Denver Broncos 2010 Season Preview: Feels Just Like Starting Over ... Again
The Denver Broncos changed coaches before last season and shook up the roster, but wound up in pretty much the same place they'd been for the previous couple of years. A strong start followed by a weak finish meant that the Broncos earned a spot on the outside looking in at the playoffs. They've shuffled the deck again this season as Josh McDaniels continues to put his stamp on the franchise, but the question is whether they've done enough to break up the status quo.
Offense -- The Broncos raised a lot of eyebrows when they sent Jay Cutler packing, but McDaniels ended up looking quite smart when Kyle Orton came through with a strong 2009 season. We'll see if he can repeat the trick now that Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler have also been exiled. Rookie Demaryius Thomas looked strong but has struggled with injuries and Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokely are all complementary players. The running game has its share of questions as well. Knowshon Moreno has been ailing, LenDale White is out for the season and the offensive line is a mixture of callow youth and wounded veterans. Heat Index: 5
Defense -- Lady Gaga doesn't change her wardrobe as often as the Broncos change defensive players, but they may have finally struck a winning combination in Denver. Jamal Williams is a terrific nose tackle and Justin Bannan should also help out at defensive end. The decision to release Jarvis Green and eat more than $3 million is a sign that the team still doesn't have it all figured out, however. The problem is that the injury to Elvis Dumervil robs the Broncos of their biggest playmaker. Robert Ayers will need to show much more than he did as a rookie to make up for Dumervil's absence and the aging secondary will have to be very sharp for the Broncos to keep the opposition in check. Thankfully, they're a good unit. Heat Index: 6
Special Teams -- The Broncos have a chance to help themselves a lot in the third phase of the game. Royal returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns last season and rookie Perrish Cox looks like he'll be a big addition in the return game this season. Matt Prater is making people forget Jason Elam and the Broncos think that he and Britton Colquitt will be long-term answers to their kicking needs. Heat Index: 7
Coaching -- Based on his moves over the last two seasons, McDaniels is clearly planning to stick around for a good long time and he's clearly planning to oversee the entire franchise in the mold of his mentor Bill Belichick. The Broncos have allowed him the latter -- see the drafting of Tim Tebow and the changing defensive coordinators -- but we'll see how long he actually gets at the helm. Trading a first round pick for cornerback Alphonso Smith and then dealing him for a seventh-round tight end a year later doesn't help McDaniels make his case as a good personnel man. An 8-8 record isn't going to cut it for too much longer even if McDaniels is able to pull it off while keeping the team in a rebuilding state. Heat Index: 6
Intangibles -- Are you kidding? They've got Tebow. His ability to walk on water is commonly considered the greatest of all intangibles. Seriously, though, the subtraction of Cutler, Marshall and Scheffler has changed the air around the Broncos for the better. By putting his thumb in every decision, McDaniels has built a roster that should fight hard for him. Their inability to close out seasons well continues to be a red flag, however, and no one's going to buy another hot start. Heat Index: 7
Total Heat Index: 31/50 -- The Broncos are certainly a team with flaws, but they only play six games against playoff participants from 2009 and reside in one of football's weaker divisions. If they've learned how to finish strong and remain healthy, seeing them challenge for a playoff spot wouldn't be out of the question.