AFC West: Tyler Polumbus
In the past five days, McDaniels’ name has been more connected to Wade Phillips.
That’s what happens after one of the worst days in team history. McDaniels was in charge of the Broncos on Sunday when they were dismantled at home 59-14 by the rival Oakland Raiders. The Raiders came into the game with a 2-4 record, coming off a loss to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers and they were playing their backup quarterback.
It was a total embarrassment. The sold-out Invesco Field at Mile High crowd departed early in droves. Those who stayed until the bitter end savaged McDaniels as he left the field. It reminded longtime residents of the Rocky Mountains of the abuse Phillips took when Oakland beat the Broncos by 32 points in 1994.
That was Phillips’ second and final season as Denver’s coach. Denver owner Pat Bowlen quickly ended the Phillips era and hired Shanahan, who had a mostly good 14-year run before he was replaced by McDaniels after a late-season collapse in 2008.
McDaniels’ popularity in Denver was uneven prior to the Oakland game. He caught the ire of some fans for the handling of the departures of standouts Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. But others liked the energy of McDaniels, 34, and liked the direction he was taking the offense. In short, the jury was still out on McDaniels, whose team was competitive in the early stages of the 2010 season, even though it was 2-4.
But Denver doesn’t take kindly to being blown out by the Raiders at home. In the days since the loss, talk radio in Denver has been dominated by fans who are calling for his head. Readers have flooded my AFC West mailbag daily this week with questions about McDaniels’ job security. Adam Schefter addressed the suddenly hot-button subject this week in his mailbag on ESPN.com.
McDaniels was asked about fan frustration in his news conference Wednesday. He didn’t shy away from the subject.
“It bothers me because I understand the frustration and the passion of the people in this state, in this city and in this organization,” McDaniels said. “I think that we mirror that here. The players do, the staff does, I do -- I know that [Bowlen], [chief operating officer] Joe [Ellis] and everybody does. The best way for us to try to help remedy that is to work and to win."
The following is an examination of the pros and cons of Denver moving away from McDaniels at the end of this season.
Pros of firing McDaniels
The Oakland loss: This was a legacy defeat. It will be the signature game of McDaniels’ Denver tenure until he reaches the playoffs. You can’t be in charge of a team that has taken this type of whipping and make observers believe your team is going in the right direction.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. came away with this observation after the loss to the Raiders: “This thing was over in the first quarter, and the Broncos did not tackle, they did not play with any gap discipline and there was very little pride in this performance. And this kind of a loss can have lasting implications all season.”
McDaniels apologized to ownership, the team and fans after the loss. It is clear he knows the potential ramifications of the game.
4-13: McDaniels’ troubles extend beyond the loss to the Raiders. Since his team opened the 2009 season with a 6-0 run to begin his NFL head-coaching career, the Broncos have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. Denver is 4-13 since the 6-0 start.
Seventeen games is a large enough sample size to conclude that these are the real Broncos under McDaniels and not the team that started 6-0 (and ended up blowing a 3.5-game lead in the AFC West).
Another damaging statistic is that the Broncos are 0-4 at home against AFC West opponents under McDaniels. The Broncos were almost always competitive under Shanahan. That has not been the case so far under McDaniels. It is a legitimate question to ask if it will ever happen.
Questionable decisions: McDaniels is one of Denver’s primary decision-makers despite him never being in that role before.
Of course, his most scrutinized decision came before he ever roamed the sideline in Denver. McDaniels traded Cutler, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback, after the two fought when Cutler caught wind of McDaniels wanting to trade for Matt Cassel, who excelled for him in New England in 2008. Cutler was sent to Chicago for a load of draft picks after a five-week saga.
This offseason, McDaniels traded Marshall to Miami. While Marshall and McDaniels had their issues, Marshall had plenty of problems in Denver in his three seasons in Denver before McDaniels came to town.
McDaniels has had so-so success in free agency and the draft. In 2009, McDaniels traded Denver’s 2010 No. 1 pick (No. 14) to take cornerback Alphonso Smith in the second round. After Smith struggled as a rookie and in camp this summer, he was shipped to Detroit for a reserve tight end on cut day in September.
McDaniels also has jettisoned two running backs from Shanahan’s final draft class in Denver -- Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torain. Both youngsters are playing well elsewhere while Denver has the NFL’s worst-ranked run offense. Days after tackle Tyler Polumbus was cut and claimed by Detroit this summer, the Lions flipped him to Seattle for a draft pick.
Moves such as these have all made observers question if the task is too big for McDaniels at this point of his career.
Passing offense: There’s no denying McDaniels’ ability to coach offense, especially in the passing game. He has made quarterback Kyle Orton -- a throw-in in the Cutler trade -- a legitimate standout quarterback.
Receiver Brandon Lloyd has enjoyed career resurgence under McDaniels, and receiver Demaryius Thomas looks to have a future in the NFL. Denver could be explosive under McDaniels, who was the architect New England’s record-breaking offense in 2007.
Rash of injuries: Prior to the Oakland game, it was fairly impressive that the Broncos had been competitive in three of their four losses because all of the injuries the Broncos have endured.
The injuries started early in camp. The biggest blow was when Pro Bowl linebacker Elvis Dumervil was lost for the season with a pectoral injury a week into camp. Dumervil is Denver’s best defensive player and he led the NFL with 17 sacks last year.
Several players, including starter Knowshon Moreno, have dealt with injuries. It seems every week the Broncos have been dealing with a significant injury. Yes, that is part of life in the NFL, but perhaps McDaniels will buy some time because of the onslaught of injuries.
Tebow Factor: McDaniels' decision to draft Tim Tebow could end up being a reason to fire him. Or it could end up being a reason to keep him. McDaniels should get a chance to develop Tebow, whom McDaniels took at No. 25 in April after dealing three picks for the former Florida quarterback.
While Tebow was a polarizing draft figure, McDaniels had no reservations. He thinks Tebow can be a star. But it may take time for him to develop. Orton was given a one-year contract extension during the summer, so Tebow probably won’t get a chance to start until 2012.
I’m not sure Denver’s brass will want to fire McDaniels before he proves he can make Tebow a franchise quarterback, and McDaniels’ track record working with quarterbacks is intriguing. There’s no guarantee any coach who replaces McDaniels would be a believer in Tebow.
Conclusion: I generally think an NFL coach deserves three seasons to build a program, and I think that is the case with McDaniels. I do know Denver’s ownership really likes McDaniels and trusts him. There has been silence from the top in Denver in the days since the Oakland debacle, but that is to be expected.
I think he is safe, unless, of course, there are a few more humiliations like the Oakland loss in Denver’s final 10 games. McDaniels didn’t do himself any favors with this loss, but talk of his demise may be premature at this point.
Tony from Denver wants to know if I think the Broncos’ leadership knows what it is doing in light of curious personnel decisions.
Bill Williamson: Well, Tony, there are reasons to question Denver’s recent decisions. Jarvis Green and Brandon Stokley were released after they were given bonuses. Second-year cornerback Alphonso Smith was traded to Detroit for little in return a year after Denver gave up its No. 1 pick in 2010 (No. 14) to draft him in the second round. Last month, Denver cut tackle Tyler Polumbus only to see the Lions claim him and then quickly trade him to Seattle for a pick. These decisions alone won’t make Denver a losing team, but they are signs that the front office may have to police itself better.
Eric from Fresno wants to know if I think second-year safety Mike Mitchell is safe in Oakland.
BW: Well, he’s on the team and that’s all we can go by. We’ve all heard the talk that the Oakland coaching staff didn’t want to keep Mitchell on the 53-man roster but owner Al Davis did because he was a second-round pick last year. I think all we can do is see how much Mitchell plays and if he makes any improvements. If he doesn’t, he will eventually fade away. Maybe Mitchell will turn into an impact player, but most NFL teams had him rated as an undrafted free agent. So, it’s fair to wonder.
Nico from Alexandria, Va., wants to know if Denver coach Josh McDaniels is fired before the 2012, what happens to Tim Tebow’s future as the starter in Denver.
BW: That’s, a very interesting question, Nico. Here’s the setup: Kyle Orton is set to by the starter through 2011 with Tebow likely taking over in 2012. That will be McDaniels’ fourth season in Denver. If the Broncos flounder in the next two seasons, McDaniels may be in big trouble. However, because he has a good working relationship with Tebow, Denver ownership would be patient with McDaniels even if the team did struggle because it wanted to see how Tebow would perform. But if McDaniels were to be fired before Tebow takes over, I think the next coach would be asked to give Tebow a chance. Too much is invested in Tebow to go away from him before he is given an opportunity to lead the team.
Denver has to be pleased that starter Knowshon Moreno is on the mend. Moreno practiced for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury on the first full day of training camp about 30 days ago. Moreno said he is about 80 percent healthy. With the season opener at Jacksonville 12 days away, Moreno could be close to being at full strength.
The issue is Moreno may be a bit rusty when the team faces the Jaguars. I’m sure he won’t be overworked in the meantime to protect his injury. So it may be asking a lot of him to carry a huge load in the opener.
Denver’s No. 2 and No. 3 backs, Correll Buckhalter and LenDale White (who will serve a four-game suspension to start the season) are also getting back to health. I would not be surprised at all if the Broncos, who cut Justin Fargas on Monday, look for a veteran running back to help with depth.
That search could begin with Derrick Ward, who was just cut by Tampa Bay. The Broncos studied Ward during free agency last year, so it could be a fit.
Meanwhile, Denver coach Josh McDaniels made a surprising call that the starters will play some Thursday at Minnesota. Usually, starters wear baseball caps on the sideline in the preseason finale.
McDaniels told reporters that neither Tim Tebow nor Brady Quinn has separated himself in the chase to be the No.2 quarterback and they will compete for the spot this week.For what it’s worth, I expect Tebow to be the No. 2 quarterback for Denver on most game days.
This one has to sting Denver: Detroit traded offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus to Seattle for a late-round pick. The Lions claimed Polumbus off waivers from Denver last week. Way to flip a player, Detroit.
Denver, which has been ravaged by injuries this summer, saw the return of running back Correll Buckhalter, cornerback Champ Bailey, receiver Demaryius Thomas, linebacker D.J. Williams and guard Chris Kuper. They are all on pace to be ready for the season opener Sept. 12 at Jacksonville.
The most significant news may come Wednesday when he team expects left tackle Ryan Clady to return to practice. Clady has been out since April with a torn patella tendon while playing basketball in April. The team is hopeful he can play by the start of the regular season. If an All-Pro player can be ready for the Jaguars, it will be a huge boost for Denver's offfense.
Rookie quarterback Tim Tebow is still not practicing with a rib injury that has kept him out of action since last Wednesday. It is unclear if Tebow will be ready to play Sunday against Pittsburgh.
McDaniels said linebacker Akin Ayodele was cut Tuesday because Mario Haggan is being moved back from outside to inside linebacker. Because Ayodele is going to be backup, the team thought it was better to keep a backup who can help more on special teams. Ayodele did start Denver’s two preseason games.
Meanwhile, Denver claimed tight end Kory Sperry off waivers from Miami. The Colorado State product was previously with San Diego. Denver also cut tackle Tyler Polumbus, who has struggled often this summer.
He suffered a 50-percent torn patella tendon in his knee while playing basketball during the weekend. He had surgery Tuesday and said his timetable to return is three months. The team hopes for his return in four.
However, ESPN medical analyst Stephania Bell said there is a chance that Clady will not be 100 percent healthy in four months.
If that’s the case, and Clady is a few weeks behind schedule, here are Denver’s options at left tackle.
Tyler Polumbus: He replaced right tackle Ryan Harris when he suffered a toe injury. Polumbus struggled at times and there’s no reason to believe he’d be stout at left tackle.
Zane Beadles: The second-round pick played tackle the past three years at Utah. The Broncos like him as a guard as well. It will be a tall task to ask him to replace Clady in his first NFL game.
Ryan Harris: He could move for right tackle in the short term and Denver could use Polumbus at right tackle if Clady was out for a short period.
Flozell Adams: He is the best available left tackle on the market. Denver could pursue him as insurance.
Harris missed four-plus games with the injury, but he came back to play at Kansas City, but reinjured the toe. Denver’s offensive line had issues without Harris in November and will have to continue to adjust to playing without Harris.
Tyler Polumbus will continue to spell Harris. To take Harris’ spot on the roster, Denver signed tackle Herb Taylor. Taylor was a sixth-round pick of Kansas City in 2007. The Chiefs cut Taylor this summer. Taylor worked out for the Colts on Tuesday before signing with Denver.
Harris left Sunday’s win over Kansas City on a cart. The report said Harris reinjured a toe injury he originally suffered Nov. 1. Harris missed four-plus game with the toe injury. However, he practiced fully last week.
Harris was injured early in Denver’s 44-13 win over the Chiefs. Tyler Polumbus will continue to play for Harris.
Denver’s offense line wasn’t nearly as good without Harris as it was with him. His return last week was looked at as a boost for the team’s playoff run.
Now it appears Denver will have to continue to play without Harris all season. That is not a good development. Harris is a strong player and paired with left tackle Ryan Clady to make one of the best young tackle pairs in the NFL.
Now, it’s back to life without Harris again for Denver.
Harris was hurt on Denver’s second possession Sunday and was taken off the Broncos’ sideline on a cart with a foot injury. The team said Harris is doubtful to return.
He was replaced by Tyler Polumbus. Harris returned to the field Sunday after missing four games with a toe injury. It is not known if Sunday’s injury is related to his previous injury. Harris practiced fully all week leading up to the game.
Denver’s line wasn’t as strong without Harris. If Harris is out for an extended period of time again, it will hurt the offense.
Still, Denver coach Josh McDaniels said Friday that Orton is questionable to play and that he will be tested prior to the game Sunday. The winner of the game between the two 6-3 teams will earn sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
While Orton will be a game-time decision, the odds are against him of playing. Unless he improves dramatically, it appears Chris Simms will quarterback Denver in the critical game.
Orton was hurt in the first half against Washington last week. Orton played well in the game, snapping a two-game slump. However, Simms was horrible in the game in the second half as Washington came back to pull off the upset. If Simms starts on Sunday, it will be his first NFL start since Sept. 24, 2006. He had to have his spleen removed after the game.
Simms clearly will benefit from a week of practice with the first-team offense this week. Still, the Broncos will have their work cut out for them if they have to play with their backup quarterback.
The key for Denver to win with Simms will be his strong arm. He is not as accurate as Orton, but Simms has a gun for an arm. He needs to get the ball to receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Denver’s receivers have had success against San Diego in the past. Simms has to give his receivers a chance to take over.
The Broncos are also going to have to run the ball well. Rookie Knowshon Moreno had a nice bounce-back game at Washington with 97 rushing yards. He was struggling going into the game. Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, who looks like he will play despite a knee injury, need to take pressure off of Simms.
Another issue for Simms is his blindside pass protection. Simms is left handed so it nullifies superstar left tackle Ryan Clady as his blindside protector. That role will likely be taken by second-year player Tyler Polumbus, who is set to make his third NFL start. Denver’s standout right tackle Ryan Harris looks like he will miss his third straight game with a toe injury. Polumbus has been decent, but he is nowhere near the player Harris is. So, Simms could be on the run often against San Diego’s pass rush, which has improved dramatically in recent weeks.
There’s no doubt Denver would have a better chance to win with Orton, but that seems unlikely. Don’t be surprised, though, if Orton gives it his best chance to play.
He is a tough guy and he’s a gamer. He is an excellent teammate who will try to be there for his teammates in the biggest game of the year. But Orton is going to be gimpy at best and the ankle injury could hurt his accuracy.
In the end, it looks like Simms may be Denver’s most likely option against the surging Chargers.
DENVER -- Here are some pregame notes.
New Denver cornerback Ty Law is active and expected to play some. He signed with Denver on Saturday.
Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons is out with an ankle sprain. He is being replaced by Keyaron Fox.
Defensive end Travis Kirschke is out with a calf injury. He is being replaced by Nick Eason.
Denver fullback Peyton Hillis is out for family reasons.
Denver tackle Ryan Harris is out with a toe injury. Second-year tackle Tyler Polumbus is making his first start.
Denver defensive lineman Ryan McBean is out with a knee injury. He is being replaced by LeKevin Smith.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in Denver. He visited the Broncos’ facility Monday.
Minor point about the fact that Pittsburgh has not won during the regular season in Denver since 1990. The Steelers won in Denver in the 2005 AFC title game.
The Broncos huddled near where Pittsburgh was stretching about a half hour before the game. Denver did the same thing three weeks ago in San Diego. Pushing and shoving ensued. Pittsburgh’s players didn’t seem to mind it tonight.
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9.
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Philip Rivers goes head to head with Eli Manning on Sunday.|
Run Jamaal, run: The Chiefs are just looking for a reason to lessen Larry Johnson’s load. Jamaal Charles could be the reason. Charles will likely get several carries Sunday in Jacksonville while Johnson sits out during a one-game team suspension. Charles played well in the Chiefs’ last game, Oct. 25 against San Diego. The second-year player is a speedster who is intriguing. With Johnson’s situation tenuous, Charles could increase his work load the rest of the season with a good performance Sunday.
Can Chargers benefit from the curse of Antonio Pierce? Ever since Pierce blasted the Raiders, the Giants have been awful. Call it the Curse of Pierce. The Chargers are hoping it lasts another week. The Giants have lost three straight games, twice by more than 20 points, since beating Oakland 44-7. After that game, Pierce said playing the Raiders was like playing a “scrimmage,” and he was amazed by how listless Oakland’s players were. The words offended several Oakland players and the Giants haven’t won since.
Tough test for Denver tackle: Denver right tackle Tyler Polumbus will make his first start Monday night against Pittsburgh. His first challenge: LaMarr Woodley, who had 11.5 sacks last season. Polumbus probably also will see some of reigning NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison. Good luck, kid. Polumbus got a taste of life in the NFL last week when he subbed for the injured Ryan Harris. Polumbus had to deal with Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, and did decently. Polumbus could be in the lineup for three weeks.
Tough stretch for San Diego begins: The Chargers got back on the winning track with wins over lackluster Kansas City and Oakland teams to improve to 4-3. Now, life gets a little tougher as the Chargers start a stretch in which they play at New York, host Philadelphia and then at Denver. If the Chargers are going to get back in the AFC West race (Denver leads San Diego by two games), they will have to play well during this stretch.
If the Denver Broncos are going to remain unbeaten today in Baltimore, they must continue their fabulous second-half play.
Denver has outscored opponents 76-10 while compiling a 6-0 record. The Broncos trail Baltimore 6-0. Denver trailed in the last three games in the third quarter.
Denver is playing well defensively, but it is struggling offensively. Quarterback Kyle Orton has thrown for just 35 yards. So, it’s easy to figure where the Broncos need to focus their half-time adjustments.
Denver’s outstanding right tackle Ryan Harris is out with a toe injury. He has been replaced by Tyler Polumbus. There is no long-term prognosis on Harris’ injury.
New Denver punter Mitch Berger has punted five times. He hasn’t been overly impressive he took over for the struggling Brett Kern.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Several players from the AFC West or who have retired from the AFC West are enrolled in the league's popular NFL business management and entrepreneurial program.
The annual initiative will be held at the Harvard Business School, Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University), Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The program began in 2005 and 407 players have taken advantage of it. The programs are run in four-day increments and will run from February through April.
Here are the players participating this year with AFC West ties:
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Broncos might have to play without two of their starters on the offensive line, including star rookie left tackle Ryan Clady, Sunday against Buffalo in a game in which Denver could clinch the AFC West title.
Clady and right guard Chris Kuper missed practice Thursday for the second straight day. Clady has an ankle injury and Kuper has an injured hand. Both players were hurt late in Denver's 30-10 defeat at Carolina. Clady and Kuper likely won't play against the Bills if they don't practice Friday.
If Clady is out, rookie Tyler Polumbus would likely start and if Kuper can't go, rookie Kory Lichtensteiger would likely play. He allowed a sack on the first play he spelled Kuper on Sunday. The loss of Clady would be huge for Denver. The first-round pick has allowed just half a sack all season.
Receiver Brandon Stokley also missed practice for the second straight day with a foot injury. Cornerback Champ Bailey continued to be limited by a groin injury. He will test it later this week. Bailey has missed seven straight games.