Jussel: Elway takes right approach to build ‘very good’ team
Here’s a news flash: The Denver Broncos are going to be a better team this season than last season, much better.
Sure Denver’s schedule is brutal. But as pointed out months ago, so are those of the AFC West cousins the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders. While the Broncos could win the division with an 8-8 record as they did last season, let’s think bigger and better, 10-6 or 11-5. The Denver squad, as first witnessed last week in Chicago, is positioning itself to do battle with the best the league has to offer.
I know, you’re thinking I’ve been smoking too much wacky stuff or tipping way too many Corona Extra Bolds. Give me a break and hear me out.
First, let’s look at the best teams in the league, the likes of the Giants, who stormed through the playoffs last year after finishing only 9-7 in regular season; the Packers, who went 15-1; the AFC champion Patriots; and, yes, the Saints (or Sinners) and maybe the Steelers.
What consistently has these teams standing at or near the top?
It is management from the top down that hires excellent coaches and scouts, people who can find talent and make that talent better.
Every one of those teams, even the Saints (beat up in the offseason by Bountygate), has uncovered or created a super quarterback to run things on the field, has roster depth mostly created through successful drafts, and a winning attitude that is sustained year after year, even decade after decade.
That’s where the Broncos are headed after a decade-plus of bumbling and stumbling.
The best move ever made in Broncoland was to trade for John Elway in 1983. The second-best move was to bring him back in January of 2011 to run the team, selecting him executive vice president of football operations.
All Elway has done since being brought back on board, this time to use his brain and his collective experiences as a player and a businessman, is revamp the front office with young up-and-comers who share his vision of more Super Bowl titles, hire John Fox to coach the team, resign Hall of Fame-to-be cornerback Champ Bailey to continue to shut down one side of the opposition’s passing attack, and, oh yes, go out and grab Hall of Fame-to-be quarterback Peyton Manning.
And that does not include his input on draft selections such as Von Miller and Derek Wolfe among others since he went to work at Dove Valley.
Certainly all eyes were on Manning last week in his brief debut against the Bears. Rightfully so.
What stood out, however, were the precision with which the Broncos worked (even on special teams) and the depth that Denver now can boast about.
Let’s brag about the defense.
In last year’s final game, that humiliating 45-10 loss to New England in the second round of the playoffs, Denver started Bailey and Andre Goodman at the corners and David Bruton and Quinton Carter at the safeties. Carter went down early in the game, bringing in Rahim Moore. The nickel back, in on virtually every defensive play, was Chris Harris.
Carter, Moore and Harris were rookies.
Right now, Denver has a secondary that includes Bailey, with veteran corners Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence signed on. Porter, a standout in New Orleans, replaces Goodman, and Florence steps into Harris’s spot, with Harris now the sixth back, not the fifth. Safeties are Michael Adams, a veteran free agent, and either Moore or Carter.
Also making a splash in camp is cornerback draftee Omar Bolden.
Bruton is still around, as will be newly signed veteran free agent safety Jim Leonhard, who is rehabbing a knee, but as recently as 2010 was the best safety on a very good Jets defense.
There is depth, folks — and improvement.
You can do the same drill on the defensive front, which has added the nasty size and speed of the team’s top draft selection, Wolfe, as well as veterans like Ty Warren and Justin Bannan. Kevin Vickerson, who started much of last season, is now listed as third team. Marcus Thomas, another Bronco starter last season, was not resigned and still is looking for employment.
We can go on, talking about the wide receiving corps, the tight ends, the running backs, the offensive line and, yes, Manning and his backups. But not now.
Now is the time to watch the position battles play themselves out with many of last year’s starters trying to hang on to roster spots.
Now is the time to hope the injuries don’t pile up over three more preseason contests.
And now is the time to watch and enjoy the continued evolution of what is becoming a very good football team.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and journalism teacher at Grand Junction High School who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.