ENGLEWOOD — John Elway, the general manager, guided the Broncos to two Super Bowls, winning one. Then life turned upside down. Against the grain of the team's history, the Broncos have posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972. Of their past 21 losses, 12 have been by double figures.
The result? The team's fifth starting quarterback since Peyton Manning and a new coach 40 years in the making.
Nearly eight months into the makeover, Elway weigned in from UCHealth Training Center after watching a joint practice with the 49ers. Elway is balancing a sense of urgency against the sobering reality that improvement requires patience. Saturday brought hope. After getting punched in the throat Friday, the Broncos offense slugged back, a reminder of why Elway hired Vic Fangio and acquired 12-year veteran Joe Flacco.
"We had a better day today. I don't know that we were able to match the 49ers' intensity (Friday) that they put up, and that's up to us. Joe is still getting a feel for the offense. It's going to take time. He had his best year with Gary (Kubiak) four years ago, and the offense has advanced," Elway said. "He's going to get better as he gets more playing time. He needs to get more time and he will get more comfortable. ... With Vic, the discipline and attention to detail is there. Mike (Shanahan) brought that, and there are a lot of similarities between them."
Mike Shanahan visited practice Saturday, this weekend marking his second time at a workout since he was fired in 2008. He credited Elway for thawing the ice and mending the relationship over rounds of golf. Shanahan won two Super Bowls for the Broncos, and his resume should make him a no-brainer for the team's Ring of Fame and a strong candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When asked about Fangio, his words perked ears.
"I know Vic. He's a great coach, a no-nonsense guy that understands the game. Being around him and trying to game plan for him for years and years, I just like the way he handles himself," said Shanahan, who was able to watch the Broncos and keep an eye on his son Kyle's 49ers, whose quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo he helped tutor last season after he suffered as season-ending knee injury. "Vic's kind of like a man's man. There's no B.S. He gets to the point. I think players will follow him quickly."
While Fangio has tightened loose ends, improvement is required in multiple areas. Based on his his comments, Elway sees the team gaining real traction along the offensive line. With new coach Mike Munchak, the Broncos have made strides in camp. Create stability there, and it would go a long way toward steering the franchise back on track.
"It's been a good camp. I think we are better there. Obviously, we have to continue to work because we are a little bit thin there," Elway said. "But they are working well. They are working really well on the left side. (Dalton) Risner has been good for Garett (Bolles). And Mike is doing a good job."
The Broncos offense delivered a rebound performance Saturday. Flacco looked sharp on multiple completions, including to Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield. Rookie Dalton Risner said it was important to respond. "We came out a little bit flat yesterday. Like Emmanuel Sanders said, we didn't run the energy. And we were home. We came out today and by all means we were going to run the energy. I am not going to speak for the offense, because I am not a veteran. But I felt we had great energy. And if you have to get into a little scrum to do it, that's fine. But as coach Fangio said if you throw hands you are going to get thrown out of practice. I was just hopping around acting cool." ... Receiver Brendan Langley and tight end Bug Howard were sent to the locker room for their role in a practice skirmish. No San Francisco players were disciplined because coach Kyle Shanahan said they didn't throw punches. ... Von Miller received a vet day as maintenance for a sore knee. He said he will play on Monday. ... Joe Flacco will start and play multiple series on Monday. It hasn't been determined who will follow him, Drew Lock or Kevin Hogan. Lock has been taking more second-team reps in practice.