John Elway has identified four key positions to build a winning football team. He's already inherited three players who fill those positions, but at quarterback Elway's legacy as the Denver Broncos signal caller still looms large.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen brought in John Elway to help rebuild the team he once led to back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1990s. Elway, along with new head coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders, had the tough task of constructing a new look for the Broncos. The Josh McDaniels-era Broncos failed to impress anyone with the product the young coach put on the field.
From out of those ashes, Elway, Fox and Xanders (EXF) are about to see how well their version of the Broncos can do in the tough grind of the NFL regular season. But have the Broncos fully addressed the core components of their roster? Recently the Denver Post's Jeff Legwold interviewed John Elway and learned the four key roster spots that Elway believes every team needs to succeed.
Let's take a look at how well the Broncos are covered at those positions.
4. Cover Cornerback
Elway connects this position with one that shows up later on the list. He sees disrupting receivers as one part of hurting the opposing quarterback's play. Clearly the Broncos have one half of the field covered here with Champ Bailey, who re-signed with the Broncos in February. As we recently saw in ESPN's Scouts Inc. position rankings, Bailey is rated the No. 6 cornerback in the game. Of the five ahead of him, only two are younger than 30 years of age (No. 1 Darrelle Revis at 26 and No. 4 Tramon Williams at 28).
Elway didn't need to go anywhere to fill this position. However, the team could have drafted No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson at No. 2 and paired him with Bailey to form a cornerback tandem that had the potential to be the best in the league. But the Broncos went a different route, which we'll return to at No. 2.
3. Left Offensive Tackle
Elway had Pro Football Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman protecting his blindside for the better part of the 1990s, including the 1997 team that won the Super Bowl. It's no surprise that Elway (or any other team, for that matter) would want to have a rock solid player manning this position.
The Broncos had no need to look around to fill this position. Ryan Clady, No. 5 in Scouts Inc.'s tackle rankings, has been a mainstay on the left side since he was drafted in 2008, playing in every game since then. Clady does protect the quarterback's blind side for now with Kyle Orton there.
2. Edge Pass Rusher
Elway calls these guys "the disruptive players" that opposing teams prepare for all week long. They are also the players that Elway sees as the complements to a cover cornerback. Just like in the previous two positions, Elway didn't need to go far to find an edge pass rusher. With the return of a 4-3 defense with John Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers moved from linebacker to the defensive line. Dumervil, who missed the 2010 season, led the league in 2009 with 17 sacks. Ayers, on the other hand, is still unproven and this could be the make-or-break season for him, his third in the league.
Then with the No. 2 overall pick this year, the Broncos selected Von Miller, who played the Joker position at Texas A&M. He had 27-1/2 sacks in his final two years with the Aggies and should bring that same intensity to the NFL field. We saw glimpses of it during the preseason. While he is listed as a linebacker, Miller did put his hand on the ground for several series during the preseason.
The Broncos appear well set at this position.
Legwold offers the following comment from Elway on what he wants in this position:
"You need the guy to win you a championship from the pocket, to be a leader, to make it go. And you’re looking for the athlete at the position who can operate from the pocket and get out when he needs to."
Doesn't that sound familiar? Elway seems to be describing himself in discussing who he wants to see under center. But do either Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow really fit that entire description? It seems both would fit half of the definition. Orton is the pocket passer and he has the support of the locker room. Tebow is the athlete who can run out of the pocket and make a play out of nothing. For the moment, though, Orton is the guy.
This leaves the Broncos in a precarious position. Let us play a thought exercise. Let's say that the Broncos don't improve much from last season's dismal 4-12 season. Maybe they finish 5-11, as some projections are showing. Kyle Orton gets benched midway through the season. Fox makes the decision to go with Tim Tebow as the starter to see what he has in the young player. Let's then say that Tebow plays similar to how he did over the final three games of the 2010 season. That 5-11 record will give the Broncos a high draft pick, most likely a top-two or -three selection. What does John Elway do?
Right now Stanford's Andrew Luck is considered the top prospect for the 2012 draft. Wouldn't Elway want to bring in a quarterback from his alma mater who is considered one of the most ready quarterback to enter the league? Luck threw for 32 touchdowns in 2010 and picked up 453 yards on the ground, averaging 8.2 yards per rush. He certainly fits the description of a pocket passer who can also escape the pocket when needed.
Is Luck John Elway reborn? Probably not, but if the Broncos are in a position to draft him and neither Kyle Orton nor Tim Tebow have distinguished themselves, Elway certainly needs to reevaluate where the team stands at the position. But we still have 16 games to determine the future at quarterback.
So far John Elway has inherited top talent at three of the four positions he deems necessary to building a winning ball club. However, quarterback is the premier position in the NFL and with Tim Tebow on the roster that might dominate the discussion all season long. For as good as Bailey, Clady, Dumervil and Miller are expected to be this season and in the future, former quarterback John Elway will likely be judged on how well he handles his quarterbacks. The burden of Elway's legacy still weighs heavily on the position.