ENGLEWOOD — Eating shards of glass. Drinking lava. Rubbing a cheese grater on the shins.
Things the Broncos fans would rather do than watch the Broncos offense the last three seasons, for $500 Alex.
Everyone knew the transition without Peyton Manning would be difficult. But no one figured it would be this turbulent. The Broncos have missed the playoffs every year since winning Super Bowl 50. Denver bottomed out last January, posting back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972. The Broncos are 12-25 over their past 37 games, including 10-21 over the past two years.
Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello brings a fresh set of eyes and intriguing résumé as the Broncos attempt to revive an 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). Scangarello has gleaned knowledge from Kyle and Mike Shanahan as he attempts to revive the attack.
It starts, as it always does, at quarterback. Can Joe Flacco, at 34, be a franchise quarterback and lead his new team back to the playoffs? He's durable, but is he valuable? Scangarello explained to me why he's optimistic.
“We've got to go out and do it and put it together. I have a lot of respect for Joe. I don't think the numbers truly reflect the player he is. I never have. Kyle Shanahan, who we’ve talked about a lot, I’ve mentioned this before, he's got the kind of ability that allows you to push the ball down the field. He is tough in the pocket. I think that there is a misconception that he is not athletic," Scangarellow said. "You guys have watched the guy run around to escape the pocket the last few days. He's probably more athletic than any guy I've been around— (Falcons QB) Matt Ryan, those guys. He's got fluidity, and he can move. I'm excited. It's not going to be easy. We'll see where we can take it, but I think that there is a great foundation there."
Flacco believes the system can help him rebound. He posted his finest regular season in 2014 in a similar set under Gary Kubiak.
"It definitely can help," Flacco said. "I am not taking this for granted. This is an amazing opportunity."
Flacco needs weapons around him. Tight end Noah Fant showed why he was a first-round pick on Sunday, making multiple tough catches in the red zone. And all eyes shifted to Phillip Lindsay when he touched the ball. The Broncos want to use him as much as last season, but differently. So expect fewer runs between the tackles and more alignments with him out wide. In space, he's a greater mismatch than plaid on stripes.
"That's the exciting part. One of the great things about coming to Denver that really excited me from the day I walked in the door is that there are a very few players in the league like Phillip that have the ability to win in a one-on-one matchup at any time. I think that easiest matchup to create in the NFL is the halfback on a linebacker," Scangarello said. "That's what we try to do in this offense a lot, and I think he has that gift and that ability and those traits. Excited to try to do that and try to force defenses to put a DB on him to open up other players.”
Early on, the offense continues to search for traction. It doesn't help that Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and Co. are creating relentless pressure. For Flacco to succeed, he must remain upright. The offensive line is a work in progress. The current starters are Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern, Ron Leary and Ja'Wuan James. It was interesting, then, that Scangarello mentioned Elijah Wilkinson as the biggest surprise in camp. He is the backup to Bolles, who is quickly reaching a crossroads in his career in his third season.
"(Wilkinson) was an undrafted free agent coming out of college, I believe. He was a lot heavier, he's lost weight. He's a very athletic and a great scheme fit. I just like the way he works out here," said Scangarello, who has drawn praise for his footwork and sets. "I think (offensive line coach) Mike Munchak has done a great job honing out his skillset and really helping him develop. I think he is a good football player. I think he is a guy that we are very happy with up to this point.”
Broncos safety Will Parks provided the quote of the day when I asked him about the dire national predictions for this team: "We don’t set goals because goals are limits. We think in terms of Pluto -- doing something out of this world.” Parks’ offseason work is playing off with strong play in camp. ... Tight end Troy Fumagalli (hip) remains day-to-day. ... Linebacker Justin Hollins is dealing with a strained hamstring issue.