ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — CEO Joe Ellis walked into the tent at UCHealth Center wearing a blue Broncos polo and a tan. He looked equal parts frustrated and relieved. Throughout his press conference, his words served as a reminder that he's delighted the pandemic is behind us — at least we hope it is — and, like all of Broncos Country, he is tired of losing.
"I would like to be able to stand up in front of the group here and talk about a good season. I’ve come before you for the last several training camps spewing optimism, excited, and the numbers 5-11, 6-10, 7-9 come out at the end of the season," Ellis said. "We’ve got to win. We just have to win. It’s kind of ‘enough already’ for me personally watching it. It’s tough for everybody. But I just want to see us turn the corner and be successful. We’ve got to do that now. We've got to win."
The Broncos, once a crown jewel of the NFL, will not appear on Monday Night Football for the first time in nearly three decades. They have failed to post a winning season for four years running, the longest drought since 1963-72. And they are the first team to win a Super Bowl and miss the playoffs in the next five seasons.
So yes, Ellis is over it. He wants to see this team rebound in his final year on the job. He explained Tuesday that the team's future ownership will be addressed following the season as he steps away in March. The options include selling the team, Brittany Bowlen taking over if the siblings sign off or other options, which I construed as bringing on investors to buy out disagreeing beneficiaries.
Ellis occupied his role as the Broncos won titles. Is it too much to ask to win games again? He's ready for a U-turn.
Even as the Broncos attempt to figure out the most important position in football — Drew Lock takes the first snap Wednesday, followed by Teddy Bridgewater, then vice versa and versa vice — they seek a return to relevance. Remember, that starts with coach Vic Fangio, who has not won a game in September while boss of the Broncos, going 0-7.
General manager George Paton took this job in January knowing there was work to do, but that has not tempered his goals.
"We expect to win. We have high expectations here," Paton said. "We want to be relevant in November and December. We want to make a push toward the playoffs."
For the Broncos to be in the mix, they will rely on a revamped defense, a brutish running game and the return of Von Miller — an introspective Von explained he's "at peace in his career, and wants to enjoy this season with this teammates," in a stark contrast to the Mamba Mentality he adopted last summer.
While we all look for significant improvement from the quarterback, the trio of Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams and Mike Boone will provide cover for Bridgewater and Lock, and create easy completions through play action.
"I expect us to be more physical," Paton said.
And yet, the story will remain the quarterback derby. If Bridgewater wins the job, he will represent the team's fifth different opening day starter in five years (Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Lock). Fangio plans a 50-50 split on reps. Some days it will be 70-30, then flipped. The derby could go through the third game of the preseason, which would require Fangio playing viable first and second-string offensive linemen against the Rams.
Explained Paton, "I don't think you put a deadline on it. You'd hope to see some separation as we get into Minnesota with the scrimmages. It's tricky because they both need reps. I wouldn't put a time frame on it. It's up to Vic and the coaches."
So how does Fangio see it?
"We are like everyone else; we would like to see it define itself quickly. Ideally, you’d like to come to that decision sooner rather than later," said Fangio, adding that Lock receives the first rep Wednesday because he was on the team last year.
There were plenty of nuggets from the five press conferences. Let's dig in:
--Miller believes he can play 5 to 7 more years and would like to remain in Denver. But unlike last season, he's not focused on his future, even as he enters the final year of his contract. "I am at peace. I've been in the league 11 years, so every single year from here on out is just a true blessing," said Von, who implied to Denver7 two weeks ago he over-trained during the pandemic, so he paced himself this offseason. Von would like to play long enough for his son, who should be born in 10 days or so, to see him on the field. Paton said, "Von is 32, but he looks 25."
--Former Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton believes he's close to 100% in his recovery from ACL surgery. He said the plan is for him to play in one preseason game. As for the QB derby, "Whenever they decide to make that call of who's going to be the starter, we'll rally behind that guy."
--Paton believes this is the year the offense finally scores more than 20 points per game for the first time since Peyton Manning retired. Getting Sutton back will help. "The offense was really young last year. I think they lost their voice in Courtland Sutton and their juice... We can be explosive."
--Bradley Chubb (ankle) will be cleared to practice, but eased back into the fold because he could not condition regularly while recovering from surgery.
--Rookie linebacker Baron Browning (lower leg) should practice within the week.
--There are three players vying for the right tackle job: Bobby Massie, Cam Fleming and Calvin Anderson. "Don't sleep on Calvin," Fangio said. I talked with Anderson last week and he said he's in a good place mentally as he embraces the challenge.
--Ellis on Brittany Bowlen, "She’s working hard and adding a lot of value in a lot of different areas. I’m conversing with her all the time. In some form, her being able to run the team is a consideration, for sure. It will require some conditions from beneficiaries and others."
--The Broncos signed former CU Buffs star safety Tedric Thompson and veteran center Brett Jones, which will require a corresponding roster move.