ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- While some in, around and beyond the 303 area code have repeatedly wondered if the Denver Broncos have done enough to rebound from last season’s playoff miss, new coach Vance Joseph has an objective look.
“I’ve said, coming in, really looking at this team, looking at every game -- which I did several times -- it isn’t broken," Joseph said. “Yes, there are things we could, and must, do better, places where we need to improve. But this team won nine games last season. But I also understand the expectations here. It’s why it’s a great job; it’s why I can’t wait."
As a quarterback, John Elway’s unshakable confidence in the tightest of spots was embraced by those around him. As an executive, that confidence in his decision-making has often been revealed, and described by others, as a hard line.
Elway believes the Broncos, who won the AFC West for five consecutive seasons and made two Super Bowl trips in those five years, are a playoff team. That's despite the Broncos having questions at two positions that many personnel executives would say are the foundation of any roster -- quarterback and left tackle.
“I like where we are," Elway said. “I like where we’ll be if we continue to work."
"I've said, coming in, really looking at this team, looking at every game -- which I did several times -- it isn't broken." Vance Joseph
From the moment he was hired to replace Gary Kubiak in January, Joseph has said the quarterback job is open and either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch will be the starter. And despite so many reports to the contrary, the Broncos largely sat out discussions about quarterbacks in free agency because Elway and Joseph believe either Siemian, who started 14 games last season, or Lynch can lead a team into the playoffs.
The Broncos also don’t have a starter at left tackle, though they did use their first-round pick -- 20th overall -- on Garett Bolles, who will get every opportunity to earn the job. The Broncos have not started a rookie at left tackle since 2008, when Ryan Clady was a first-round pick. Clady played there in Mike Shanahan’s final season as the team’s coach.
Overall, the Broncos have not dealt much in free agency, choosing to keep a focus on the draft. Eight rookies -- all seven draft picks and one undrafted player -- made the Broncos’ roster out of training camp last season. That means eight rookies made a team coming off a Super Bowl victory.
This year’s draft class is again eight players, led by Bolles, and whether there is room for all of them remains to be seen. The Broncos opened the draft with 10 picks, but Elway dealt two of the original picks in multiple trades because he didn’t believe there was room for 10 draft picks to make his team.
“We had the meeting before the draft started ... and we started counting numbers," Elway said. “It's going to be hard to make our football team. We've got a lot of good football players, so that's why we have to be that good in the draft because we've got to find guys that can come in and compete and have a chance to make our football team. There is not a whole lot of slots because we do have a pretty good football team."
Said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.: “I think that’s true. We know we didn’t get it done last year; we didn’t deserve to make the playoffs because we didn’t make the plays we needed to, but this is a playoff team. I know that’s how we look at it on defense, especially, but this is a playoff team."
Optimism routinely reigns supreme in offseason workouts as players are routinely described as in the best shape of their careers and the new arrivals carry the expectation they will fill every need. But the Broncos think five consecutive division titles before a nine-win playoff miss is the foundation of their optimism.
They’ll get a weekly opportunity to confirm it come September.
“As I say, I like where we are," Elway said with a smile. “I like our football team. Now, we have to do it; we have to prove it. That’s always the way and everybody knows that. But I like where we are and I’ve looked at it more than most."