Broncos Update Insider - 2/15

The Denver Broncos will have a few changes on the coaching staff in 2010, other than a much-discussed switch at defensive coordinator.

The biggest coaching staff news of the Broncos' offseason was when former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and head coach Josh McDaniels decided to part ways. Nolan was hired in Miami less than a day later. A couple weeks later, Don Martindale was promoted from linebackers coach to run the defense.

Those weren't the only changes. Thanks to old Broncos connections in Houston (Gary Kubiak) and Washington (Mike Shanahan), offensive-line coach Rick Dennison left to the Texans while running-backs coach Bobby Turner left to join the Redskins. Both were longtime members of the Broncos' staff who were retained in McDaniels' first season.

To replace Turner, the team hired Eric Studesville to coach the running backs. He had spent the last nine years with the Giants (2001-03) and Bills (2004-09) coaching running backs.

The Broncos looked internally to replace Dennison. Clancy Barone, who coached tight ends last year, will coach the offensive line. That signals a total shift from the old zone-blocking scheme the Broncos used to run to a power-running scheme McDaniels wants to employ.

The Broncos also promoted Ben McDaniels to coach quarterbacks. Ben is the younger brother of Josh and was on the Broncos' staff last year. Mike McCoy coached the quarterbacks last year, but his lone title this year will be offensive coordinator.

The Broncos also hired Bob Ligashesky as tight ends coach and named Bob Wylie assistant offensive line coach.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Broncos were thrilled when running back Floyd Little, retired for more than 30 years, finally got the call to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Little joins John Elway and Gary Zimmerman as the three Broncos in the Hall.

"This is a great day for Floyd Little individually as well as for the Denver Broncos' entire organization," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said in a statement. "Floyd has made immeasurable contributions to this franchise and the NFL, and he deservedly will take his place among the greatest to play this game in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

--While Floyd Little was voted in the Hall of Fame, tight end Shannon Sharpe was left out for the second straight year. Sharpe finished his career with the NFL's record for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns among tight ends.

"I'm very disappointed about Shannon not getting in because there's not a more deserving person for his position," former Broncos receiver Rod Smith said. "I know it's inevitable that he will be enshrined in Canton one day, because that's the class of player he was, but I don't think he should have to wait long."

--The Broncos will have a slight edge next year, playing a neutral-site game in London that is designated as a home game for the 49ers. The game will be Oct. 31.

"Playing in London in front of so many passionate and new football fans is a privilege and will be a great experience for our team," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said.

--The Broncos will have three players among the 77 taking advantage of the NFL business management and entrepreneurial program at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Linebacker Spencer Larsen, defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith and offensive lineman Brandon Gorin will participate in the program.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I never thought this day would ever come. I waited over 30 years for this day to come. Now I sit here living my dream, and this truly is a dream." -- Former Broncos running back Floyd Little on NFL Network right after being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--There are few teams whose offseason plan will be affected as much by the labor uncertainty than the Broncos. Denver's biggest free agents -- quarterback Kyle Orton, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, receiver Brandon Marshall, guard Chris Kuper and tight end Tony Scheffler -- will all be restricted if there's no new agreement, or unrestricted with a new collective-bargaining agreement.

With that in mind, the Broncos have devised two offseason plans -- one for if there is a new agreement and one without the new agreement. It would be almost impossible for them to keep all their free agents if they are unrestricted.

OFFSEASON STRATEGY

--The unusual contrast with the Broncos this offseason is that while they have plenty of key free agents, they don't have many important free agents who are definitely going to be unrestricted.

So while the team waits to see what happens on the labor front, the biggest unrestricted free agent it has is guard Russ Hochstein, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury. Unless the team wants to reward a player like Elvis Dumervil with a long-term contract before the free-agency period begins, they might not make many signings before March.

TEAM NEEDS 1. Receiver: If Brandon Marshall returns, this position might not top the list, but either way the Broncos could use some help here. The Broncos don't have many receivers that can stretch the field, which hurt the offense in 2009.

2. Defensive line: The Broncos could use depth at nose tackle and at both end positions. The starters were solid, but there may not be a future Pro Bowl player in the group. Denver should look long and hard at investing in the line this offseason.

3. Guard/center: The Broncos are moving away from the zone-blocking scheme, which means they need to get bigger up front. The team is set at tackle with Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, but there will be some tinkering with the three interior line spots.

MEDICAL WATCH: OT Ryan Harris has extensive rehabilitation in front of him after a toe injury ended his 2009 season. He might not be 100 percent for the start of offseason conditioning, but it doesn't appear he'll miss any time in training camp.

--G Russ Hochstein had surgery after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 16. The late timing of his injury means he could miss some time at the start of training camp.

--WR Kenny McKinley suffered a season-ending leg injury late in the year, but should return and be ready for training camp.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--P Mitch Berger was a midseason signee who had an up-and-down year. With the late-season addition of Britton Colquitt, don't expect Berger back.
--S Vernon Fox added some depth on special teams late in the year. He could return for camp.
--OT Brandon Gorin gave the Broncos some experience at tackle but was not the primary backup at the position. Denver could look elsewhere.
--LB Nick Greisen missed all of last season with a knee injury, and his health could determine his future.
--G Ben Hamilton was benched last season, and as a better fit in a zone-blocking scheme, is unlikely to return.
--G Russ Hochstein seemed like a good fit to return after playing well at left guard last year, but a knee injury clouds his future.
--DE Vonnie Holliday was a pleasant surprise as an addition right before the season started and would seem like a good bet to return for another year.
--CB Ty Law played well after being picked up during the season but did deal with some injuries and is near the end of his career. If he is re-signed, it's a sign the Broncos don't have much faith in 2009 second-round pick Alphonso Smith.
--WR Brandon Lloyd was inactive for the first 14 weeks of the season, then surprisingly played pretty well when pressed into action the final two games. He could be brought back to battle for a roster spot.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*OLB Elvis Dumervil should be a high priority for the Broncos after leading the NFL in sacks.
--*G Chris Kuper is a talented player but was brought in under the old regime. The Broncos will wait and see what kind of attention he gets in free agency.
--*WR Brandon Marshall will probably be shopped in a trade after a tumultuous 2009 season.
--*QB Kyle Orton appears to be penciled in as the Broncos' starting quarterback for another season, but the question is whether the team wants to sign him long term.
--K Matt Prater had an excellent season in 2009 and will come back.
--*TE Tony Scheffler appears to be on his way out of Denver after attitude problems led to him being deactivated for the season finale.
--*DE Le Kevin Smith was a solid member of the Broncos' defensive-line rotation and will probably return.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--S Josh Barrett is solid on special teams and has good athletic ability.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

PLAYERS LOST: None.



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