Broncos Update Insider - 1/11

Whether Jim Bates was the problem for the Denver Broncos defense or the pieces assembled didn't perform well enough, Bates was the one to leave.

Bates and the Broncos split nine days after a 7-9 regular season ended. Facing reassignment, Bates stepped down. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity and very saddened that things did not work out," Bates said in a statement. "I had the opportunity to stay, Mike (Shanahan) has been very fair with me, and the final decision, for the Broncos and for me, was to step aside."

The Broncos will have a third defensive coordinator in three years. After the 2006 season, Larry Coyer was fired, and Bates replaced him. Bob Slowik, who had the title of defensive coordinator but was second in command to Bates, will run the defense in 2008.

"He's been here, he knows the coaching staff, he knows the players," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said of Slowik. "You don't want three defensive coordinators to come here in three years."

Bates' one year in Denver was frustrating. The run defense didn't play well, the team gave up points in bunches, and the scheme never took hold. After a disappointing preseason and a 2-3 start to the regular season, much of Bates' scheme was changed. For instance, Denver started playing a safety in the box regularly, something Bates usually didn't do.

Since Bates' scheme wasn't going to be the answer, he stepped aside.

"It's frustrating when you see something that you created and it's not successful. You start to question things," Ferguson said. "We all have pride."

But many players hadn't blamed Bates. They blamed their own poor play. They pointed to Bates' history of success in Green Bay and Miami and knew he could coach.

"His scheme has worked," linebacker Nate Webster said. "You check his history, you check his resume, his defense does work, his scheme does work. And you saw spurts of it this season."

The Broncos probably will put a lot of effort into reshaping the personnel on defense. Safety, linebacker and defensive tackle are likely the top priorities for the offseason.

NOTES, QUOTES

--One of the biggest dilemmas in the offseason for the Broncos will be what to do with WR Javon Walker. Walker expressed his displeasure in Denver, then backtracked a bit. Aside from that, Walker is due $5.4 million in bonuses in 2008. The Broncos would be short at receiver without him, but he is coming off another knee injury and a disappointing season.

"It depends on them," Walker said. "Whatever helps them out."

If Walker isn't retained, the Broncos would likely have to look for either a veteran free agent or a receiver on the trading block because after Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley and Glenn Martinez are next on the depth chart.

--One of the Broncos' easiest decisions in the offseason should be to re-sign Jason Elam. The kicker has been reliable his whole career and is coming off another good season. However, Elam didn't want to be too confident about returning.

"I don't know what they're thinking," Elam said. "I'm not sure. I feel like I've done pretty well, and I still feel really good."

Denver did bring in Matt Prater late in the season, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was clear Prater was being tried out as a kickoff specialist.

QUOTE TO NOTE: ""Maybe we didn't have the pieces to run his style of defense." -- Broncos S Nick Ferguson on departed defensive head Jim Bates.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

COACHING CAROUSEL: The Broncos will have more change in the defensive staff in 2008 after Jim Bates' departure, but at least some sense of normalcy. Bob Slowik will take over the reins of the defense. That will help the continuity, because Slowik had the title of defensive coordinator in 2007, although Bates ran the defense. The defensive players, especially the secondary members that Slowik coached, are familiar with his teaching methods and his defensive ideas.

FREE AGENT UPDATE: K Jason Elam is probably the team's top priority in free agency. Denver's list of unrestricted free agents is pretty light. FB Cecil Sapp is the only starter. S Nick Ferguson, a starter for much of his five-year stint with the team, was benched earlier this year. He is also an unrestricted free agent.

Four young contributors -- C Chris Myers, S Hamza Abdullah and CBs Domonique Foxworth and Karl Paymah -- are restricted free agents. All of them are expected back.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Broncos have the 12th pick of the draft, and the top priority should be defense. Start up front and move back. If a lineman who can make an immediate impact falls, that could be Denver's pick. Linebacker will also interest the team. If there's not good value for their front seven, safety would also be a position of interest. The Broncos have been active in the past few years in either moving up or down in the first round, so a trade is possible.

TEAM NEEDS

Defensive tackle: The team needs some interior help for its run defense after patching things together in 2007.

Linebacker: If Denver can find a solid middle linebacker, perhaps it would move D.J. Williams back to his natural outside linebacker position.

Safety: John Lynch could retire and Nick Ferguson is a free agent, so the Broncos might finally be forced to find some replacements this offseason.



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