: Darrell Jackson** It wasn’t long ago that he was posting 1,000-yard seasons in Seattle. However, hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee.

TE: Daniel Graham Is ,without, question the supreme run-blocking tight end in football. Can also hurt you on occasion as a receiver.

LT: Ryan Clady* Left one orange and blue Broncos team to join another. He’ll be facing much tougher competition with this one.

LG: Ben Hamilton Excellent fit in this zone scheme, though missed most of last season with a concussion.

C: Tom Nalen Only John Elway has started more games for this franchise. Thirty-seven and coming off two surgeries in the past year. Definitely worth taking a chance on.

RG: Montrae Holland Bigger and stronger than a typical Denver O-lineman, though he moves well enough in this scheme. Must keep his weight in check.

RT: Chris Kuper Third-year guy who can play every position save for center. Broncos made a huge effort to get him in the starting lineup.

————————

QB: Patrick Ramsey Epitomizes a backup QB: experience starting, has been with three teams, makes enough throws to entice but enough mistakes to repulse.

RB: Michael Pittman** Turns 33 in August and has fiendish character issues. But between the sidelines, he’s a tremendous fit for this offense. Could start at some point.

WR: Keary Colbert** Alright player, but shouldn’t be near the first unit. Started 42 games in his first four seasons as a Panther and caught just 109 passes.

WR: Brandon Stokley Lethal underneath, and a natural at converting third downs.

TE: Tony Scheffler Foot injury has hindered him the past two offseasons. If healthy, he’s an outstanding pass-catching weapon. Has a nice rapport with Cutler.

OL: Erik Pears Good enough to start, though maybe not ideal for this system. Will back up Clady on the left side. When he locks his hands on a defender, it’s over.

Defense

LDE: John Engelberger High-energy veteran who contributes against the run.

DT: Dewayne Robertson** Bum knee has plagued him for years, though he’s only missed three games in his career. Has very quick hands and can be destructive playing a three-technique.

DT: Alvin McKinley Unassuming veteran who shows a surprising first step off the ball. Not a playmaker, but a worthy starter in a rotation.

RDE: Elvis Dumervil Great speed has helped him notch 21 sacks over his first 2 years. But at 5’11”, 260, must keep significant separation to be effective. Should be a third-down specialist.

SLB: Boss Bailey** Past knee problems and indecisiveness have impeded his career. Fringe starter at best.

MLB: Niko Koutouvides** Was Seattle’s special teams maven for his first four years. Who is saying this guy can start?

WLB: D.J. Williams Would be a known star if the team hadn’t played him out of position the past 3 seasons. Is finally in his natural spot.

CB: Champ Bailey His 24 interceptions since 2004 are the most in the NFL. Turned 30 in June, which means he has at least three years left as president of pro cornerbacks.

SS: Marlon McCree** Turned out to be a good addition after the sudden departure of John Lynch.

FS: Hamza Abdullah One of the fastest players on the team. Excellent range makes him a breakout candidate in 2008.

CB: Dre’ Bly Proven veteran who is a No. 2 in title only.

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DL: Marcus Thomas Character issues remain a concern. But if he can behave, he can be a star. His technique is rough around the edges.

LB: Nate Webster Will compete for the starting MLB job, though he’s more equipped to be backup. Offers good veteran leadership.

NB: Domonique Foxworth Moves back to NB after filling in at S the last two seasons. Playing for a new contract.

Key Players Acquired

LB Boss Bailey (Det)

WR Keary Colbert (Car)

G Dylan Gandy (Ind)

WR Darrell Jackson (Sea)

LB Niko Koutouvides (Sea)

S Marquand Manuel (Car)

S Marlon McCree (SD)

WR Samie Parker (KC)

RB Michael Pittman (TB)

DT Dewayne Robertson (NYJ)

C Casey Wiegmann (KC)

Key Players Lost

RB Mike Bell (Hou)

K Jason Elam (Atl)

S Nick Ferguson (Hou)

LB Ian Gold

RB Travis Henry

LB Warrick Holdman

WR Taylor Jacobs

OT Matt Lepsis (retired)

S John Lynch

C Chris Myers (Hou)

FB Paul Smith

G Isaac Snell (Ten)

S Marviel Underwood

WR Javon Walker (Oak)

Denver is always active in the free agent market (which is part of their problem). Of the players they brought in, not one of them comes without a caveat. For Wiegmann, Pittman and McCree, the caveat is age. For Jackson, Bailey and Robertson, it’s knee problems. For Parker, Gandy and Colbert, it’s underachievement. For Koutouvides and Manuel, it’s sheer ability (or lack thereof). But because the Broncos love to juggle their lineup, virtually all of these players will have a chance to contribute––or even start––in ’08. Aside from Lynch, not one of Denver’s departed veterans will be missed.

2008 – Denver Broncos

Rd

Sel #

Player

Position

School

1

12

Ryan Clady

T

Boise State

2

42

Eddie Royal

WR

Virginia Tech

4

108

Kory Lichtensteiger

G

Bowling Green State

4

119

Jack Williams

CB

Kent State

5

139

Ryan Torain

RB

Arizona State

5

148

Carlton Powell

DT

Virginia Tech

6

183

Spencer Larsen

OLB

Arizona

7

220

Josh Barrett

SAF

Arizona State

7

227

Peyton Hillis

FB

Arkansas

Clady was a good addition; they need him to start immediately at LT. That’s an awfully big jump considering he faced WAC competition for only three years in college, but he’s skilled enough to handle it. Royal was brought in for his return abilities, though he could sneak into the back of the receiver rotation at some point. Shanahan raved about him after the first minicamps. They’ll bring Lichtensteiger along slowly and make sure that his injuries in college don’t follow him to the pros. Williams won’t play much until ’09––if then. The Broncos think they got a steal in Torain. He’s coming off Lisfranc surgery but could push for a starting job.

Denver Broncos 2008 Preview Report

Okay, enough is enough. Somebody has to say something. The Denver Broncos are too fine a franchise for this. Look at them––they’re doing it wrong! This isn’t how you build a team! If someone would just go over there and tell them, we’d all be better off.

Aren’t you getting tired of the mediocrity? The people in the Rocky Mountain region sure are. It’s maddening. There’s talent everywhere, and yet, the Broncos have but one playoff victory in the past decade.

Denver loves to trumpet the fact that they did not have a losing season from 2000-06. That changed last year when they underachieved immaculately and finished 7-9. And besides, who cares about “non-losing seasons”? Deadbeat teams champion their “non-losing seasons”; the Broncos are a franchise that, just 10 years ago, hoisted the first of their back-to-back Lombardi Trophies. Give us a break.

It’s pretty obvious what the problem is: Mike Shanahan and the front office. Shanahan is a great coach––really, a brilliant offensive mind. But he shouldn’t be handling the GM responsibilities. History has proven that such scenarios rarely succeed. The only guy these days who can coach and also manage the roster is Belichick. Even Belichick’s old mentor, Bill Parcells, hasn’t been able to pull it off (though, to his credit, the teams he puts together always seem to thrive after he leaves the sideline).

Look at the clubs that currently enjoy steady success: Indianapolis, coached by Tony Dungy, managed by Bill Polian; Pittsburgh, coached by Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, managed by Kevin Colbert; San Diego, coached by Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer, managed by A.J. Smith; Seattle Seahawks, coached by Mike Holmgren, successful once GM Tim Ruskell arrived.

When a team entrusts personnel responsibilities in a head coach, it is putting a job that requires long-term perspective in the hands of a man wired to make quick fixes. A coach’s vision often does not stretch past the next Sunday. And rarely is it able to leave its tunnel and see the big picture. Coaches are so close to their team’s action that they constantly believe they’re just one or two pieces away from having everything they need. Hence, the flood of new veterans that pours through Denver each year.

In 2005 the Broncos brought in 12 relevant veteran players. They added only four in 2006 before bringing in another 13 in 2007. This year, they acquired 11 new veterans, 10 of whom will be asked to make significant contributions.

This is what doesn’t work. Seeking prosperity through the veteran market is like trying to find true love through online dating: it’s not impossible, but it’s certainly improbable. The main reason is, like with online dating, the pickings are slim. If someone were truly special, they wouldn’t be so available.

The Broncos are not like the Redskins––they don’t sacrifice their draft for veteran acquisitions. But they’re not like the Eagles either, in that they don’t limit the head coach’s personnel power by prioritizing the draft and employing a front office that knows how to say No. Denver recently reshuffled its front office. GM Ted Sundquist did not always click with Shanahan and was therefore shown the door. Sundquist was essentially replaced by Jim Goodman, who was promoted from director of player personnel to vice president of football operations. In short, Goodman is Shanahan’s assistant.

The way Goodman can impact this organization in his new role is to get Shanahan to understand the fallacy behind the past two years of Denver’s veteran signings. Generally, a veteran player is available because he a. has injury problems (see Darrell Jackson, Brandon Stokley, Boss Bailey, D.D. Lewis, Dewayne Robertson), b. has character issues (see Travis Henry, Todd Sauerbrun), c. is an underachiever (see Jimmy Kennedy, Gerard Warren, David Terrell, Keary Colbert, Samie Parker), d. can’t play (see Patrick Ramsey, Paul Smith, Dylan Gandy and Marquand Manuel), or e. is aging or slowing down (see Warrick Holdman, Sam Adams, Marlon McCree, Michael Pittman and Casey Wiegmann).

Obviously not all veteran acquisitions fall in these five categories. There are some stars out there. And there are several decent role players too. Last season, the Broncos brought in Dre’ Bly, Montrae Holland, Alvin McKinley and Daniel Graham; all four became solid starters. But even starting veterans come with a price. When Bly showed up, fourth-year player Domonique Foxworth was denied a chance to develop as a starter. When Holland arrived, Chris Kuper was relegated to the bench. Now that Kuper is starting at right tackle, good-looking young lineman Erik Pears is stuck on the second string. McKinley’s presence eats into the playing time of second-year gem Marcus Thomas; Graham’s being a starter forces fluid tight end Tony Scheffler to a second-string role.

Are you starting to see how this works? New veterans can be better options in the moment. But in two or three years, when youngsters like Foxworth and Scheffler are supposed to be in their prime, they won’t have had optimum experience to grow from. This will make them average. With enough average players, it’s easy to go 10 years and tally only one playoff victory.

Another thing about veteran acquisitions is that they come with old habits, which makes them difficult to mesh into your system. This creates instability––the type of instability that leads to three different defensive coordinators in three years. When you draft a player, you have an opportunity to mold him. It’s no coincidence that Denver’s best quarterback (Jay Cutler), running back (Selvin Young), wide receiver (Brandon Marshall), offensive lineman (Ben Hamilton), defensive lineman (Elvis Dumervil) and linebacker (D.J. Williams) all joined the organization right out of college.

Offense

Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos must have thought the pressure of being the next John Elway was really getting to Jay Cutler. When the second-year quarterback came into Antonopulos’s office and told him that he was rapidly losing weight––35 pounds in five months––the trainer told him it probably had to do with stress. Turns out, Cutler was actually diabetic.

The Broncos––and Cutler––can live with that; at least the guy’s not deforming in the darkness of Elway’s shadow. Cutler has gradually improved over his first two years in the league. He threw for nearly 3,500 yards last season and posted 20 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

Despite what fantasy sports tells us, greatness is not measured on paper. Most intriguing about Cutler is his poise late in games. Already, the ex-Vanderbilt Commodore has eight game-winning or game-tying fourth quarter drives in his NFL career. Oddly, questions about Cutler’s leadership have been whispered throughout Broncos headquarters. Don’t expect those to continue.

Cutler is more talented than Football America knows. He’s 6’3”, 233 (he’s regained most of the weight he lost), capable of making plays with his feet and eager to use his rocket arm. Cutler’s arm is special to the point that it’s almost a liability this early in his career. Young flamethrowers tend to force balls into traffic (something Cutler does far too often).

Cutler couldn’t ask for a better coach to work with than Mike Shanahan. In 2008, Shanahan will tell his budding star to be more consistent in the way he manages the offense and a little more judicious in the number of big hits he endures (Patrick Ramsey is a fine backup but futile starter).

An improved rushing attack will do wonders for steadying Denver’s offense. The Broncos have never had a problem finding productive ballcarriers, and this season, they have a host of prospects to choose from. The leading candidate is Selvin Young, a diminutive speedster who surprised everyone with a team-leading 729 yards as an undrafted rookie last year.

Young is an ideal fit for operating behind Denver’s famed zone-blocking line (though what running back isn’t?). The stipulation with him, however, is durability. Shanahan doesn’t believe the 210-pounder can handle a featured back’s load. He’s right. Young is not sturdy on contact and is likely to wear down late in games. With this in mind, the Broncos signed veteran bruiser Michael Pittman. Pittman won’t save the day (remember the lecture on veteran acquisitions?), but he will move the chains for this team.

Other runners who could contribute in 2008 include fifth-round rookie Ryan Torain and third-year pro Andre Hall. Both lack optimum size but, like Young, both fit the team’s one-cut mantra. Cecil Sapp was temporarily a tailback not long ago, but with seventh-round rookie Peyton Hillis being the only true fullback on the roster, Sapp’s services will be needed in lead-blocking assignments.

The group executing the zone blocks will have a somewhat different composition this season. First-round rookie Ryan Clady replaces retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle. Clady is an archetypal pass-blocker who has the athleticism to be a maestro in the run game. His biggest issue will be honing his technique and adjusting to the NFL’s level of play. Clady has rare quickness, but he was mildly inconsistent in times when he faced elite competition at Boise State.

The right tackle position will feature former backup guard Chris Kuper. Last year’s starter, Erik Pears, is being moved to the more-fitting left side. Pears is too good to be a backup, but the Broncos are too high on the ’06 fifth-round pick Kuper to keep him on the bench. Denver is also very high on Kuper’s former Notre Dame teammate, Ryan Harris. The third-rounder a year ago missed his rookie season with a back injury (he wasn’t slated to play anyway). There’s an outside chance that the 6’5”, 300-pound Harris could edge out the fleet-footed Kuper.

The Broncos hope 15th-year veteran Tom Nalen can hold down the center position for at least one more year. When healthy, Nalen is still an upper-echelon presence inside. The problem is, he’s coming off surgery on a torn biceps that wiped out his ’07 season. If Nalen is unavailable, mobile but declining Casey Wiegmann––a 35-year-old veteran pickup from the Chiefs––will fill in.

Left guard Ben Hamilton is superb in this system. He too sat out most of last season (concussion) but should be good to go. Right guard Montrae Holland has tremendous power and doesn’t let his 322 pounds of mass prevent him from reaching his spots. He got fat during the offseason though.

Cutler will have enough time to throw behind this O-line, and he’ll have an interesting collection of targets to choose from. Most noted is Brandon Marshall––a third-year stud who has the potential to be the best wideout in the game. Marshall caught 102 passes last season. He has rare speed and agility for a 6’4”, 230-pounder, and his strength makes him a bearcat to deal with over the middle. His only stigma is immaturity. Marshall has been arrested three times since entering the league, and he’s been involved in six incidences with police. Also, over the offseason, he severely injured his arm when he slipped on a McDonalds bag and fell into a TV while wrestling with his brother (make your own assumptions about the story).

The rest of Denver’s receiving corps is iffy. Keary Colbert is slated to start, though he’s never been productive. Darrell Jackson is only 30 and capable of 1,000 yards, but that’s if his knee problems disappear. Expect him to start in Week 1. Brandon Stokley is reliable and will be used in the slot. He won’t be pushed by underachieving newcomer Samie Parker, though he may soon be challenged by galvanizing second-round rookie Eddie Royal.

Tight end Tony Scheffler is a wonderful receiving option who will see plenty of action behind run-blocking genius Daniel Graham. The Broncos still like converted wideout-turned-tight end Nate Jackson, though it will be hard to find snaps for the sixth-year pro.

Defense

If you’re a defensive lineman, chances are that you or someone you’ve worked with has been a Denver Bronco at some point. This season, the Broncos have cut back on their D-lineman hording; they currently have only 11 possible contributors on the roster (baby steps, right?).

We’ll begin with the defensive tackles. Last year’s veteran acquisition Alvin McKinley is likely to start alongside this year’s veteran acquisition Dewayne Robertson. Both players have good quickness off the snap.

Neither, however, is as talented as second-year player Marcus Thomas. A fourth-round pick out of Florida, Thomas came into the league with first-round talent but shoddy character. Though he was arrested in March for riding in a car that carried a small baggie of cocaine, Thomas (who was not charged) has stayed in the good graces of the Broncos hierarchy. His lateral mobility and strength on contact may have something to do with that. Thomas needs vast improvements in technique and decision-making (on the field, and probably off as well). He’ll get extra attention from defensive line coach Jacob Burney. The other tackle who could play a few downs is Kenny Peterson. Peterson actually drew reps with the first unit in some of the camps.

Third-year pro Elvis Dumervil can fly. The NFL’s only sub-six-foot defensive end recorded 12.5 sacks last season and has the speed and motor to match that total on an annual basis. Energetic as Dumervil is, he doesn’t begin to have the power to play the run. It’s obvious the Broncos prioritize run defense outside––if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be starting John Engelberger.

It would make a lot more sense for Dumervil to come off the bench as a pass-rushing specialist. For this to happen, however, one of the second-year pros, Jarvis Moss or Tim Crowder, would have to step up. Moss struggled as a rookie before breaking his leg; what he can do remains to be seen. Crowder recorded 4.5 sacks in sparse playing time last year and still has much to prove. Another option might be 32-year-old Ebenezer Ekuban, if he can rebound from a torn right Achilles tendon (which few older defensive ends do).

It’s imperative that production come from the front four, as Denver does not have the linebackers to improve their 30th-ranked run defense. The hope is that a change from Jim Bates’s failed scheme will make a significant difference. Secondary coach Bob Slowik was promoted to coordinator because his system is more familiar to the organization.

Slowik already deserves a pat on the back for overseeing D.J. Williams’s move back to weakside linebacker. The fifth-year pro has been out of position the past three seasons (the first two on the strong side and last year in the middle). Williams is a demon in pursuit, but he isn’t able to get off blocks. Playing the weak side enables him to operate in space.

Williams is the good; the bad and ugly are, potentially, the Sam and Mike positions. Boss Bailey left the Lions to assume the starting strongside job on his older brother’s team. Knee injuries have robbed Bailey of some of his athleticism, though timidity is largely to blame for his mediocrity. He was never comfortable in Detroit’s Cover 2.

Niko Koutouvides will battle Nate Webster for the starting middle linebacker duties. If it were boxing, this match would be the earliest undercard. Koutouvides is a terrific special teamer but never played a significant role on Seattle’s defense. Webster is respected but doesn’t always take great angles or operate well in space.

The Broncos stopped some of the bleeding against the run last season once they started bringing safety John Lynch down in the box. The plan was to play Lynch in a limited run-stopping role in ’08, but the veteran demurred. Insert Marlon McCree, former Charger who has lost a half-step but still provides adequate all-around ability.

Hamza Abdullah will assume the free safety duties. His speed gives him excellent range in coverage. Abdullah is a little on the skinny side, though he takes good angles and therefore makes stops against the rush. He’ll be pushed lightly by Marquand Manuel.

Champ Bailey remains the emperor of cornerbacks. Teams are always hesitant to challenge him. Dre’ Bly holds up extremely well considering the target that Bailey’s presence puts on him. He’s not impermeable against the deep ball, but he’s adequate. The Broncos have a good nickel back in Domonique Foxworth who, despite being only 25, serves as the team’s player rep. Dime back Karl Paymah can contribute in a pinch.

Special Teams

It will be strange not seeing kicker Jason Elam take the field at Mile High….err, Invesco Field (ugh). Replacing Elam is some guy named Matt Prater. Prater was cut by the Falcons after missing a pair of field goals in Week 2 last year.

The punting situation is equally as dire. Sam Paulescu kicked for Denver in Week 17 and figures to get the job, though he’ll be challenged by undrafted rookie Brett Kern.

Second-round pick Eddie Royal was chosen for his return abilities. Royal is a tiny 5’10” lightning bolt who is very dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Bottom Line

A good NFL team is like a main course at a fancy restaurant: most of the food is prepared from scratch (drafted stars), the side dishes amplify the entrée (role players) and a sommelier recommends the perfect wine to wash it down (X-factors). The Broncos are like a platter from an all-you-can eat buffet. Inherently, there are some good parts, but the meal overall is middle of the road.

Myth Buster

Mike Shanahan can’t win without John Elway

This statement is flawed on many levels. For one, it is incomplete. Mike Shanahan can’t win without John Elway…..and he can’t win without Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Gary Zimmerman, Trevor Pryce, Bill Romanowski and Neil Smith. Catch the drift?

Additionally, this statement goes both ways: John Elway can’t win without Mike Shanahan. Just like Michael Jordan couldn’t win without Phil Jackson. It’s very easy to cite great players as the reason for a coach’s success. However, often times great players are great because they’re supported by a great coach.

Open Thought

What in the world happened to the Mile High Salute? Did the Broncos simply leave it behind when they moved to Invesco Field? The Mile High Salute was a cool thing––I believe Denver won two Super Bowls behind the gesture. I was never big on fans doing it––they didn’t score, why do they have a patented celebration? But I loved seeing Terrell Davis and company issue the salutation.

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    Comments

    3 Responses to “Denver Broncos 2008 Preview Report”
    • the only thing im not fond of this team is alvin mckinely getting a job over marcus thomas and kenny peterson. and niko koutovides is unproven

    • Well with Marcus Thomas moved up next to Robertson and Eddie Royal will start WR next to Brandon Marshall according to Roto World that will help alot. if they improve the rush defence top 14th or higher and the 13 pounds of muscle Selvvin Young has added so he can get around 225-250 carries this year i think they can fight for a wild card spot. if not the first rounder next year will be a MLB, or a RB ( yeah right but i hope shanahan gets fed up and tries it ), or a Safety. if all these things happen what do u think they are capable of Andy?

    • Bill HIll says:

      good thoughtful preview report…..

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