McDaniels in spotlight as changes are implemented in Denver
New coach Josh McDaniels will not have a honeymoon period in Denver
The Broncos fans are hungry for a winner and still miffled Jay Cutler is gone
One of the keys to Denver's new defense is nose tackle Ronald Fields
ENGLEWOOD, Col. -- Dispatches from the Broncos training camp at their suburban Denver team complex, where rookie head coach Josh McDaniels is undeniably the big story in this football-crazed part of the world ...
After a Broncos offseason that included more than a little calamity -- I'm sure you remember -- here's what McDaniels endured in his first seven days of training camp:
Brandon Marshall, the team's leading receiver (and leading malcontent), hurt his leg/hip on Denver's third day of camp, after looking great the first couple of days. He remains out with an undisclosed injury that's either a left hamstring problem, or a tweaking of his surgically repaired left hip.
Third-year veteran Jarvis Moss, the team's first-round pick in 2007, left camp for a few days while reportedly mulling over retirement. Moss, trying to make the switch from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker this season, is back, but he's also looking a bit lost at his new position and remains fairly well buried on the depth chart at this point.
Veteran safety Brian Dawkins, the team's centerpiece acquisition in free agency, reportedly suffered a broken right hand in practice on Tuesday, and underwent surgery shortly thereafter. The best-case scenario seems to call for Dawkins to return in two weeks, but rumors have swirled that he could be out considerably longer.
At an intra-squad scrimmage that drew a team-practice record crowd of more than 13,000 fans to Invesco Field Thursday night, new starting quarterback Kyle Orton was booed after throwing a pair of interceptions and looking ragged in the two-minute drill, and kicker Matt Prater was treated even rougher by the home fans after a pair of 43-yard field goal misses. Ah, yes, it's football season again in Denver.
All of this played out amid a backdrop that included first-round pick Knowshon Moreno remaining unsigned and absent for the first week of camp, missing 12 practices and the scrimmage. In a rare bit of good news for the Broncos so far, the ex-Georgia running back agreed to terms Saturday on a five-year, $23 million contract and is expected to join the team when it resumes work on Sunday. Who knows, maybe things are starting to look up for the Broncos?
That's a lot of first-week challenges for any coach, let alone a first-time NFL head coach, and I couldn't help but wonder how McDaniels manages to catch his breath before another Rocky Mountain avalanche comes along and plows him under once more. Not that the 33-year-old former Patriots offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach looked particularly fazed by any of these early body blows when I sat down with him for a few minutes after Friday afternoon's two-and-a-half-hour practice.
"Nothing surprises me, not any more," said McDaniels, of the Broncos' eventful first week in camp. "I expect there will be more things that come up at some point here. You're right, there's been some different things. But I think the biggest thing is we haven't let those distract our team. We've come out here and practiced well I would say, the way we want to practice. They've stayed focused on what we're trying to accomplish here."
Having already visited three other camps of teams that feature rookie NFL head coaches -- the Chiefs, Colts and Rams -- I can unequivocally say that the Broncos' McDaniels is the only one of those four who is starting his program without the benefit of a honeymoon. Denver fans are still plenty riled up about how the Jay Cutler melodrama unfolded, and it seems to have robbed McDaniels of any grace period as he goes about remaking a Broncos team that had been stuck in the status quo under Mike Shanahan.
The thought that keeps coming back to me is this: I believe McDaniels will make a good head coach in this league some day, but will it be in Denver, or somewhere else? Will people here show enough patience with McDaniels to find out what kind of coach he can be, or will the unusual set of circumstances that unfolded as he began his tenure -- and the rabid nature of Denver's fan base -- conspire to rob him of the time to develop his head coaching talents?
Or as one astute Broncos observer said to me Friday: Maybe we're watching Bill Belichick in Cleveland all over again. Maybe the team that will benefit most is the one that hires McDaniels after Denver. We're not trying to predict his demise before he has ever coached a game with the Broncos, but I think it's an intriguing question to ponder given the level of creeping impatience with McDaniels that already seems to be present.
After having Shanahan and Cutler, the Broncos suddenly are led by McDaniels and Orton. Will they be given much of a chance if early success doesn't follow? I'm skeptical.
"Well, the truth is I'm not going to have a whole lot of patience," McDaniels said. "I'm not looking to win two or three years from now. Honestly, I know everyone sits there and looks at me like I'm nuts. But Kyle Orton will play fine. There's no doubt in my mind he'll play fine and our offense is going to play well. Our defense is going to keep getting better, and hey, if people don't believe that, that's why we play the games in September. I'm just not concerned about that."
McDaniels clearly doesn't lack for confidence, and it's a good thing because he really needs the courage of his convictions about now. He's making big, big changes in Denver, with a new offense, new starting quarterback and whole new approach to defense in the transition to a 3-4 formation. But all that change was on display in the scrimmage the other night at Invesco, and at times it wasn't pretty. Thus, the boos that rained down on Orton and Prater in particular.
"You want your fans to be passionate," Orton said. "It wasn't any different from Chicago. There's nobody patient in this league. That's just how it is. Especially at my position. We all know it's a big year for me and a big year for our team."
If nothing else, the scrimmage served as an initiation of sorts for Orton and McDaniels. If they didn't before, now they know they're in Denver, one of the NFL's longtime hotbeds. Of course, coming from Chicago and New England respectively, it's not as if Denver's level of interest in its team is completely foreign to the Broncos coach and quarterback.
"It's just the National Football League," McDaniels said. "When you do well, the place goes nuts, and when you don't, they want better. They want to win and we want to win. We're all hoping and trying for the same thing. I know that none of the players love to get booed and I don't want our players to get booed. But sometimes it's going to happen. It's part of the game, and it's part of this climate out here. It's a football-crazed town. It's like the Red Sox in New England. But I'd much rather have it happen now (the booing) than in the regular season."
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