Broncos Update Insider - 12/8

The dual coaching/personnel weight wasn't intended for Denver's deposed coach Josh McDaniels but somehow became a reality that never was stopped.

It's said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

That axiom neatly sums up the brief Denver tenure of Josh McDaniels, whose firing Monday was as much his own fault as the team's for a systemic failure that allowed a second consecutive coach to have far-reaching personnel powers.

In the end, Mike Shanahan the general manager helped get Mike Shanahan the coach fired.

That may only be partly true with McDaniels, despite numerous questionable decisions, given his 7-15 record over the past 22 games.

But at a press conference Tuesday explaining McDaniels' firing, chief operating officer Joe Ellis admitted that the dual coaching/personnel weight wasn't intended for McDaniels but somehow became a reality that never was stopped.

It surely contributed to the latter's downfall.

"I think it kind of evolved and grew into that," Ellis said of McDaniels' expanded role. "I take some responsibility on behalf of (owner) Pat Bowlen for allowing that to happen perhaps."

Ellis also added that the responsibilities McDaniels had "probably burdened him with too much of that and were probably unfair to him in that respect."

There was consideration given to shrinking McDaniels' power base at one point, but that never occurred.

Several messy player moves will forever mark McDaniels' Denver career: the Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler and Brandon Marshall trades; essentially giving up a fourth-round pick for running back Laurence Maroney, who almost certainly won't return; trading a first-round draft pick in order to move up in the second round in 2009 to take Alphonso Smith, who was later traded just over a year after his Broncos career started; the Peyton Hillis-for-Brady Quinn swap; and others.

"It's very likely the next plan will not empower the next head coach with the kind of authority ..." Ellis said. "It's also fair to say we'll stick to that plan."

But the overall plan right now is sketchy to non-existent.

Current general manager Brian Xanders could stick around or be replaced. Right now, Ellis couldn't say how many people the team expected to hire or even the organizational structure he desired, saying at this early juncture, "We haven't given it a lot of thought."

That's not the mind-set employed in removing McDaniels from his position.

Bowlen had a strong affinity for the coach personally, but a videotaping scandal before the San Francisco game in London that led to hefty fines and the removal of one Broncos employee was "one of several factors" in the decision to make a change to Eric Studesville as interim head coach with four games remaining, Ellis admitted.

The rest of the reasoning the team is holding closer to the vest.

But the losing -- Denver is off to its worst start since 1990 at 3-9 and is in the midst of its worst 22-game stretch since 1970-71 -- was the main factor. The public's vilification of McDaniels and dwindling confidence in the franchise's direction also played a part.

"The culmination of events were too much, and (Bowlen) felt a change had to be made, and there wasn't any point at that point delaying it," Ellis said. "All the factors piled up."

Some of the buzzwords being used around Dove Valley are about restoring the integrity of the organization and regaining fans' trust. Hiring Hall of Famer and Broncos icon John Elway in some front-office capacity would help to some degree, and he appears ready to take that leap.

But Elway is no player-personnel evaluation guru, even if his voice internally and the public credibility he'd bring would be important.

The bottom line is that an independent, strong-minded GM needs to be put in place, allowed to hire his own coach and restock a franchise that especially needs to revamp a flagging defense and build through the draft instead of exchanging picks like children once did Pokeman cards.

In all but one of the trades during the Xanders-McDaniels regime, only once -- when Smith was sent to Detroit for Dan Gronkowski prior to the season -- was a draft choice not part of the package.

It's left Denver with two second-round and two sixth-round selections in 2011 to go with single picks in the first and third round but no picks in the fourth, fifth or seventh. Even more pressing is making the most of the selections Denver has. The team has consistently lacked impact young players -- team building blocks -- through the draft, save for 2006, dating back to the Shanahan era.

Formulating a long-term plan is the next step.

The company line publicly is that a coaching search or even putting out feelers on potential coaches hasn't yet begun.

"It's going to take some time and some action," Ellis said of the pending plan, then adding twice for emphasis, "We've got a long way to go."

One impediment in that search, surprisingly, may not be money, despite the fact that Mike Shanahan still is receiving $3.5 from Denver and McDaniels scheduled to get about $2.7 annually over the final two years of his deal.

Whoever is hired will be the third head coach on the Broncos' payroll for the 2011 season, barring a lockout. But Ellis was unmoved by that prospect.

"It's our problem to solve that," he said. "So if we have to pay eight coaches, that's too bad for us. We better do something about getting it right. And that's what we're going to set out to do."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Robert Ayers has played a reduced role in the two weeks he's been back off a foot injury that had sidelined him five games.

On Sunday, Ayers didn't start the game; instead, the Broncos turned to Jason Hunter at left outside linebacker.

"You've got to talk to Josh about that," Ayers said. "I just try to play hard when I'm in there. When I go in and come out is not up to me."

Coach Josh McDaniels seemed to chalk it up to Ayers' continued recovery after a long layoff. But now that Joe Mays (knee) is out for the season, expect Ayers to reclaim the starting job for good, with outside linebacker Mario Haggan forced to fill in for Mays at inside linebacker during the latter's absence.

--Denver played Sunday with several holes in the secondary, including the absence of three regulars.

The most notable replacement was David Bruton, started for Brian Dawkins at strong safety. But undrafted rookie Kyle McCarthy also played safety in dime packages, and rookie seventh-rounder Syd'Quan Thompson was the nickel corner.

"They did good," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who did his part by holding Dwayne Bowe without a catch. "I'm really proud of Bruton, man, stepping in. He did a good job, great communicating. He didn't have any errors."

Kansas City had five catches longer than 10 yards but none over 21 in completing 17 of 31 attempts for 196 yards.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Kyle Orton already has been designated the starter Sunday vs. Arizona by interim coach Eric Studesville, who borrowed Josh McDaniels' old lines about playing the players that give the team the best chance to win when the subject turned to backup Tim Tebow.

--LB Wesley Woodyard continues to produce in his role as special teams captain. He has 12 tackles this season despite missing five games. Woodyard also was the team's winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

--LB Mario Haggan dumped Matt Cassel on Sunday on a fourth-and-goal play for his fifth sack this season. Haggan not only has surpassed his career single-season best, but he had only three sacks in seven previous seasons.

--LT Ryan Clady was being applauded by then-coach Josh McDaniels a couple of weeks ago for playing his best football of the season. But once again Sunday, a speed rusher, Kansas City's Tamba Hali, gave him fits. Clady tore his patella tendon last offseason, and while he's playing more consistently now than early in the season, he appears to need a long stretch of rest and rehabilitation to get back to his All-Pro form.

--RB Knowshon Moreno averaged 7.0 yards per carry last week on 23 carries. He's only the fourth running back in team history to have an average that high with at least that many attempts. Moreno has averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry the last four games and has two 100-yard performances.

--CB Champ Bailey not only held Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe without a catch Sunday, but he added his third career sack, his first since the 2008 season.

--TE Richard Quinn will have to help pick up the slack on the blocking side with Dan Gronkowski (ankle) out for the season. But Denver may also activate John Nalbone, a second-year player from Monmouth, with two open roster spots to allow for three-TE looks.

--LB Kevin Alexander may get extra snaps with Denver's linebacker corps thinned out due to Joe Mays' season-ending knee injury. Alexander has seen action at outside linebacker but also has played inside at various points this summer. Wesley Woodyard, who is 222 pounds, played some at inside linebacker against Kansas City but is too light to hold up consistently there.

--WR Eric Decker has taken advantage of opportunities created by Demaryius Thomas' ankle injury. Decker has catches covering 10, 38, and 28 yards the last two games. He's also added kickoff returns to his special teams responsibilities.

--WR Eddie Royal's move to the slot has produced the uptick in catches that was expected after his 37-reception season in 2009, but it hasn't been a windfall. Royal currently has 53 catches, and on a per-game basis is averaging about 1.5 more this season than last. But Royal still is well off the 6.7 average from his rookie year, when Jay Cutler was the quarterback in Mike Shanahan's offense.

--ILB Joe Mays was placed on injured reserve with a left knee injury. Mays had been starting of late, and the team was pleased with his aggressiveness both on defense and the kicking game. Mays' departure likely means Mario Haggan kicks back to middle linebacker from left outside linebacker.

--TE Dan Gronkowski's season ended due to a left ankle injury. Gronkowski had been used as the No. 2 tight end behind Daniel Graham. The move means an uptick in snaps for backup Richard Quinn, whose playing time has increased in recent weeks anyway.

--CB Andre Goodman has missed seven of the past nine games with a quadriceps/hip problem, but he could return for the Arizona game. The team was pleased with rookie Perrish Cox's performance in Goodman's spot, in particular Sunday, and given Goodman's long layoff, it wouldn't be surprising if Cox remains the starter and Goodman is eased back in nickel and dime packages.

--S Darcel McBath has a chance to practice fully this week after making it through just one workout last week with a thigh injury. McBath's absence -- coupled with that of S Brian Dawkins -- had pushed David Bruton into the starting lineup Sunday. McBath has had a litany of injuries the last two years and must prove he can stay healthy as Denver evaluates his role for 2011.



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