- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Starting this season, they will survive by his mind. Elway, whose football skills elevated the franchise above its mile-high perch in the Rockies, runs more than just the offense as the president of the Broncos. If Broncos fans can be patient, they may find doing football the "El-Way" will offer more long-term satisfaction than the collateral damage done by two years of roster decisions by Josh McDaniels.
Elway's charge is fixing the mess created by McDaniels, who calls a swashbuckling style of offense but had a franchise-wrecking style of personnel moves. It was McDaniels who traded the talents of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler to install a Patriots offense that succeeds more on system than talent. It was McDaniels who turned a respectable 4-3 defense into a 3-4 that couldn't stop anyone.
As a player, Elway could win a game by making a great throw. For the Broncos to return to respectability, Elway might need three years of roster building to get it right. He's off to a great start. Organizationally, Elway has turned the Broncos from dictatorship to democracy. Coaches coach. Scouts suggest. General manager Brian Xanders makes smart roster decisions. Elway has created a sound decision-making unit instead of letting one person make all the major decisions.
Here are the five observations from Broncos camp:
1. The only quarterback controversy is how John Fox handles the backup quarterback job. Kyle Orton is the starter. That's not going to change unless there is an injury. Although fans and talk-show hosts debate the merits of Tim Tebow, the former Florida quarterback isn't ready for a regular starting job. Here's what going to happen. Because of the new 46-man active roster rules on game day, coaches don't have to designate a third quarterback, so there will be no formal announcement of who is backing up Orton. Why? Because it probably will be Brady Quinn, who has outperformed Tebow in training camp. Fans might be outraged because they believe in Tebow. But Tebow, in his second season, still hasn't developed a consistent way of delivering the football. When throwing short passes to his right, Tebow, a left-hander, opens his hips too much and skips the football off the ground like a rock across water. Too often, his eyes lock onto his first target. His throwing delivery lacks a consistent release point. With proud veterans such as Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, Elvis Dumervil and others on the team, Fox would lose the team if he started the quarterback who would give the team the lesser chance to win. Although Tebow is exciting and an icon everyone in the world can root for, he's not ready for prime time or an NFL starting QB job. The rumors of a trade to Miami and two years of replacing Cutler have forced Orton to develop broad shoulders and a thick skin. It has also caused him to hit the weight room. Orton has bulked up to 230 pounds, 12 more than his previous playing weight. "It's too tough over a 16-game schedule getting hits at that light weight," Orton said. Being bigger and stronger, Orton looks as though he is throwing the ball better, too.
2. Broncos fans will have to great ready for a culture shock on offense. Fox believes teams win in this league with defense and running the football. With the roster in transition, Fox is taking the air out of the football. "We'll be in two-back formations a little more," Orton said. That's an understatement. The Broncos were in two-back formations 4.8 plays a game, second lowest to only the Indianapolis Colts. If his offensive line can handle defenses, Fox would love to run the ball 30 times a game. That's why he picked up Willis McGahee from the Ravens and gave him a three-year, $7.5 million contract. Fox plans to give opponents heavy doses of McGahee and Knowshon Moreno. After two disappointing seasons, Moreno is having his best camp. A holdout during his rookie season and injuries during last year's camp made Knowshon "No Show" during his first two seasons as a Bronco. This summer, he's lighter but more durable. Moreno and McGahee might not wow teams with their yards-per-attempt numbers, but they will give Fox the base running offense he wants to establish during his first season.
3. Dumervil is back at defensive end and looks better than ever. A torn pectoral muscle forced him to sit out last season. Dumervil used the time to change his entire body. After playing most of his career in the 240s, Dumervil has bulked up to 265 pounds and plans to be as effective against the run as he is rushing the quarterback. "I want to be a more all-around player," Dumervil said. The Broncos do have playmakers on defense. First-round choice Von Miller gives Fox a big, physical, fast outside linebacker in the mold of a Junior Seau. Bailey remains one of the game's best cornerbacks. Fox hopes that by getting former first-round pick Robert Ayers back to defensive end -- his natural position in college -- he can be a help rushing the quarterback. What hurt, though, were injuries to defensive tackles Ty Warren (torn triceps) and Marcus Thomas (torn pectoral muscle). In a 15-minute stretch of practice this week, the Broncos' depth at defensive tackle went away. Fox will have to depend on well-traveled Kevin Vickerson, former Eagle Brodrick Bunkley and the waiver wire to get through the season.
4. Don't expect a dropoff in the play of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. He might not get as many attempts, but Lloyd will be the stud in the Broncos' passing offense. He's one of the few holdovers from the McDaniels days that works. Give McDaniels credit for signing Lloyd and reviving his confidence. Last season he went from wideout afterthought to a player voted by his peers to be one of the top 65 players in the league. "Josh told me when I got here if I was anywhere like the player I was in 2005, I was going to be a star," Lloyd said. He became that star last season, catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. "In every stop that I went to, guys looked at me and said, 'What's wrong with you?'" Lloyd said of players who admired his talent but couldn't understand his low numbers. "They would say something ain't adding up." He was a starter in San Francisco and Washington but never had more than 48 catches during his first four seasons. For the next three seasons, he faded into backup roles. Lloyd showed flashes of his potential in San Francisco, but he's finally achieved it in Denver. Now, it all adds up.
5. The Broncos are more negatively affected by the new kickoff rule than any team in football. The impact of kickoffs from the 35-yard line has made touchbacks too common in games. The touchback situation will be even worse in Denver. The first problem will be in home games. The Denver air is so thin that the weakest kickers on opposing teams will be booming kicks into the back of the Broncos' end zone. Just last season with kickoffs from the 30, the Broncos' kickoff receiving team had a league-high 36 touchbacks. The next closest team was Tennessee at 22. With a more than 100 percent increase in touchbacks league-wide, it's not out of the question for the Broncos to be victimized by 50 or more touchbacks. The other problem is their defense may not be good enough to prevent teams from scoring and kicking off at a higher rate. The Broncos led the league last season with 98 opposing kickoffs. Somehow, with all the kickoffs last season, the Broncos' average drive start was 25.9. This year, Orton will be starting most drives after kickoffs around his 20, making it tougher for the offense to score.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter
John Elway's plan to rebuild the Broncos is off to good start, but there's still a lot of work to be done, John Clayton writes.