TODAY'S FEATURE STORY
After one weekend of training camp, the most mysterious team in the National Football League has done little to shake that label. In fact, the Broncos have only become even more of an enigma just a few practices in to the 2009 season.
Compared to previous regimes, the organization is shrouded in secrecy. While Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan weren't exactly open books, the two men who have held the job of head coach for Denver's pro football team in 26 of the past 28 seasons provided volumes of information to fans and the media compared to the team's newest leader - Josh McDaniels. Just a few days into the new administration, it's obvious that information is going to be disseminated in a cryptic fashion at Dove Valley.
Players aren't talking, other than to tell us so. Assistant coaches aren't even offering that much info. And the head man himself says something without really saying anything at all. Thus, it's hard to predict with any sort of accuracy whether the all-new Broncos are headed for a resurgence or destined to implode. The latest news surrounding the team can certainly be interpreted either way.
The first full day of practice, with rookies and veterans on the field together, was highlighted by the news that three veterans - Champ Bailey, Renaldo Hill and Marcus Thomas - weren't on the field. They hadn't passed their conditioning test, landing them on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and keeping them out of practice. The negative way to look at this news is to see the team's most-talented player (Bailey), a key offseason free-agent acquisition (Hill) and one of the team's only known commodities along the defensive line (Thomas) arriving at training camp unready to play, an ominous omen about the team's work ethic during the offseason. The positive outlook, however, sees McDaniels clearly establishing a new standard of excellence. Even the Broncos best player was expected to report at a certain level. If he didn't, he wasn't allowed to participate.
The next day, it was revealed that Jarvis Moss, Denver's first-round pick in 2007, had left camp. McDaniels offered only a vague explanation, referring to the matter being a "personal situation" for the defensive-end-turned-outside-linebacker. Yesterday, word came through the grapevine the Moss would return today. Only time will tell if that's true, and for what purpose. The downside of this strange development is a coaching staff running off a player worthy of being only the 17th pick in the draft a little more than two years ago. The upside, however, suggests that playing time for the Broncos will be based on performance, not draft position, contract amount or any other variable.
In early practice sessions, onlookers couldn't help but notice that something that hadn't been seen at many training camps in recent years was taking place - players were wearing full pads and tackling during drills. Some would consider this a foolish way of doing business, an overly physical approach destined to wear a team out during the five-month grind that is an NFL season. Others see it as a way of instilling toughness in a team that has been grossly lacking in that trait in recent years.
As the first full week of camp commences, Denver's two first-rounders from this April's draft, Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers, remain unsigned. While other high picks around the league are inking deals and reporting for work, the Broncos' highly regarded pair remain holdouts. One viewpoint sees this as the team once again being held back by fiscal constraints, unable to pony up the bonus money needed to sign their first-round picks. The other perspective sees Denver's front office finally showing some financial restraint, getting away from a day and age when they threw money at situations (Dale Carter, Daryl Gardner) looking for a quick fix.
And finally, the Brandon Marshall saga continues on. A week after reporting with rookies and other injured players, the Broncos wide receiver remains unhappy with his contract situation and would prefer to be traded out of Denver. Doomsday predictors see this as another example - Jay Cutler being the other - of McDaniels being able to get along with his team's best players, running them off at an alarming rate. Others see a head coach drawing a line in the sand, not allowing the inmates to run the asylum.
Which of these conflicting opinions is more accurate? Which way of viewing the 2009 Broncos appears to be more accurate? A weekend of training camp certainly hasn't provided any answers.
But the first few days under McDaniels' watch have definitely proven one thing - it's a new era in Denver. Whether that's good or bad, the coming months will reveal.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Tune in to Mile High Sports AM 1510, live all week from Broncos training camp.