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The 2009 Denver Broncos can go one of two ways this season.
An optimistic person will view the Broncos as a glass half-full mirroring the Colorado Rockies. On Friday, the Rockies pulled off another dramatic late-game comeback by scoring four runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat the San Diego Padres. After Saturday’s 3-2 loss in 10 innings snapped their eight-game winning streak, the Rockies are 5 1/2 games up on the San Francisco Giants and the Florida Marlins in the National League Wild Card race and three behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West with 19 to play.
On the other hand, a pessimistic person might see the Broncos as a glass half-empty scenario mirroring the Colorado Buffaloes football team. Predicted by some to win the Big 12 Conference’s North division and finally climb back into national relevance, the Buffs wrapped up their second consecutive loss to a mid-major opponent, this time a 54-38 drubbing at the hands of the Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference. The Buffs are 0-2 and have shown no signs of being better or even as good as last year’s 5-7 team.
The Broncos—the boys in blue and orange—will either surprise everyone by putting together a winning campaign, or lose 10-plus games and spur the fan base to call for the coach’s head.
Even if the team does the latter, as most sports pundits are predicting, Broncos fans should keep the faith and not jump ship. A 12-loss season could be a good thing for this team, in more ways than one. But first, let’s take a look at all that has transpired in one of the craziest offseasons in recent memory.
Being a Broncos fan myself, I was more than a little displeased with the firing of Mike Shanahan. Owner Pat Bowlen used the excuse that Shanahan’s name was becoming bigger than the franchise. Give me a break!
Following the popular trend of the National Football League, Bowlen hired a young, rising star in former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Again, not a move I was a fan of considering the success, or lack thereof, of Bill Belichick disciples who became head coaches. Four Belichick disciples—Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Nick Saban and Al Groh—have a combined 71-89 NFL record. Also, McDaniels has been arrogant with a confrontational attitude since taking the job.
Things continued to get worse when McDaniels rode Jay Cutler out of town, replacing him with the less-than-spectacular Kyle Orton. Then, he butted heads with All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was suspended for half of the preseason after demanding a trade (and almost getting one) for not getting paid.
The team went 1-3 in a dismal preseason which saw Orton, backup quarterback Chris Simms, first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno, and safety Brian Dawkins all miss games with injuries. The quartet and the disgruntled Marshall are expected to be ready for the season opener on Sunday, but things are not what they once were in Broncos Country.
The days of the Mile High salute, a new 1,000-yard running back every season, and the West Coast offense have been replaced by McDaniels’ new spread attack, a 3-4 defense and a lot of Patriots castoffs. We are, for lack of a better word, New England-lite.
The harsh reality is we have been on this downward path for a while, but I don’t think ousting Shanahan was the answer.
Our defense never recovered from the loss of Al Wilson, who was the captain and linchpin of the new-age Orange Crush defense for eight seasons before his injury.
Though many fans never rallied behind Jake “the Snake” Plummer during his tenure, he was the most consistent Broncos quarterback since a certain number seven hung up the cleats and took Denver within one victory of the Super Bowl.
The Cutler experiment was a failure if for no other reason than it was never allowed to take root. And now we have to settle for a quarterback who doesn’t throw the ball more than 10 yards, maybe the worst defensive front seven in the NFL (does anybody know who Ryan McBean, Ronald Fields and Kenny Peterson are? Try our starting defensive line), and a young, hotshot head coach who has something to prove and is going with a “my way or the highway” approach so everybody knows he is the man.
Despite the adversity the team has faced in the past nine months, beginning with the late-season collapse last year (losing the last three games of the season to miss the playoffs and finish 8-8) and continuing through the preseason, all is not lost Bronco Nation. There is still hope in the Mile High City and it starts with number 27. No, I’m not talking about Steve Atwater.
While veteran Correll Buckhalter, whom I like, is penciled in as the team’s starter at running back, it will be the progress of Moreno that Broncos fans should pay attention to. He is the future and if he can put together a solid rookie campaign, it would take some pressure off of both McDaniels and whoever is lining up behind center. The team has other young pieces as well, including:
• WR Eddie Royal, who is poised for a breakout year after a solid rookie season.
• Rookie cornerback Alphonso Smith, a second-round pick out of Wake Forest who will be the team’s nickel back.
• Fullback Peyton Hillis, a solid blocker who may see some carries at running back as well.
But this is all one man’s opinion. What do other CU students think about the Broncos this season? Josh Reising, a lifelong Denver Broncos fan, puts it bluntly, “7-9. Best case scenario.”
“No-shon won’t do anything this season,” said Andrew Tomasini, a sophomore broadcast news major.
Tomasini, a Dallas Cowboys fan, says he is looking forward to the Denver vs. Dallas matchup on Oct. 4.
“The game won’t even be close,” said Tomasini, picking the Cowboys to win by at least two touchdowns.
Matt Hanlon, another junior broadcast news major, predicts playing in the weak American Football Conference’s Western division will sort of help the Broncos.
“I think they’ll finish 2nd in the AFC West, but that’s not saying much,” Hanlon said.
The low expectations for Denver aren’t the only thing the three have in common. When asked about the quarterback situation, they responded with the same answer: start Chris Simms.
“With Simms they can be respectable,” Tomasini said. “8-8 is definitely a possibility.”
Reising, a pre-journalism student, is excited about the new 3-4 defense.
“Look out for [Elvis] Dumervil. He’s going to show what he can actually do this year,” Reising said, predicting an All-Pro year for the young defensive end/outside linebacker.
After examining the evidence, listening to what Broncos fans and haters are saying, and breaking down a schedule that may perhaps be the toughest in football, here are my game-by-game predictions for 2009.
• at Cincinnati: win
• vs. Cleveland: win
• at Oakland: win
• vs. Dallas: loss
• vs. New England: loss
• at San Diego: loss
• at Baltimore: loss
• vs. Pittsburgh: loss
• at Washington: win (it’s on my birthday. Give a guy a break will ya?)
• vs. San Diego: loss
• vs. New York Giants: loss
• at Kansas City: win
• at Indianapolis: loss
• vs. Oakland: win
• at Philadelphia: loss
• vs. Kansas City: win
Tally it up and you have a 7-9 campaign for the 2009 Denver Broncos. That being said, anything from 4-12 to 9-7 wouldn’t surprise me. But you’re looking at four straight seasons with no playoffs from your beloved Broncos. Is this a bad thing? I propose that it is not.
If we are really terrible, which is in the realm of possibility, we get more high draft picks and can continue to build on our young core. If our coaching is poor and it continues through next season, maybe Bowlen will realize he made a mistake and fire McDaniels before he can further damage what used to be one of the most respectable franchises not just in the NFL, but in all of professional sports. I am of the opinion that stability is the key to a quality franchise in every sport and that Bowlen ruined that by firing Shanahan.
If McDaniels takes the Broncos back to greatness, I will eat my words and worship the ground he walks on. But I just don’t see that happening. If there is one thing the Broncos doesn’t need right now, it’s another situation like the one currently taking place in Boulder. Two years and out is my prediction for J-Mac, and I can only hope they find a diamond in the rough to redirect the franchise.
Regardless of this season’s outcome, Broncos fans should continue to be the most loyal and dedicated in the NFL. Who knows, maybe McDaniels will start Simms over Orton, will use Moreno more in the offense, and will give Brandon Marshall the contract he deserves (we can’t afford to lose him too, he is a top five talent at his position).
And if all else fails, at least we still have the Rockies. That is one statement this Colorado sports fan never thought he would say in his lifetime.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer David Starcer at firstname.lastname@example.org.