AFC West: Vonnie Holliday

Those mad scientists at the Football Outsiders are at it again.

Aaron Schatz has a look at how hurries are an important facet of the pass rush in an Insiders article on ESPN.com Insider. Schatz points out that both the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs need help in the hurry area. They have quality pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Tamba Hali, respectively, but the two teams are getting little else hurry help.

Hali led the NFL by accounting for 32.5 percent of his team’s hurries last season. Hali had 26 quarterback hurries. The Chiefs’ second leader in hurries was linebacker Mike Vrabel with 10.

Dumervil, who led the NFL with 17 sacks last season, had 20 hurries. Denver’s second most quarterback hurries was Vonnie Holliday, who had 10. Holliday is now in Washington.

It will be interesting to see if Dumervil and Hali can get more hurry help this season. Denver reconstructed its defensive line to get more of a push. Kansas City’s big moves on defense were the hiring of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and the drafting of safety Eric Berry with the No. 5 overall pick.

Will these moves be enough help for Dumervil and Hali? That remains to be seen, but the top pass rushers in Denver and Kansas City both clearly need help in a hurry.

Evening AFC West notes

May, 17, 2010
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The Kansas City Star reported that Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and cornerback Brandon Flowers are recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries. There was no indication how long the recovery will take. I’d be surprised if either recovery takes an extraordinary amount of time.

  • It looks like HBO will have an interesting segment with former Oakland coach Lane Kiffin. Like or dislike him, the guy is a riveting interview.
  • It’s no surprise Denver let free agent defensive end Vonnie Holliday sign with Washington. He is 34 and wouldn’t have much of a role in Denver. Still, he did help some in his one season with the Broncos last year and he showed good leadership.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting San Diego has shown interest in cornerback Nathan Vasher. He was recently cut by Chicago. He played for San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera with the Bears. Vasher would give San Diego decent depth.

  • Fresno State running Back Ryan Mathews continues to have an impressive offseason. San Diego talked to him at the combine and he could be a target at No. 28.
  • Oakland restricted free-agent linebacker Thomas Howard has not signed his tender, but he is working out with the Raiders in their offseason program. That is a sign of a good faith on Howard’s part.
  • Denver free-agent defensive end Vonnie Holliday visited with Seattle this week. Denver is remaking its defensive front and Holliday may not be part of the plans.

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 3, 2010
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Denver

Potential unrestricted free agents: P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd

Potential restricted free agents: LB Elvis Dumervil, OL Chris Kuper, WR Brandon Marshall, QB Kyle Orton, TE Tony Scheffler, DT Le Kevin Smith

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Broncos’ restricted class is talented. That will be the focus. It has been reported that Marshall, Orton, Dumervil, Scheffler and Kuper will all get one-year tenders. Marshall very well could be traded. It wouldn’t be a shock if Dumervil gets some action on the restricted market. Miami could be interested.

Kansas City

Potential unrestricted free agents: OL Andy Alleman, S Mike Brown, WR Chris Chambers, WR Terrance Copper, TE Sean Ryan, C Wade Smith, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Wade

Potential restricted free agents: RB Jackie Battle, QB Brodie Croyle, LB Derrick Johnson, LB Corey Mays, OL Ikechuku Ndukwe, OL Rudy Niswanger, OL Ryan O'Callaghan, S Jarrad Page

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Chiefs are interested in keeping some of their unrestricted free agents. General manager Scott Pioli said at the combine the team has been in contact with several of their free agents. Chambers is the focus. The team is trying to keep him. Brown and Vrabel could also return with new deals.

Oakland

Potential unrestricted free agents: S Hiram Eugene, G Cornell Green, T Langston Walker, LB Sam Williams

Potential restricted free agents: LB Jon Alston, OL Khalif Barnes, LB Ricky Brown, LB Jon Condo, QB Charlie Frye, QB Bruce Gradkowski, LB Thomas Howard, RB Luke Lawton, OL Chris Morris, LB Kirk Morrison, CB Stanford Routt, RB Gary Russell

Franchise player: DE Richard Seymour.

What to expect: The Raiders franchised Seymour and signed kicker Sebastian Janikowski to a record deal, so they’ve already been busy. It will be interesting to see how they tender Howard and Morrison. The Raiders could use some new life at linebacker and this could be the start of it.

San Diego

Potential unrestricted free agents: DT Alfonso Boone, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, C Dennis Norman, WR Kassim Osgood. T Jon Runyan, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson

Potential restricted free agents: OL Jeromey Clary, LB Tim Dobbins, WR Malcom Floyd, DT Antonio Garay, OL Eric Ghiaciuc, LB Marques Harris, WR Vincent Jackson, DT Travis Johnson, OL Marcus McNeill, LB Shawne Merriman, RB Darren Sproles, QB Charlie Whitehurst

Franchise player: None

What to expect: The Chargers have their hands full. It’s been reported they will give high tenders to Jackson, Merriman, McNeill and Floyd. Jackson and McNeill could still attract some interest on the restricted market. Sproles is not expected to be tendered, making him a free agent. The Chargers want him back. But if Sproles hits the open market, the multifaceted weapon could be scooped up quickly.

Free agency: AFC West

February, 15, 2010
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AFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC West.

Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.

[+] EnlargeChris Chambers
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelKansas City wide receiver Chris Chambers had 608 yards on 36 receptions after being acquired off waivers in November.
Denver Broncos

Unrestricted free agents: P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd.

Key figures: There isn’t much here. The team could bring back Hochstein, Holliday and Law, but they are all complementary pieces. It’s all about the restricted free-agent class in Denver. The Broncos have to figure out what they are going to do with receiver Brandon Marshall, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, quarterback Kyle Orton and tight end Tony Scheffler.

Kansas City Chiefs

Unrestricted free agents: S Mike Brown, WR Chris Chambers, WR Terrance Copper, TE Sean Ryan, C Wade Smith, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Wade,

Key figures: Chambers will be Kansas City's priority. He gave the Chiefs’ offense a big spark after he was claimed off waivers in November. The team’s brass really likes what Brown and Vrabel bring to the team and both could be back in Kansas City at the right price. Wade also could be brought back.

Oakland Raiders

Unrestricted free agents: Hiram Eugene, G Cornell Green, K Sebastian Janikowski, DE Richard Seymour, T Langston Walker, LB Sam Williams

Key figures: It’s all about Seymour and Janikowski. The Raiders are trying to get long-term deals with both players done. If new deals aren’t struck, watch for Oakland to put the franchise and transition tags on them. Oakland will do anything it can not to lose either player.

San Diego Chargers

Unrestricted free agents: DT Alfonso Boone, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, C Dennis Norman, WR Kassim Osgood. T Jon Runyan, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson

Key figures: The team would like to bring back Osgood, one of the best special-teams players in the NFL. But Osgood wants a chance to be a receiver and the opportunity might not be in San Diego. The Chargers will spend most of their energy on their restricted class. The priorities are receiver Vincent Jackson, tackle Marcus McNeill, linebacker Shawne Merriman, running back Darren Sproles and receiver Malcom Floyd.
Kyle OrtonDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Broncos finished a disappointing season out of the playoffs after starting 6-0.

DENVER – The Denver Broncos handled one thing right after their Week 7 bye and it came in the moments after their tumultuous season ended Sunday.

They were crushed. And they should be.

There is no doubt Denver – which played Sunday without benched Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler -- is feeling the sting of its colossal collapse. Many players had tears in their eyes. Many said the nosedive cannot be tolerated.

After getting help in the AFC playoff hunt in the early games Sunday, Denver could keep its playoff hopes alive with a win over the 3-12 Kansas City Chiefs, who hadn’t won in over a month. But the Chiefs were the team that played with urgency. Kansas City put together its best game of the season and punched the host Broncos in the mouth, 44-24. Spectacular second-year running back Jamaal Charles ran for a franchise high 259 yards on 25 carries and linebacker Derrick Johnson tied an NFL record with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

“It was embarrassing,” Denver defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. “Embarrassing.”

It was a fitting end into a terrible 10-week stretch for Denver.

Denver started the season 6-0. But it lost eight of its final 10 games to finish 8-8. It is the third team since the merger to not make the playoffs after starting 6-0. Denver had a 3.5 game lead over San Diego after Week 6. It is the first team in NFL history to not make the playoffs after having a 3.5-game lead. Had Denver beaten Oakland and Kansas City (they combined for nine wins this season) in its final two home games, it would have gone to the playoffs for first time in four seasons. Instead, the Broncos will have to spend the winter fretting over the lost opportunity.

That isn’t the only issue in Denver, though. The season ended with serious upheaval.

On New Year’s Day, Denver rookie coach Josh McDaniels dropped a major bombshell by indicating that Marshall and Scheffler would be benched against the Chiefs for accountability reasons. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Sunday that Marshall was benched for being late to a therapy session Thursday to treat a hamstring injury the team thought he was exaggerating. Marshall had 101 catches in 15 games and was named to his second Pro Bowl team last week. Werder reported Scheffler was benched for openly saying he couldn’t wait for the team’s season to end. Neither Marshall nor Scheffler was seen with the team Sunday.

After the game, McDaniels didn’t address the issue.

Some players did, though. Safety Renaldo Hill said “we have to back the coach” on the decision. Team leader Brian Dawkins said Marshall and Scheffler’s absence in the biggest game of the season had no factor on the outcome of the game. Holliday did say this: “We still are an immature team.”

The season ends in Denver with the same discord in which the McDaniels’ era began. Denver dominated NFL headlines when McDaniels feuded with, and then traded, Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler after McDaniels flirted with the idea trading Cutler for Matt Cassel, who starred for McDaniels in New England last season. Ironically, Cassel contributed in knocking Denver out of the playoffs Sunday.

Perhaps this offseason will not be as dramatic as last year in Denver, but expect McDaniels to continue to try to mold the roster to his liking. There is likely little chance Marshall or Scheffler returns. It would be very difficult for either player to be brought back under these circumstances. Both players likely will be restricted free agents.

This is the third time in the past four seasons that Denver lost on the final day of the season with their playoff hopes still alive. Last year, Mike Shanahan was fired after 14 seasons when Denver lost a three-game lead in the final three weeks of the season.

McDaniels made a very pointed comment Sunday. He said he has to find the “common denominator” in the recent collapses.

That clearly means more members of the old regime could be on their way out. Thus, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some of remaining staff members from Shanahan’s regime or some of holdover players from Shanahan’s days are not brought back.

“I’m not going to be dramatic about it,” McDaniels said. “I wish we were playing next week, but we didn’t play well enough to deserve that opportunity. There’s no question about that. The last four weeks we didn’t earn the right to continue to play in this league into the playoffs. We’ve got a lot of work to do and there’s definitely going to have to be some things that change. We can’t just go back and do the same thing.”

After the 10-week collapse and the player-coach discord, Denver can’t go into this offseason believing major progress has been made. This is not a good time for the organization.

Yes, there are many positive attributes about McDaniels, 33. He has the makings of building a good program, but the way this season ended cannot be overlooked.

In the end, there isn’t much different from the way this season concluded than last, other than the fact that the head coach is coming back. There is still plenty of work to be done in Denver.

Kyle Orton and Brandon StokleyAP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos got back on track with a victory over the Giants Thursday night.
DENVER -- Brandon Marshall and Knowshon Moreno had it all planned out.

Had they been on the field together when one of them scored, they were going to celebrate -- by pushing each other in the end zone. The two were going to remake "Rocky II."

The two skill-position players provided the nadir of Denver’s four-game free fall when they engaged in a sideline shoving match after Moreno had a key fumble against San Diego on Sunday in a game that left Denver out of first place in the AFC West.

Moreno did score Thursday night in a 26-6 win over the New York Giants that may have saved the Broncos’ season.

However, Marshall wasn’t on the field. Still, Marshall is hopeful that the two former combatants can still display their celebration when Denver next plays, Dec. 6 at Kansas City.

“Maybe we’ll kiss,” said Marshall, hamming it up in a suddenly joyous Denver locker room on a late holiday evening.

Does one night cure all of Denver’s ills? No, but it’s all the team has and it welcomed the dose of good football and good cheer.

Against the Giants, the Broncos looked like the impressive, balanced bunch that started the season 6-0 and shocked the NFL world. The team played terrific in every phase of the game, and made big, timely plays when it needed to.

The result was Denver’s first victory in 38 days.

After looking like they were incapable of ever winning again during a four-game losing streak in which they were outscored 117-37, the Broncos came alive Thursday. They really had no choice.

The Broncos would have been cooked had they lost to the Giants. Now, though, the team is 7-4 heading into the stretch run of December and January. The Broncos have two games remaining against the 3-7 Chiefs and a home game against the 3-8 Raiders. Denver’s other two games are on the road against Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Still, the Broncos, who trail the 7-3 San Diego Chargers by a half game in the AFC West, are still very much alive in the playoff chase.

The complete win ends a trying period for the Broncos, who struggled badly on both sides of the ball and dealt with off-field issues.

Tuesday, veteran safety Brian Dawkins called a players-only meeting to help stop the bleeding and to squash any tension that lingered after the Marshall-Moreno incident.

The meeting clearly played a role in re-energizing the Broncos.

“We have a lot of good leaders on this team,” said veteran receiver Brandon Stokley, who had a 17-yard touchdown catch with 10:15 to go in the game to give Denver a commanding 23-6 lead. “We got back together. Most importantly, we played good football again.”

For the first time since Denver beat San Diego on Oct. 19, it enjoyed a dominant performance.

The key was the play of quarterback Kyle Orton. Orton showed no signs of a badly sprained ankle that kept him out of about three quarters the past two games. Orton, who struggled in Denver’s first two losses of the season, far outplayed Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Orton completed 18 of 28 passes for 245 yards. He had one touchdown. The Broncos moved the ball at ease all game. They also broke out of their two-plus-game red zone funk by scoring two touchdowns from inside New York’s 20-yard line.

Orton had plenty of help from an inspired Denver offense that entered the game with just three points in its previous six quarters. Marshall had a fabulous game with six catches for 86 yards.

Moreno also has a big bounce-back game. He had 88 yards on 19 carries and he often carved up the Giants’ defense.

“It was just a good overall game by the offense,” Marshall said. “We have to continue to play this way.”

Defensively, Denver also stepped up. The Broncos’ defense carried the team in the first six games. Thursday, it looked like that unit.

Denver went back to the blitz after straying from it in recent games. Manning was uncomfortable all game. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil had two of Denver’s three sacks and he now leads the NFL with 14. He is in striking distance of Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5.

Perhaps most encouraging was that Denver played strong run defense. The Giants had 57 yards on 16 carries. Denver was ravaged against the run in the past three games. San Diego had 203 yards on the ground Sunday.

“We made the plays that we needed to make,” Denver defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. “That’s what we did in the early season. It was good to see.”

All is well in Denver again. If only for a night.

Denver: Keys to beating the Giants

November, 25, 2009
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Here are some keys to Denver’s Thursday night matchup with the visiting New York Giants as the Broncos try to end a four-game losing streak:

Orton’s health: Unless there is an unexpected change of events, quarterback Kyle Orton will start against the Giants. He needs to stay healthy. Orton missed the second half of a loss at Washington on Nov. 15 and the first quarter last week against San Diego before playing on a gimpy ankle for the final three quarters. Orton played pretty well despite the injury. He seems to have made strides since the game. Still, Denver needs Orton to play the entire game, so his health is paramount.

Run defense: Denver’s run defense has been ravaged during the four-game losing streak. The problem hit a zenith when San Diego, one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL this season, ran for 203 yards. The Giants have the seventh-best run offense in the NFL. So the Broncos are going to be tested in this game even if Ahmad Bradshaw can’t play because of an injury.

Simply play better: After the Broncos lost to San Diego in a game for first place in the AFC West on Sunday, Broncos defensive end Vonnie Holliday said they had to start making the plays they made when they started 6-0. The Broncos are no longer making timely plays on either side of the ball. The only way they are going to snap out of this free-fall is to make plays.

Ball security: Denver would have been in the game against the Chargers if it weren’t for two fumbles inside San Diego’s red zone in the first half. That killed the team’s chances in an eventual 32-3 loss. To beat the Giants, Denver, which has scored a total of three points in the past six quarters, can’t continue to squander opportunities.

Control their emotions: Some Broncos players and coach Josh McDaniels have had issues controlling their feelings recently. There was a players-only meeting this week to try to eliminate any issues. Surely, the pressure is on Denver after its unexpected tumble. But everyone has to remain composed against the Giants.
Philip RiversAP Photo/Jack DempseyPhilip Rivers led the Chargers into sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

DENVER -- The San Diego Chargers were in control before the game even started Sunday against the desperate but still cocksure Denver Broncos.

As they did a month ago in San Diego, the Broncos huddled near where the Chargers were warming up. Some Denver players were facing the Chargers and pointing. It appeared as though no San Diego player even noticed the Broncos’ bait job. The Chargers were far more interested in stretching their muscles than their tongues.

On Oct.19, the Chargers were incensed when Denver pulled the same trick on their home field. A shoving match ensued before the Broncos went on to beat the Chargers and take a commanding 3.5-game lead over San Diego in the AFC West.

A lot has changed since then.

“That stuff wasn’t going to work this time,” said San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was said Denver’s display last month was disrespectful. “We weren’t interested in any of that stuff [Sunday]. We were interested in winning the football game.”

Denver coach Josh McDaniels also got involved in the pregame chatter. He exchanged trash talk (which he told the San Diego Union Tribune that Chargers players started) with some San Diego linebackers. After the game, Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips called McDaniels “a little cocky [rear end].”

The Broncos had nothing Sunday -- not even effective pregame bravado.

The Chargers completed an amazing month in the division by plastering the Broncos 32-3 on their home field. Denver was completely outclassed by the Chargers, who appear to be the team they were expected to be in the preseason.

“We had it working today,” San Diego safety Eric Weddle said. “We knew what we were playing for.”

The Chargers were playing for power in the AFC West. And they got it. San Diego is 7-3 and leads Denver (6-4) by a game with six to go. The Chargers have an easier schedule down the stretch than the stumbling Broncos, who have to regroup and play host to the New York Giants on Thursday night. San Diego, which is in the hunt to earn a playoff bye, has two games remaining against teams with winning records.

The Chargers are poised to win their fourth straight division title. If they do, it will be the third straight year in which they came from behind to do so. San Diego started 5-5 in 2007 before winning its final six games. Last year, the Chargers became the first team to start 4-8 and make the playoffs as they won their final four games and Denver lost its final three games.

“Same old Chargers,” Weddle said.”This year, we’re starting early.”

The Broncos joined the 2003 Vikings as teams that won their first six games and then lost their next four games. The Vikings finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs that year. No NFL team has ever had a 3.5-game division lead and not made the playoffs.

In no way do the Broncos resemble the team of the first six weeks. The Broncos, who were given a spark by an injured Kyle Orton in the second quarter, were careless on offense (they lost two fumbles in San Diego territory, one coming in the end zone) and are worn down on defense. Denver had no pass rush against the Chargers and was riddled again on the ground as San Diego had 203 yards rushing.

“The plays that we were making when we were 6-0 we are no longer making,” Denver defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. “We have to regroup.”

The Chargers entered the game knowing they had the Broncos where they wanted them.

“We knew if we played the way we are capable, that we’re a better football team,” Weddle said. “We showed them that today.”

From the pregame warm-ups forward.

Rivers light up Denver again: After the loss last month, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was back to his dominant self against the Broncos. He has won six of his last eight meetings against Denver.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rivers has completed at least 60 percent of his pass attempts against Denver in the past eight games. In his past six games against Denver, Rivers has 12 touchdown passes and one interception.

Rivers was a tidy 17-of-22 for 145 yards against Denver. He had one touchdown pass and no interceptions. He made every play he needed to as the Chargers cruised after taking a 13-0 lead at the half. Rivers completed 13-of-14 passes in the first half.

Orton shows toughness: The question, privately, in the San Diego locker room was why Denver didn’t start Orton. He didn’t start because of a badly sprained ankle. But after backup Chris Simms -- who played poorly in the second half at Washington last week in a loss that may haunt Denver -- was ineffective, Orton was put in with the Broncos down 13-0.

He completed his first three passes and led Denver to the goal line, where rookie running back Knowshon Moreno lost a fumble in the end zone. Had Denver scored there, it would have had all the momentum.

Orton finished the game and was 15-of-29 for 171 yards. The Broncos hope he can play against the Giants.

McDaniels said Orton didn’t start because Simms had all the practice reps last week and Orton wasn’t fully healthy.

“Give Orton credit,” Weddle said. “He showed a lot of toughness and he played pretty well.”

Broncos squabble on the sideline: Denver receiver Brandon Marshall got into Moreno’s face after his fumble at the goal line. Moreno, a rookie, responded by shoving the four-year veteran. Moreno tried to go after Marshall on the sideline and had to be restrained by teammates.

“It was frustrating,” Marshall said. “Those are plays that kind of kill drives and we need to punch it in next time.”

McDaniels downplayed the altercation.

“We’ve got a lot of emotional players on our team,” McDaniels said. “Obviously, we don’t want it make scenes or problems for ourselves on the sideline. There are a lot of things that happen on the sideline that involve emotion.”

Dumervil comes up big again

October, 19, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil just took the NFL lead in sacks with his ninth sack when he dropped San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers.

Rivers fumbled on the play and it was recovered by Denver defensive end Vonnie Holliday. Denver turned the fumble into a field goal and it leads 27-23 with 13:05 to go.

Dumervil has had a knack for the big play all season. If Denver wins, his ninth sack will loom large.

Dumervil was tied with Cincinnati’s Antwan Odom with eight. Odom was lost for the season Sunday with a torn Achilles tendon.

 
 Kyle Terada/US Presswire
 After a controversial offseason, Josh McDaniels has the Broncos players buying into his program in Denver.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


OAKLAND -- Vonnie Holliday had heard the stories about the Denver Broncos under young head coach Josh McDaniels when he was deciding whether to join the team a week before the start of the season.
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McDaniels had almost attained villain status in Denver. He ran a Pro Bowl quarterback out of town. He fought with a Pro Bowl receiver. He traded a first-round pick in next year’s draft. He relied on his New England Patriots roots more than anything else as he built his roster. He didn’t add any recognizable names to his defensive front.

The Broncos, after 14 years of mostly good times in the Mike Shanahan era, were being questioned nationally. There were whispers about whether the kid from Canton, Ohio, would go one and done in Denver. There was arguably no coach in the history of the NFL who faced more scrutiny before walking the sideline for the first time than McDaniels.

“I heard all of that,” Holliday said Sunday. “But when I was talking to some coaches on this staff, guys who were much older and much more experienced than Coach McDaniels, they said, ‘Don’t listen.’ They said some good things were happening here. They said Coach McDaniels was special ... it didn’t take me long to realize they were right. There’s something about Josh McDaniels.”

Three games into McDaniels' NFL head-coaching career, and it’s difficult to argue with Holliday. There is something about McDaniels.
 
 Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
 Rookie head coach Josh McDaniels has the Broncos off to a 3-0 start.


His Broncos dismantled the Oakland Raiders on the road in a 23-3 victory Sunday. They dominated every phase of the game as they raised their record to 3-0 against the shell-shocked Raiders.

If there's an early favorite for the surprise team of 2009, it has to be Denver, and McDaniels has to be considered an early candidate NFL coach of the year.

Of course, it has been only three games and Denver is now entering a brutal 10-game stretch: Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego, the New York Giants, at Kansas City and at Indianapolis. Sure, the Redskins and the Chiefs don’t look like killers, but this a meaty schedule.

“Nothing gets better than 3-0. But we also know that we are very humble and we have got to understand that it’s a long way to go and a lot of things to improve on,” McDaniels said. “But we are happy to be 3-0.”

We’ll find out much more about Denver in the coming weeks. But what we know now is the Broncos are undefeated and look much better than they were expected to be. Quarterback Kyle Orton, acquired in the controversial Jay Cutler trade, is not terrific, but he is efficient and Denver is running the ball well.

Defensively, Denver is much improved from the past couple of seasons. The Broncos have allowed an NFL-low 16 points and one touchdown this season. They have created eight turnovers, five less than all of last season.

In addition to McDaniels’ impact on his new team, many around the league have wondered if New England’s unsteady offensive start has anything to do with playing without McDaniels, whose offense set records.

McDaniels said he does not feel vindicated after being questioned about his decisions during his first offseason.

“The people that we care about and their opinions are the ones in our building," he said. "We know what we are doing. We feel comfortable and confident in our players, with who we drafted and what we’ve done. I’ve never wavered from it for one minute and we aren’t now.”

So far, the Broncos couldn’t be happier with the decision to fire Shanahan and replace him with McDaniels, who turned 33 in April. Shanahan was fired because his message got stale. The Broncos hired McDaniels because they thought he’d bring energy and much-needed youthful zeal.

McDaniels is a guy who does television shows in jeans and Birkenstocks. He laughs with team employees in the building and he twirls his whistle in practice. When Holliday first visited the Broncos, he saw a young man sitting at a desk, wearing a sweatshirt and a hat pulled low to his eyes with his feet kicked up. He said he had no idea it was the coach.

“From our first meeting I knew [Denver owner Pat] Bowlen made the right decision,” Denver receiver Brandon Stokley said. “We’re lucky we have him. We’ve all bought into his plan.”

Several Denver veterans said what sticks out most about McDaniels is his belief that the Broncos are going to win every game. He oozes confidence. When I met with McDaniels in August, he made a point of saying he has never been part of a team that was even .500, dating back to his CYA basketball team when he was 9. He said he has always been a winner and has no plans of ever being a loser.

“He’s all about the details,” Holliday said. “He breaks down every potential game situation. He knows our upcoming opponent so well ... Take age out of this thing. He’s got football knowledge that goes way beyond his years. I really think something special is happening here.”

It’s early, but after three games it’s difficult to quarrel with what McDaniels has done in Denver.

Broncos: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Biggest surprise: Of all the AFC West cut lists, this was probably the tamest. But seeing linebacker Tim Crowder cut is a bit surprising since he was a second-round pick in 2007 and he showed promise as a rookie. He wasn’t good last season. Crowder was moved from defensive end this year. The top pick in 2007, Jarvis Moss, made the team despite being a big bust so far and despite him leaving camp earlier this year. It is also a mild surprise that running back Darius Walker was cut. He played well in the preseason. Denver kept veteran LaMont Jordan over Walker.

No brainer: Earlier in camp, some folks wondered if sixth-round pick Tom Brandstater would get replaced as the No. 3 quarterback. But the Fresno State product finished the preseason strong. New Denver coach Josh McDaniels likes Brandstater a lot and he clearly likes him more after Brandstater has flourished. With starter Kyle Orton (finger) and backup Chris Simms (ankle) both not sure things to be ready for the season opener Sept. 13 at Cincinnati, Brandstater may be forced into action. Denver thinks both Orton and Simms will be able to gut it out, but the rookie will be available if needed.

What’s next: The Broncos are far from a finished product. McDaniels has been aggressive in retooling the roster this summer. Veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday was signed Saturday. Watch for McDaniels to go back to the New England well if he sees something intriguing on the Patriots’ waiver wire. Denver could add help at receiver, offensive line and several spots on defense.

Denver and Oakland news

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
6:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Cut news is starting to trickle in from the AFC West.

In Denver, the Broncos have cut outside linebacker Tim Crowder and have kept outside linebacker Jarvis Moss. Moss was Denver’s top pick in 2007, while Crowder was the second-round pick. Both players were moved from defensive end to linebacker by the new Denver regime this year as it transitioned to the 3-4 defense.

Crowder had a promising rookie season, but he struggled last season. He looked good early in camp this year, but he couldn’t fully make the transition. Moss has been a huge bust so far, but Denver is giving him another chance. He left camp earlier this summer, but returned committed to the team. Denver was offering Moss in a trade during the late rounds of the April draft.

Meanwhile, it is being reported Denver finalized a deal for veteran Vonnie Holliday. He has been a free agent for more than five months. He will give Denver veteran depth on its young line. He can play both end and tackle in the 3-4. Holliday is 33, so he likely will be a part-time player.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the Raiders cut massive defensive tackle Terdell Sand and they kept undrafted rookie Desmond Bryant.

Sands was given a $1.9 million roster bonus this offseason. The team had high hopes for Sands but he fell out of favor and dropped all the way to the third team this summer, while Bryant, who is from Harvard, worked with the second team.

Sands' legacy in Oakland, other than being cut after he was paid the bonus, was reportedly punching teammate Shane Lechler on a flight home from a win at Denver last season.

Broncos and Chargers notes

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


The Miami Herald is reporting the Broncos are visiting with veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday. He’d fit in Denver’s new 3-4 defensive scheme.

Holliday has been on the market for several months, so he is not considered a unit-changing type of player at the age of 33. But he could give steady help to a raw unit. Plus, he’d give Denver another leader on defense. Newly acquired Le Kevin Smith was injured in the preseason and perhaps Holliday is being looked at as a replacement.

In San Diego, inside linebacker Kevin Burnett left the game with a stinger. The Chargers better hope Burnett isn’t out long.

He has been fantastic in the preseason and in training camp. Burnett, who signed as a free agent from Dallas in the offseason, is set to be a starter at inside linebacker. He is excellent in pass coverage and appears to be a playmaker. The Chargers need him healthy.

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