Brroncos Update Insider - 12/31

"Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen expressed support for coach Mike Shanahan at every opportunity, which made Shanahan's firing two days after the season ended an enormous surprise.

Shanahan, the author of two Super Bowl wins, oversaw everything in the organization. He was the head coach and executive vice president of football operations, which gave him final say on all personnel decisions. After 14 seasons with Shanahan, the Broncos organization will undergo a radical change this offseason.

"After giving this careful consideration, I have concluded that a change in our football operations is in the best interests of the Denver Broncos," Bowlen said in a statement. "This is certainly a difficult decision, but one that I feel must be made and which will ultimately be in the best interests of all concerned.

"I appreciate the 21 years that Mike Shanahan has given to the organization as an assistant and head coach, and the two Super Bowl wins in that time. His contributions hold a special place in Broncos history."

Shanahan had only one playoff win in the 10 seasons following John Elway's retirement, although Elway's last win was also Denver's second Super Bowl victory. After the Super Bowl wins, Bowlen backed Shanahan despite some criticism. In April 2007, Bowlen gave Shanahan a three-year contract, which ran through 2011.

A third consecutive season without a playoff berth was the final straw for Shanahan in Denver. The Broncos blew a three-game lead with three to go and lost 52-21 at San Diego in the season finale, giving the Chargers the AFC West championship.

The Broncos had an excuse for the collapse, considering 16 players -- including seven tailbacks -- were lost for the season because of injury. Denver finished 8-8, and the players couldn't believe that Shanahan was let go.

"That's shocking, man," running back Tatum Bell said. "I can't believe it. You think of the Broncos you think of Shanahan or Elway. I'm speechless right now."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Broncos had three regrettable losses in which they were significant favorites -- Kansas City, Oakland and Buffalo. Had they won any of those games, they would have been AFC West champions.

"Those are the games you look back on and you think about one or two plays that could have made the difference in getting a win against those teams," WR Brandon Stokley said. "It would have been a different season."

--Veteran C Casey Wiegmann saved the Broncos after Tom Nalen was ruled out for the season with a knee injury. Wiegmann played well, then said he might retire on a good note.

"It's kind of like, should I come back or should I call it quits being healthy and calling it a good career?" he said. "We'll see what happens."

--K Matt Prater started well and struggled in the second half of the season. He said he had a fatigued leg and will try to get stronger in the offseason. Prater does expect the Broncos to bring in someone to compete against him before next season.

"I'm sure they'll bring in somebody, they're always going to bring in a guy to compete," Prater said. "That's good. I feel if I'm kicking like I should then I don't think anybody will be able to beat me out."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "What we did this year was not acceptable." -- CB Dre Bly, on the team's defense.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

After firing Mike Shanahan, the Broncos shouldn't have much trouble finding a good replacement. They have one of the best situations among the NFL openings. Denver has a franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler, a supportive owner in Pat Bowlen and a winning tradition.

Denver can also offer a new head coach control over personnel, or the Broncos could hire a general manager and split the duties. Shanahan had final say over all personnel.

COACHING CAROUSEL: After Mike Shanahan's dismissal, the entire staff will have to be evaluated by the new head coach. Shanahan gave coordinator Bob Slowik a vote of confidence after the season, but that means little now. Slowik presided over a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL this season.

Jeremy Bates, the team's primary offensive play-caller, is young and has a good working relationship with QB Jay Cutler. He is well thought of in the organization and seems to be a good bet to stay on the staff. The Broncos finished second in the NFL in total offense in 2008.

FREE AGENT UPDATE: The Broncos took care of their biggest potential free agent in September, locking up LB D.J. Williams to a long-term deal. The team doesn't have many other pressing issues among its own free agents. C Tom Nalen is another big-name free agent because of his long career with the team, but he is unlikely to return after missing 2008 with a knee injury. LB Nate Webster, the starter in the middle this season, is another free agent.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Broncos have the 12th pick in the draft. It would be a shock if they selected an offensive player with that pick. Their young offense is pretty much set, but the defense needs work. If a top defensive end or tackle falls to them, it would make for an easy pick. A playmaking safety could also be the choice in the first round.

TEAM NEEDS

Defensive end: The Broncos drafted Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft, but because neither has become a star, Denver still has a need there.

Defensive tackle: There is very little depth inside, which was a reason the run defense was so porous.

Safety: The Broncos found an intriguing prospect, Josh Barrett, late in the season, but they are still very thin at the position and have to add someone.

MEDICAL WATCH: RB Michael Pittman said he has recovered from a neck injury that sidelined him for the second half of the season. He was on a one-year contract and wants to return to Denver. RB Peyton Hillis had a torn hamstring but should be recovered in time to participate fully in all offseason activities.

RB Selvin Young had a ruptured disk in his neck, and he will know sometime in January if he needs surgery.

RB Ryan Torain tore his ACL in early November. He should be back for training camp, but the Broncos will have to be cautious with the oft-injured back.

LB Boss Bailey had microfracture surgery on his knee. The Broncos are confident he will return at full speed, but his situation will bear watching in the offseason.



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