Broncos’ disappointing season comes to a shocking end | VailDaily.com
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Broncos’ disappointing season comes to a shocking end

Ian Smith
Vail, CO Colorado

Wow ” I’m in shock.

How could Denver fire Mike Shanahan? As a Broncos fan, I’m at a loss for words. The coach who led Denver to two Super Bowl victories and 146 wins is done. It’s disappointing, heartbreaking, but maybe, necessary.

The only thing I can think of is maybe his act went stale. The innovative offense? Gone. The days of homefield dominance? Yeah right. Shanahan used to be called The Mastermind. Lately, he couldn’t even beat the pathetic Chiefs or Raiders.

In recent, disappointing seasons, Shanahan found a way to blame someone else. He fired defensive coordinators and offensive coordinators to skirt the blame. Apparently, Denver owner Pat Bowlen finally had enough.

On Tuesday, he sent the most successful coach in Broncos history ” and a probable hall-of-famer ” packing. Shanahan’s supposed lifetime contract was as thin as Denver’s defense.

The problem now for the Broncos is that Shanahan wasn’t just the coach, he was the franchise, the man who made the last call on nearly every decision.

How do you replace that? I guess we’ll find out.

Who ever comes in to be the next Broncos coach will have big shoes to fill. Shanahan is and always will be a legend in Denver. It’s a sad day for any true Broncos fan who remembers Elway, Sharpe, Atwater, Zimmerman and the rest of the gang who delivered Denver its first NFL title.

With a core of young, talented players the next coach could have success in 2009. Since we don’t know who the coach will be, let’s examine how Denver can improve its roster before next year. …

Defense needs to get tougher

For the majority of the year, the Broncos defense was as tough to rip apart as paper michae. Denver finished the season ranked 29th in total defense and 30th in points allowed per game. When you give up 28 points per contest, it’s tough to win.

The first thing the new coach needs to do this offseason is find a defensive end that can sack the quarterback. I know, it’s the same thing every year, but it’s probably Denver’s most glaring weakness. On Sunday, Rivers could’ve mircrowaved a Hot Pocket with how much time he had to throw the ball.

Julius Peppers is a free agent this year, don’t you think he’d look good in the orange and blue?

The second thing Denver needs to do is get tougher. That attitude starts with the middle linebacker (MLB). Since Al Wilson retired, Denver’s been lacking any sort of authority in the middle.

Nate Webster and Jamie Winborn (an outside linebacker) can both celebrate like Muhammad Ali, but they play more like Glass Joe. Please get rid of them. If Denver can’t sign a premier MLB ” Ray Lewis is available ” they need to draft one with their first pick. If worse comes to worse, they could move D.J. Williams back to MLB, and put the play-making Wesley Woodyard in at weakside linebacker.

Talented offense needs a workhorse

Patience is a virtue on the offensive side of the ball. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Ryan Clady, Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler and Ryan Harris will all fourth-year players or younger next season. That’s quite a group to build around.

Cutler needs to continue his maturation process, and start trusting his teammates a little more. Too many times this season, Cutler tried to force the ball into coverage instead of taking a safer, less rewarding option. Sunday’s interception in the end zone against San Diego essentially ended the game.

I believe Cutler is one of the top-five most talented quarterbacks in the league. If his decision-making gets to the same level, watch out.

Obviously, Denver’s biggest need on offense is a running back. Seven Denver backs went on the injured reserve this season, hurting the Broncos’ chances of ever getting a consistent running game. Peyton Hillis showed potential before tearing his hamstring, but none of the injured running backs can be counted on for next season.

The new coach needs to continue Shanahan’s tradition of building depth at the position either through the draft or free agency. A solid running game will help Cutler and the passing game become one of the league’s best.

The 2008 season will be remembered as one of the most frustrating in recent memory. Not only did Denver miss the playoffs, but now the most successful coach in Broncos history is gone.

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or ismith@vaildaily.com.


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