Denver Broncos team development: The Kaleidoscopic Chaos of Change

Oct 2, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs (39) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs (39) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

For this week’s edition of your Denver Broncos Team Development introspective, we’ll ask and answer a basic question one might ask of any struggling team – athletic, professional, or otherwise  – ‘What’s changed?’

Standing in the vitriolic rubble left behind by a ‘close but no cigar’ performance, a burgeoning case of fumblitis, and a rash of critical injuries, it would be fair of us to assume that expectations were markedly higher than what’s been realized to this point in what we should all be willing to acknowledge as a fledgling season. Whether those expectations have been warranted, however, is a slightly different conversation, and one around whose edges we’ll patrol together over the course of the next several hundred words.

Denver Broncos: Adjusting the Standard of Measurement

Back to the original question – ‘What’s changed?’ This innocuous little question is exactly where a leadership team would traditionally begin when attempting to determine what may be poisoning the soil of a previously productive team. And there you have it; with that one little word – ‘productive’ – we’ve exposed one of the forks of what is at least a bifurcated problem with this team. When was the last time the local media or fan base – let alone the national scene – would have described the Denver Broncos as ‘productive’?

So, now we see the dilemma with this particular prong. The success measurement for this year’s squad is not actually last year’s squad, nor the year before that, nor the year before that – the yardstick for this year’s team (as well as for every other team that’s been fielded from 2016 to present) is nothing short of a Peyton Manning-led Super Bowl victory. This quandary is not a new one for Broncos Country, but it may be a new-ish conundrum for some of the organization’s more recently onboarded fans.

For those who may have been around for a considerable time, you’ll likely remember having gutted out a similar hangover from 1999 to 2012 following the departure of one ‘John Elway’. I’m not sure it’s possible for that hangover to have been more painful than what’s been endured in the 11 QB Post-Peyton-Carousel, but taking into consideration the length of the Duke’s tenure as the Denver Broncos’ franchise QB, combined with his fairy tale saunter into the sunset following back-to-back Lombardi hoistings, it’s fair and rational to assume that Elway’s legacy-shadow may have been even more difficult to escape.

With a Peyton/Lombardi combo unveiled as the true metric for success, rather than what proximity might have suggested with a Bridgewater/Shurmur tandem, it’s no wonder at all that disappointment has so quickly beset the good (if not slightly impatient) citizens of Broncos Country.

Denver Broncos Team Development: Kaleidoscopic Change

As for the second tine of this multi-pronged analysis of ‘what’s changed’ with the Broncos, I offer this – ‘change’ itself. A typical systematic course adjustment process looks a little something like this – 1) Assess, 2) Adjust, 3) Implement, 4) Repeat. There is one cardinal rule of course adjustment, however, that has been a bit undervalued and more than a bit overlooked as this team has poured itself into a ballyhooed, and much-needed overhaul – moderation.

Although Denver’s approach to change management is not at all unique to this franchise and is in fact something we see in most years from many teams, the problem set is still something worth dissecting a bit. In most walks of life, an organization might take stock of its challenging situation or pattern of underperformance and develop a medium-ranged plan to assess and address the contributing factors.

Following the assessment period, a team would typically make a single adjustment, assess the impact of said adjustment, and either adopt this adjustment or tweak and reassess before trying again. By identifying and then fortifying a single area at a time, the organization is able to add stability to the team’s foundation while continuously narrowing the focus to areas that remain potentially problematic. With multiple and simultaneous adjustments, however, the process of assessment, adjustment, and fortification is left to each functional area at the expense of a more systematic approach that would help to isolate cause-and-effect to one particular change, rather than introducing additional inputs to serve as distractors.

It’s not that this more common and just a touch more chaotic approach never works, it’s simply that the team’s development curve is a bit steeper and more challenging as each functional area is left to identify and beautify its own warts apart from a more holistic understanding of how they might be supported (or possibly hampered) by the greater team.

Practically speaking in terms of this specific football team, what we’re really talking about, here, is that a perennially under-performing team grew weary of life as a cellar-dwelling troglodyte, took a stellar first step in hiring George Paton, and then made wholesale and nearly simultaneous changes to each of the team’s most critical leadership positions – a new (and first-time) Head Coach, a new (and first-time) Defensive Coordinator, a new (and first-time) Offensive Coordinator, a new (and first-time) Special Teams Coordinator, a Hall-of-Fame Quarterback who has spent his career in one place, and last but certainly not least, an entirely new offensive system.

Add to these planned organizational changes the unplanned, but equally disruptive onslaught of injuries to starting-caliber players at myriad position groups, and we’ve got a veritable cornucopia of both desirable and undesirable change. With the need to view this problem-solving set through the lenses of so many disparate and concurrent changes, an assessment of ‘what ails ya’ takes on an appearance most closely resembling the view through a kaleidoscope – fragmented, colorful, and just a little befuddling.

To Be Continued…

So, where do we go from here? Although some are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of allowing Coach Hackett and his band of Freshman Phenoms to earn their stripes, patience remains the most righteous course. As one would expect from staring through a kaleidoscope, the fragments seem to be offering some clarity where there was once obscurity, and perhaps just a few instances of obscurity where we once perceived clarity.

With the exception of a few hurried-and-high throws, Russell Wilson seems to be taking form, resembling the Hopeful-Future-MVP the Denver Broncos’ fan base initially considered ‘a steal’ in exchange for multiple early draft picks. Conversely, if we are to take anything from the defensive challenges experienced during Sunday afternoon’s battle royale with the dreaded Oakland Raiders, a person might even catch him or herself legitimately wondering whether Coach Evero’s highly touted defense is as vaunted as the first three weeks might have indicated.

Were consecutive weeks’ schemings of a wide-receiver/linebacker mismatch an indicator that teams have finally seen enough tape on Ejiro’s defense to know how to take advantage, or did Coaches Shanahan & McDaniels just stumble upon the favorable match-up? Little by little, this seemingly jumbled mass of wholesale changes will begin to sort itself out, each change transferring slowly but surely from the column of ‘the Unknowns’ to the column of ‘the Knowns’.

That said, with nearly a quarter of a season in the books, this much is sure – there are still too many simultaneous evolutions to accurately interpret which (if any) of the shifting shapes and colors we’ve seen so far this season is a genuine indicator of things to come. We can, however, confidently answer the question that kicked off today’s edition of Team Development: Denver Broncos Edition… ‘What’s changed?’

The answer? Absolutely everything.