ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Some things remain uncertain. Will defensive boss Ed Donatell coach from the booth or the sidelines? Is Rich Scangarello ready to call plays at the professional level? Can Mike Munchak work his magic with the offensive line? One thing is clear: Vic Fangio's first coaching staff will be short on slogans for T-shirts and long on drilling the basics.
This is a throw down the sawdust, no-nonsense group.
"You can feel (Fangio's) football presence," special teams coordinator Tom McMahon said.
Fangio's old-school approach to fundamentals has been embraced by Broncos fans, who have grown tired of losing and long ago lost patience with the lack of discipline. Nobody questions whether this staff will roll up its sleeves and get to work. But will it work? Concerns exist until they don't.
It starts on the offensive side of the ball. Listen to Scangarello for a few minutes and it's clear why he appealed to Fangio. Scangarello is bright, articulate, prepared and willing to evolve. He believes he's ready to boost a Broncos offense that ranked 24th in points (20.6), 19th in passing (230.9) and red zone percentage (56.8) and 28th in third-down conversions (33.3 percent).
"I see an offense that's willing to take shots, that's aggressive, but is detailed in every way, that takes care of the football, that empowers its players to be the best it can be by putting them in position to be successful," Scangarello said. "I think our offensive power is at quarterback. To have success, we have to adapt to (the quarterback's) skill set. I am looking forward to making that happen."
Scangarello has experience calling plays. However, it came at the small-college level with UC Davis, Northern Arizona and Wagner. Scangarello wanted more in his career, and left a good college job for a PhD (Poor, Hungry, Driven) lifestyle in the pros. He worked as a low-level assistant in Atlanta to learn Kyle Shanahan's offense. He followed him to San Francisco as his quarterbacks coach. He insists his unusual path has prepared him for the next step.
"A lot of it is how you plan during the week. There's improvised situations where you have to have the instincts for it. I feel fairly confident in that. I had success in college as a play caller," said Scangarello, who has yet to hire a quarterbacks coach, but said there was no rush. "A lot of ways in college, you don't have the communication you have here. You learn from the play callers you have been around, and I have been around some very good ones."
Fangio first met Scangarello at the NFL combine last February. They hit it off. And Fangio followed his success in San Francisco, particularly his prepping of a battery of quarterbacks. His next project is Case Keenum or possibly Keenum's competition.
"He's had to work with a lot the last two years with (Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens). And all of them have gone in there and produced," Fangio said. "I think that speaks well for Rich's teaching ability and the ability to lead that quarterback group to play well within the scheme."
The addition of Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line should help Scangarello's transition. He is considered elite at his craft, and brings a wealth of experience as a Hall of Fame player and a former head coach. Munchak is well-versed in all blocking schemes, and stressed the importance of adapting his line to the strengths of the running back and quarterback. Everywhere Munchak has coached, he has produced Pro Bowlers and All-Pros.
"I love to teach," Munchak said. "If you had some success as a player, it helps. But after that it is, 'What can you do to make me better?' If you can't do that, then you start losing them. A lot of these guys don't know who I am when I walk in the door. If they have to Google me, that's fine. I have no problem with that. Hopefully our relationship builds from there. There's no agenda. What they see is what they get. I am the same everyday."
Defensively, Fangio operates with both hands on the wheel. It remains his scheme. However, he will lean on Donatell to be either the voice in his headset or the eyes in the sky. Or both. Fangio hasn't decided whether Donatell will coach from the sidelines. Fangio has only spent one season there as a coordinator, and joked, "Being down on the field is the worst place to see the game." Donatell promises the defense will be aggressive, focusing on pressuring the quarterback and "getting takeaways."
For Fangio, things are moving along. He began installing his defense with the coaches. The offense will soon follow suit. The combine and free agency loom. Fangio didn't rule out the Broncos as big players in free agency — something several NFL executives believe will happen. For now, the focus is small. Brick by brick, conceding nary an inch.
"We," said Fangio, "are going to look for every avenue to improve."