Coach's Corner - Mike Shanahan Part 2

Mike Shanahan discusses a disappointing season, the hiring of a new defensive coordinator and the expectations of Jay Cutler headed into 2008.

On QB Jay Cutler entering his third NFL season in 2008
"I think it'll be a lot easier for him. Any time you go a full season as a starter, it's a great learning experience. I go back and look at Tom Brady, take a look at (Peyton) Manning, take a look at (Ben) Roethlisberger, you take a look at their first 16 games, first 24 games, you take a look at their growth… It's night and day. It really slows down for you a little bit, you have another offseason to study film, be around the players, but you still have to grow, you still have study, you still have get better. It just doesn't happen, you've got to work to make it happen, hopefully Cutler will do that."

On why he expects great things from Cutler
"I don't know if you can say a guy is great until he proves himself. What made everybody excited about John Elway when he first came here? I think every saw a strong arm, they saw a great competitor, they saw a guy that would compete and I think that's what they see in a guy like Cutler—A strong arm, a guy that will compete, a guy that loves the game. Now he's got to go out there and do it just like John did. I just remember John in his fourth year because nobody believed in John Elway, and John had to prove himself in a playoff situation and he finally got to that Super Bowl. The only thing you heard about John when he first got here for the first four years was he never got to a bowl game in college and he has never taken the Broncos to a playoff game then all of a sudden we're in the Super Bowl. After four years, there it was… ‘Yeah, he can take us to a playoff game but he'll never take us to a Super Bowl,' and that went on for another eight to 10 years but he believed in himself and worked his rear end off and finally got to the promised land. That's what it is about the National Football League—Eventually you've got to do it. I was in the same situation with Steve Young following Joe Montana. He got booed off the field both times in Championship games because he couldn't win the big one and he finally did and got the monkey off his back. That's the profession we live in, that's the one I live in every day. Nobody cares what you've done, you've got to get it done. I think we can all relate to that in sports and in general."

On what Cutler needs to work on
"A lot of things. He's got to work on ball position, he's got to work on footwork, consistency with his throws, short throws as well as the medium range throws. There are so many things… Blitzes and how to react to them, your footwork, when there's pressure how to step up and scramble, different things that all quarterbacks go through. Then the game slows down for them a little bit because they understand defenses, they understand where people are, they play at the level a couple of these quarterbacks are playing at right now."

On RB Travis Henry
"Like I said, I'm not going to talk about those situations. But any time there's a setback with a guy, I think you have to look at what he did in his first four or five games then you make the decision on what you thought he did in those four or five games."

On Henry's knee injury
"I don't think he ever recovered. He had the MCL and I don't think he ever recovered, never got back in football shape and tried to work though it but never did so I don't think he ever got healthy. Any time you're out 3-4 weeks with an MCL, you kind of get out of football shape unless you can really work. He tried but never could get back in shape."

On injuries being a problem in the future with Henry
"I'm hoping not, but could it be an issue? Sure if he keeps in getting hurt but with a good offseason program he should be coming back to full speed. I think the question everybody has, you take a look at the money involved, you have to make a decision about what you think is best for the organization because once you make that commitment, it's a big thing, so you've got to look at everything."

On not overworking RB Selvin Young
"Any time a guy gets hurt as many times as he did, you know there's no possible way he can carry the ball 20-25 times a game. His body just wouldn't hold up. He went down too many times this year. You are looking at a guy that has big-play potential. You give him that ball 15-20 times a game, he's going to average over five yards per carry. You just can't overwork Selvin Young. You could see that this year. Same thing with Andre Hall. Andre Hall was nicked up the whole year but when he did play, he played a very high level. Take that screen play versus Chicago before the half, when he breaks a tackle against Tennessee and he goes the distance—you could see big-play potential. He was banged up a big part of the year. He was going to be our kickoff returner. That's part of the evaluation process that we're going through right now though free agency and the draft—Who do you bring in and how do they help you on special teams?"

On the Broncos' special teams
"We defiantly need a returner. If we had the right returner that we thought we had in Andre Hall this year, I think Andre Hall would have broken three of those returns for touchdowns. I could tell you each one but you'd have to see it from the end-zone camera with his speed and agility. The thing we're going to have to get better on is our kickoffs. I thought at the end when Todd (Sauerbrun) was released we helped ourselves there, we had more of a hang time with our kickoffs. We had to get better on our punting. Our punting was inconsistent this year so we can get some help with our kick and our special teams. We've got a couple guys we think that can help us that we already have on our football team that we'll have to evaluate as time goes on."

On DE Tim Crowder and DT Marcus Thomas, who are entering their second season in 2008
"With defensive lineman, it usually takes a couple years. It doesn't happen over night. The thing with both Marcus Thomas and Tim Crowder, they both got a lot of experience this year and usually the jump from the first year to the second year is huge in defensive lineman and even more from the second to the third year. With the playing time both of them got, I think they've got a big upside."

On DE Jarvis Moss' recovery from a leg injury
"Obviously he's going to start behind because he was on injured reserve the majority of the year. But he's been working in the weight room every day. You can see the hunger there. You can tell he's got passion for what he's doing, so I look at him coming back and playing at a pretty good level."

On other injury upates
"(DE) Ebenezer Ekuban I think will be back in the middle of May, June. A little bit of a question mark there. Any time you've got an Achilles' problem, it takes sometimes longer. Besides him, we've got some bumps and bruises but nothing that will take surgery. I think Selvin Young will go into surgery, just minor on his knee, but that's more of a week, two-week recovery time. It shouldn't set him back at all."

On watching the playoffs
"I'll watch every game."

On what he thinks about the Patriots
"Any time you go undefeated, that's something special. I think everybody knows that it doesn't really matter what you do in the regular season. It's what you do in the post season. They've got some pressure on them. It's going to be interesting to see if they can step forward with the pressure that they're under and play at the same level. If they do, a lot of people will consider them the best of all time."

On evaluating free agents
"One thing that you've got to understand is since I've got the final say does not mean that I go out there. I don't have the time to do that. We've go people that have been on the road that have evaluated every guy that's out there in pro football. We've got five guys on the road doing that. They'll come back here in about three weeks and we'll go over all their recommendations in free agency, height, weight, speed, what they've done, their character. The pro scouts that have been looking at these guys, we'll put them in a pecking order and then they'll recommend which guys would come in and help our team, evaluating our team as well on a daily basis. We do the same thing in the college draft. I don't even know all the guys that are out there. All these guys have been evaluating these guys for the last year. They've been on the road every day. Even though I get the final say, there's no way I could do that without guys that are out there constantly on the road making recommendations of what they think is in the best interest of your football team."

On evaluating current players on Denver's roster
"No question about it. We have these guys that are out on the road that are never here. They come in and evaluate guys, they compare them to other guys in the league, that are never here, they don't know there personality, they don't know if they're good guys, bad guys just based on play. That is something you have to do. You've got to get an independent contractor that looks at your players because sometimes you like a guy because of his character, for whatever reasons, it's really a good cross-check for us."

On S Hamza Abdullah
"When he did play he played well, he had some good games, some poor games but I think he's got a big upside, hopefully he'll play well in the future."

On free agency
"What I think what you do is you take a look at who is out there. Are you saying (S) John Lynch is a mistake? Are you saying (TE) Daniel Graham is a mistake? I know the ones that you are insinuating. It's an evaluation process. How do you eliminate those mistakes? How do you have the good drafts? That's what you're working for."

On RB Selvin Young stepping in with injuries at the running back position
"The one thing is when you lose a couple players, what you really kind of hurt is your special teams too because these guys don't get the experience that you'd like because they're really core special teams players. So when you do lose a guy here and there, the Selvin Youngs or the Andre Halls, guys that you'd really like to see how good they are, they're playing so other guys are playing those positions. But to answer your question, you'd always like to be young if you can, obviously from a cash standpoint, from the salary cap, but you've got to find out what gives you the best chance to win. Obviously we're a younger football team right now than we were a year ago."

On S John Lynch
"I think John will decide here in the next month what direction he wants to go. I had a good talk with John today, talked about an hour-hour and a half. (We) had a good conversation, and well see what happens."

On if RB Travis Henry will be with the Broncos' No. 1 running back in 2008
"There's a lot of money involved. You've got to make a decision for a big signing bonus what's the best for your organization. To tell you he's going to be our number one running back next year, I could B.S. you but I wouldn't be telling you the truth. There's a lot to weight on who is out there and what his status is physically. Is there any adjustment with the signing bonus? There are so many factors involved, to say one way or another, I wouldn't be telling the truth."

On former Denver LB Al Wilson being cleared to play by doctors
"To be honest with you, our doctors felt like he could play right away. It was another doctor that felt differently. I'm glad that whatever situation has warranted for Al has cleared him to play because Al has a lot of passion, he's done a great job for us, a great leader… I wish him nothing but the best."

On the importance of a quarterback and a head coach in the NFL
"You better have a quarterback, I don't care where you're at. If you don't have a great quarterback, you better have a great defense. To win Super Bowls, you have to have an organization that has a lot of people going in the same direction. There just can't be a quarterback and head coach. It's got to have a good offense, good defense and people working together. It does just happen. It's hard to do. You've got to be a little lucky with injuries. I'll go back through 13 years and you've got to be lucky in those great years. In a 13-3 year or 14-2 year and you take a look at the injuries, you're pretty lucky in the stretch. But you've still got to be able to win when you have an unlucky year and you still got to be able to win 10 games, there's no excuse not to win 10 games."

On the Patriots
"You've got one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and maybe the best coach with three Super Bowls in how many years and a chance to do it again. The proof is getting it done and he's gotten it done, both of them. You cant take away those rings."

On WR Brandon Stokley as Denver's No. 2 receiver
"I don't think he's a guy that you want to play in the No. 2 spot. I think he's a guy that you play 25-30 times a game. You put him in that slot role, he's going to get open not matter who is covering him. I think if you play him 50-60 plays a game, I think you're going to wear him down especially nine to 10 years in the league. I think it's a mistake so you have to evaluate what your players can do and sometimes you have to play them a little bit more than you want to because of injuries but to do that to a guy like Brandon was a mistake for us and one of the reasons why he couldn't play the last couple games."

On WR Rod Smith
"I've talked to Greek (Broncos Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos) about him and supposedly he's going well and what a warrior he is and what a big influences he was for our football team in the locker room. A guy like that, he's the reason why you win Super Bowls with the character and that type of character and that type of mindset… When he's not playing to influence the younger players on the football team."

On WR Rod Smith's future with the Broncos
"I'm going to try and get Rod Smith a part of this organization doing something because he's a guy that comes around very seldom. Hopefully we can work something out down the line, something that he's interested in, somebody that smart not to coach, you've got to try to get a part of your organization doing something."

On having WR Rod Smith's presence in the locker room
"It's always great to have veteran players, players that guys respect around, especially with a guy like Brandon Marshall to listen to Rod every day. I think we all know as a player you can only really lead when you're playing. It's hard to do from the background, but if anybody could do it, Rod could."

On players buying into the system that got the Broncos to two Super Bowl wins
"If they don't buy into it then they won't be around. That's why you've got to make the decision that you think will give your football team the best chance to win. Sometimes you've got to get rid of talent to get that message across regardless of somebody's potential."

On WR Rod Smith and the other veterans influencing the younger players
"I think what Rod's saying is that he understands what it takes to win Super Bowls. Not many people do. He understands the grind, he understands how tough it is as a football team and an organization to get everybody on the same page. He see these kids with talent, but they don't have the mindset to do the little things that it takes to separate yourself. He's not afraid to call people out and that's what you need. You need you leaders taking over and let some of the younger guys know that that's the way we do things. If you want to be part of this organization, a part of this professionalism this is the standard you're going to have to operate at. Sometimes, it takes a guy a year or two to understand that."

On former Broncos WR Domenik Hixon, who was claimed off waivers by the Giants
"We were trying to get him on the practice squad. But we looked at him enough that we felt that Andre Hall was a better look for us than Domenik Hixon. If we knew Andre was going to go down, we probably wouldn't have made that call. Just because a guy has an 85-yard kickoff return doesn't mean that that guy's arrived. We'll see if he does it over time. Domenik Hixon was a guy that we looked at, obviously drafted and liked a lot. We gambled on the practice squad and we lost, but I still think he's got a ways to go before he arrives"

On the Broncos' special teams getting better as the season progressed
"I feel very strongly about that. Like I said, we played a lot of people on special teams that didn't practice it with people going out, you don't have that kickoff guy hanging with that hang time or you don't have that consistent punter. Obviously Jason Elam did a great job with some clutch kicks throughout the year."

On having younger players on the roster
"I think any time you have young players everybody says, ‘Hey is this a football team that can win with young players? Are you rebuilding because you have young players?' I know after our 8-8 season my first year everybody thought we had three or four years to rebuild, we just didn't have enough players and all of a sudden you're 13-3 and you lose and all of a sudden you get a little bit of respect because these young guys or free agents stepped up and played at a certain level. Maybe it was Terrell Davis or maybe it was Tony Jones coming in, but that's part of football, I can't answer that question. I just know you get a guy like (WR) Brandon Marshall, a young player, you take a guy like (QB Jay) Cutler, (DE Elvis) Dumervil, guys like (OL) Chris Myers and (G Chris) Kuper stepping up, (RBs) Selvin Young and Andre Hall playing at a certain level, (TE) Daniel Graham coming in and doing a pretty good job and (WR Brandon) Stokley, even though he's not a young guy but a new guy and he steps up. On defense you got a (DT) Marcus Thomas coming in and starting at defensive tackle, (DE) Tim Crowder having a good influence on what we're doing and obviously Elvis and his pass rush were better than most people thought and you take a look at the secondary we got some experience, older guys, (CBs) Champ (Bailey) and Dré Bly… (S) Hamza Abdullah, still fairly young. Linebackers, guys like Jamie Winborn, Ian Gold… You take a look at D.J. (Williams)—not young guys but guys that have some veteran leadership there. You're just hoping that you have the right mixture and you're always trying to get as young as you can, but guys have to be players and so there's a fine line to try to get that chemistry right, there are a lot of things that go into it."

On LB Jamie Winborn
"He was our best special-teams player, him and (Jordan) Beck played exceptionally well on special teams. Any time you play great special teams, we're always going to look at you for a starting position. When he did play (on defense), which Jamie did the last couple games, he played well. Beck didn't get a chance to play very much but he did a great job coming in. He was a difference maker on special teams, so a couple additions that we did bring in at the linebacker position helped us on special teams. We probably have more depth on the defensive line, guys to chose from, younger guys, than we've had in a long time. Which guys will be players, I don't know, but we do have a lot more number than we've had before so we have a lot more competition."

On Jim Ryan coaching the linebackers
"Jim has worked with the linebackers with Larry (Coyer) and then went to the offensive side and he's been an offensive assistant here for the last year working with protections and routs. Jim is an extremely bright guy. We were just hoping some day that we would have a position that he could fill and I know that he'll do a heck of a job just like Rick Dennison's done with our offensive line. I am excited for Jim. He'll do a heck of a job for us."


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