Shanahan made it clear he wasn't completely pleased with Denver falling one win short of the Super Bowl, especially losing the AFC Championship Game at home. But the Broncos finished 13-3, won the AFC West and a playoff game, and Shanahan acknowledged that there were positive steps.
"I feel very proud of our football team," Shanahan said. "Our guys played extremely hard throughout the whole year. I like the character of our team. It was fun to coach our team, from the beginning of year to the end of the year, because of the type of people we had."
The Broncos have a few key free agents. Center Tom Nalen, left tackle Matt Lepsis and defensive tackle Gerard Warren all could see the open market, but the Broncos want to re-sign all three. Shanahan said he was confident the team could get all three back.
Shanahan said his top offseason priority was re-signing the team's own free agents. That's a sign Shanahan thinks the team can come back and compete for a championship in 2006 with its core roster and some minor improvements.
"We'll do everything we can to keep our team intact," Shanahan said. "Hopefully we'll be able to do that and improve in the draft and free agency."
The Broncos could make a big splash in the offseason and pursue receiver Terrell Owens. The players in the locker room think the controversial Owens could be a good fit.
"He's a great player," Nalen said. "Any team would be happy to have him. I think he'd do well here. With this locker room, I think he would conform to our standards and fit in well here."
Shanahan wouldn't talk about Owens' situations specifically because he is under contract with the Eagles. Shanahan said when Owens was available a couple years ago by San Francisco, he told the 49ers he wasn't interested.
"I told them at that time it wasn't something I'd be interested in because I didn't like the way he handled himself," Shanahan said.
But this time around, although not speaking specifically about Owens, Shanahan let it be known that he wouldn't rule out revisiting the situation.
"I had a lot of guys come in here and I've talked to about the way we run our organization and if they'd like to be part of it, this is the way we do things," Shanahan said. "Whoever that guy might be in free agency, there's always a possibility if somebody handles himself the right way they could come into this organization but they're going to have to live by the standard we practice."
With or without Owens, the Broncos feel pretty good about their chances of coming back next season and making another long run in the playoffs.
"We have the players, we just had a bad day," Nalen said of the team's AFC Championship Game loss. "If we'd have performed like we thought we were going to, we'd be there. So I don't think any major changes are in store. This team can get there."
-- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he wasn't concerned about Mike Anderson's age. Anderson will be 33 years old next September. But Shanahan wouldn't guarantee Anderson will be the starter in 2006.
"If he's productive, he'll play," Shanahan said about Anderson. "If not, then he'll play in a backup role."
Tatum Bell could compete for a starting spot. The Broncos also might look at the draft or free agency to bolster depth at tailback.
-- Shanahan defended a couple of his coaching decisions in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game. Denver was down by 10 points with a little more than six minutes remaining but didn't go to the no-huddle offense. Shanahan said he thought the team had enough time to score 10 points, but couldn't afford a costly mistake because of haste.
But on fourth-and-10 with 5:02 remaining, Shanahan knew there wasn't enough time left to punt and hopefully stop the Steelers, who usually run the ball very well. The Broncos went for it, quarterback Jake Plummer was sacked and lost a fumble.
"If I had not gone for it on fourth down, I would have been haunted by that decision the rest of my life," Shanahan said. "Could we have made it if we had gone for it on fourth down to win the game instead of giving them an opportunity to run three plays and get the ball back with two minutes left?"
-- Tight end Wesley Duke was the most interesting name on the list of players the Broncos will send to NFL Europe. Duke made plenty of strides his rookie season and started the AFC Championship Game. Duke played college basketball, not football, and has a lot of athletic talent.
The Broncos will also send receiver Bill Flowers, punter/kicker Tyler Fredrickson, offensive linemen Rob Hunt and Erik Pears, cornerback Antwaun Rogers and defensive lineman Patrice Majondo-Mwamba to NFL Europe.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he'll do a fantastic job. Even though it's tough to lose a good friend and a guy that's very productive, I'm really excited for him and his family." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on longtime offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will be the head coach of the Texans next season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL The Broncos have to replace Gary Kubiak, the offensive coordinator who has been with Mike Shanahan since Shanahan became Denver's head coach in 1995. Kubiak doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for Denver's offensive success because Shanahan is considered a great offensive head coach. But many Broncos players credit Kubiak for their development and acknowledged he will be tough to replace.
The Broncos will likely be interested in former Jets offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger now that he has been let out of his contract. Heimerdinger and Shanahan are close friends. Heimerdinger was also a receivers coach for the Broncos in the 1990s.
The Broncos will be looking for a coach, either outside of the organization or in-house, that can quickly adjust to Denver's complicated offense.
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