After last year’s more-than disappointing showing, the Broncos won’t be much better this season. Denver’s offense is only effective on its first drive of the game. The defense lacks speed in the linebackers and Denver has no pass rush. Jay Cutler has yet to step out and make himself a force to be reckoned with on the field. The Broncos’ only highlight on the field was aging kicker Jason Elam, but he has been passed off to Atlanta. And Denver’s running back, Travis Henry – well, he is high.
Maybe I am being a bit premature here with this negativity as the season is still a seemingly long summer away and tomorrow’s NFL draft results are uncertain. This year’s draft, no matter how significant and standout Denver’s acquisitions are, won’t be enough to pull Denver’s head above water. They are weak in too many areas.
With the retirement of crafty offensive tackle Matt Lepsis, Denver, for the sake of Cutler’s success, must once again look to solidify the O-line. As for Henry, does Denver ride on his shoulders for a running game? Henry was busted, but later got off after testing positive for pot last year and has missed 19 NFL games in the past four years. So, yes Denver needs a running back.
And I don’t think Shanahan’s success of picking a hidden running back gem in the late rounds of the draft is going to work anymore. Reason: Denver (must I reiterate?) doesn’t have the O-Line. Denver’s offense needs a playmaker of a running back that can do it without the fast, mobile lines Denver has succeeded with so many times in the past and he is not going to get that type of player in the late rounds.
And then there’s Denver’s fading defense. Besides the secondary, Denver needs speedy defensive tackles and outside linebackers who can contain, yet provide a shot in the arm to Denver’s pass rush. Champ Bailey can only be effective if there is some sort of pass rush.
Right now, according to The Denver Post, Denver is considering picking one from a number of players in that No. 12 spot including running backs Jonathan Stewart of Oregon and Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois; offensive tackles Ryan Clady of Boise State, Virginia's Branden Albert, Vanderbilt's Chris Williams, and Boston College's Gosder Cherilus.
I don’t claim to be any sort of NFL scout, but to me the best option would be for Shanahan to pick up either one of the two running backs – something the Broncos haven’t done in the first round since the 80s. Denver needs a miracle with their early pick. Shanahan’s task, as I see it, is to fix several leaks in Denver’s sinking ship with one cork. And that cork needs to be an outstanding running back who can still make plays – Barry Sanders style – with a weakening line. As far as the draft goes, I say good luck in finding that player. I truly hope it works to right the boat.
Moving on from the draft to coach Shanahan. The notion that sticks in my mind after sitting through last year’s torturous Broncos season is that Mike is just too damn predictable. And that is the reason why I think Denver’s only successful offensive drive comes at the beginning of the game (often times with the ability to move the ball but not scoring once inside the red zone).
Mike used to pride himself on having a potent offense that rode atop of the lightest, most-mobile lines in the NFL. Any college running back could have been successful during those years Terrell Davis made a name as a football great. The line was spectacular. The worst thing Shanahan has done since the Elway Super Bowl years was getting rid of offensive line coach Alex Gibbs in 2004.
Shanahan is fading as Denver’s head man. When Denver took him on, he was praised for his offensive prowess. He had a mysterious aura about him that said you really didn’t understand his offense, but it always worked. Shanahan has come to the end of his line in Denver and I hope, sometime in the near future, Bronco fans will turn on their TV sets during prime time and hear Broncos owner Pat Bowlen say: “I am pleased to announce that Gary Kubiak will be taking over as coach of the Denver Broncos.”
Once a great Bronco, always a great Bronco. And besides, who would want to live in Houston any longer than they really have to. Come on back Gary…