ENGLEWOOD, Col. -- Dispatches from the Broncos training camp at their suburban Denver team complex, where rookie head coach
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:
• Third-year veteran
• Veteran safety
• 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
• All of this played out amid a backdrop that included first-round pick
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
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
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."
McDaniels, Orton and the Broncos have to endure the side show of the Bears and Cutler coming to town Aug. 30 for the third preseason game, but that's not going to tell the story of Denver's season. The defining stretch that everybody has circled starts in Week 4, with a visit from the Cowboys. From Week 4 to Week 12, the Broncos play eight games and take their bye, and they come off the board this way: Dallas, New England, at San Diego, bye, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego, New York Giants. That's all of October and November right there, and what a daunting sight it makes for from this vantage point.
If Denver struggles and gets off to a poor start in September -- at Cincinnati, Cleveland, at Oakland -- things could get real ugly, real soon for McDaniels and his Broncos as the weather turns cooler.
"Only time will tell really," cornerback
• As intense as McDaniels has made training camp, and the Broncos have hit in full pads almost daily so far, an unheard of occurrence in the Shanahan era, he's trying to make time for some fun, too. The day I was at practice, McDaniels concluded the workout by telling his players they would cancel their team meeting that night, and their curfew, if two defensive linemen -- one veteran, one rookie -- could successfully field punts on their first try.
• One guy who is going to be busy in the Broncos offense is slot receiver
• If there's a key to the success of the Broncos new 3-4 defense, it's fifth-year nose tackle
• Has there ever been a secondary in the NFL where all four starters were 30 or older? Don't know, but that's the plan in Denver, where Dawkins, 35, Bailey, 31,
"I think we all have a lot left," Bailey said. "We have a lot of experience. We've all seen a lot. There's nothing they could say to me that I haven't seen before, and nothing I could say to them that they haven't seen."
But with Dawkins already dealing with a health issue in that broken hand, the Broncos might be dipping into their less experienced depth at defensive back for a while.
• The Broncos say their offense under Orton will have enough verticality to stretch the field and keep opposing defenses honest. But Orton clearly doesn't have Cutler's gun, and some believe Denver will struggle to complete much over 30 yards. That could result in more a dink-and-dunk style of passing game than we've seen from Denver under Shanahan, who always liked the long ball.
"I've been impressed with Kyle's arm," second-year receiver
• It's too early to declare that Moss can't play outside linebacker in the 3-4, but he's not getting any inside rush, and he's not strong enough to do anything but get pushed wide by the Broncos offensive tackles when he comes from the outside. To have much impact at all this season, he's going to have to fight his way up the team's depth chart from where he currently resides, getting second- and third-team snaps.
• Chatted up backup quarterback
"If had you asked me a year-and-a-half ago if I thought I'd ever be in this good of a spot again, I might have doubted if I would ever play football again," said Simms, of the long recovery from his ruptured spleen, suffered in 2006 in Tampa Bay. "Sometimes I have to just keep things in perspective and say that I've got to be grateful that I'm out here, having fun, and still knocking on the door. I know my chance is going to come again, and when I get that chance, I've just got to make it work."