Camp Confidential: McDaniels is in control

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There's no doubt: Josh McDaniels means business in Denver. At 33, the former New England golden child is the man in charge.

"It's his team," said receiver Eddie Royal.

We found that out very early in McDaniels' regime, after the former New England offensive coordinator was hired to replace Mike Shanahan following a 14-year run in Denver. Even though both are regarded as offensive masters, Shanahan and McDaniels see the football world differently.

McDaniels shook up the roster, including the offense, which was ranked second in the NFL last year. Of course, the biggest shake-up of the entire NFL offseason was McDaniels' public feud with Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, one that resulted in the Broncos trading Cutler to Chicago.

The Cutler trade and several other offseason moves showed McDaniels is bent on doing things his way. It has continued on the practice field in training camp.

McDaniels is a man with his own plan and he believes in his way. Players are amazed by the swift and precise manner in which practices are held. Under Shanahan, camp practices were fairly relaxed. Shanahan believed in making sure his troops were ready for Sundays.

Every day is Sunday for McDaniels, who often keeps his team on the field for 30 minutes more than the practice is scheduled for.

"He really spends a lot of time in game situations," Royal said. "We are practicing real game stuff all the time. He doesn't want us to panic when we get to a situation. It's all very well prepared."

McDaniels can't wait to see how his practice ploys play out in the Broncos' preseason opener Friday in San Francisco.

"I hope there are six or eight of these [situations] that come up in the game on Friday night," McDaniels said. "Because then, we will get to actually go out there and see what we learned from all of these practices."

Some veterans this week said that Shanahan's way got stale. They are willing to give the McDaniels way a whirl. They have no choice, however. He's going to do it anyway -- whether they like it or not.

Key Questions

1. Is Kyle Orton the answer at quarterback?

Orton was given the starting job over Chris Simms in June. It gave him extra time to learn McDaniels' intricate system. Still, Orton is having his ups and downs. He was booed by fans at a scrimmage last week but has since bounced back. Orton is never going to wow anyone, but if he can get a handle on McDaniels' system, he may be a decent game manager. But don't expect anything spectacular.

2. Can the defense turn it around?

The Broncos' fortune may depend on whether the defense can rebound. The team has compiled a sold back eight, if everyone stays healthy. But the key in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's 3-4 defense is the front three, and the unit is inexperienced. The current starters -- Kenny Peterson and Ryan McBean at end and Ronald Fields at nose tackle -- have two combined starts in the past two NFL seasons. The three starters are big and stout, but none is a proven starter yet.

3. Will Brandon Marshall be ready to contribute?

Ultimately, I believe he will. Marshall has been a big story this offseason. First, he had hip surgery in March, and then in June he asked to be traded. Still, he reported to training camp. Yet, he hasn't practiced in 10 days because of an apparent hamstring injury. Marshall is expected to be fully ready to go by the season opener in Cincinnati on Sept. 13. If Marshall is mentally and physically prepared, he is one of Denver's best players.

Market watch

Orton may be a question mark and there are unknowns about Marshall as well. But we know this: The Denver receiving crew is going to be good.

Orton will have plenty of weapons to work with. The offense will be even more stacked if Marshall is physically and mentally into the game.

Let's face it: Marshall is the jewel of this group and Denver needs him. But the Broncos are very excited about their other receivers.

It starts with R
oyal, who may play several roles in McDaniels' offense. Royal caught 91 passes as a rookie and he could have a Wes Welker-type role in McDaniels' offense.

The Broncos will also find a way to get mileage out of veterans Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney. The savvy veterans could be perfect fits in McDaniels' system that sprays the ball around the field.

Newcomer to watch

There are a ton of newcomers on this team and players like Orton and rookie tailback Knowshon Moreno will be watched closely, but here is a player to watch who could help determine if the defense is going to be improved or not: Andre' Goodman.

The right cornerback was signed as a free agent from Miami. The Broncos released the overpriced and underproductive Dre' Bly and believe they got a much better player in Goodman. After a wild free-agent signing spree, Goodman could be one of the best buys. Along with star left cornerback Champ Bailey, Goodman could complete a nice cornerback tandem in Denver.

Goodman has excelled in training camp. He is a ball magnet. Plus, he is a bright player and a leader who is not afraid to take chances. The only real question about Goodman in his career is if he can stay healthy. If Goodman has a big year, it will go a long way in this defense making strides.

Observation deck

The Broncos are sticking with kicker Matt Prater even though he struggled at the end of last season and he has been inconsistent in camp. Prater has a strong leg and he is good on kickoffs. Still, if he struggles in the preseason, Denver may be forced to look elsewhere. ... First-round pick Robert Ayers has shown good pass-rush burst thus far. ... Moreno has been returning kickoffs in camp. McDaniels said on draft weekend that Moreno could be used as a returner as well as a three-down back. It's clear Denver will get its money's worth from him. ... Linebacker Andra Davis has looked good in camp. The Broncos believe their linebacker crew will be much improved as a unit. ... Elvis Dumervil is coming along as a linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He has natural pass-rush skills and the Broncos think he can be a terror in their scheme. ... Rookie receiver Kenny McKinley, a fifth-round pick, has looked impressive. ... The Broncos are pleased with the caliber of people the team has brought in this offseason. The last few years of the Shanahan era were marred by several players having legal issues.