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Broncos Mailbag: Let us give thanks for disgruntled fans

Suggestions range from Phillip Lindsay return to running the ball on third-and-10 and 2:00 to go, to hiring Shanny or even Sean Payton.

DENVER — I had every intention of getting away from the Broncos on Thanksgiving.

But then I looked inside the mailbag as I was also peeking in on the Bills-Lions game – must be nice to follow teams that can consistently score in the mid- to upper-20s – and decided some clean-up was necessary. It turned out to be a labor of love.

On to the Broncos’ mailbag:

As you well know, Phillip Lindsay was a great running back when he was with the Broncos. Is there any good reason that our 3 & 7 Broncos would not call him back? The Broncos are not a well-oiled machine. We are in need of a running back that can hang on to the ball.

I’m an old-time Bronco fan from the mid 70’s and have seen the changes take place, but when they let Phillip Lindsay go that was the last straw.

It’s hard to continue to be a loyal fan when our Denver donkeys continue to loose!

I hope that you can shed some light on this for me.

Robert Portales

Robert – Let’s call Phillip Lindsay the third most popular running back in Broncos history, behind Floyd Little and Terrell Davis. (Otis Armstrong and Peyton Hillis would be next). From this group, Lindsay is the only homegrown product who, equipped with his wonderfully large throwback Afro and even larger figurative chip from going undrafted out of the University of Colorado, rushed for a combined 2,048 yards on 4.9 yards per carry in 2018-19, his first two seasons with the Broncos.

Injuries and Melvin Gordon limited Lindsay to 502 yards in 11 games in 2020, his last season with the Broncos.

In the past two seasons, he’s been with three teams – Houston, Miami and Indianapolis – and combined for only 298 yards on 2.9 yards per carry.

I’m not sure why he has fallen off – my guess is his new teams look at his diminutive stature and try to utilize him on the perimeter when he is far better between the tackles – but it’s been three years since his peak, which is a lifetime for an NFL running back.

Still, with Chase Edmonds out for at least the next four weeks, the Broncos could do worse than add some Lindsay juice to their back field. One problem with bringing Lindsay back as the No. 3 runner, though, is because of people like you, Robert. Everybody would be screaming, “Put in Lindsay!” which would be a distraction for an offense that has otherwise been ineffective.

Credit: AP
Indianapolis Colts running back Phillip Lindsay (30) heads for the end zone for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

 Is Mike Shanahan finished with coaching?

--Todd Allerdings

Todd – He is. Unless …

John Elway nearly brought him back after the 2017 season. But Shanahan last coached in 2013 when he was 61. He’s 70 now. While I think Shanahan could pull it off if a franchise gave him the opportunity for one more fling – under what he would deem the right situation -- he seems content helping his son Kyle as an unofficial coaching consultant with the San Francisco 49ers.

Besides, Shanahan’s legacy lives on, including with the Broncos whose play-caller is Klint Kubiak, son of Shanahan’s very first protégé, Gary Kubiak.

Watching San Francisco on Monday night, I could really appreciate guys like George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Denver, by comparison, really has no playmakers. Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are overrated, and their best player (Javonte) is hurt. So defenses don't have much to worry about with this group.

Denver's problems are more than Russell or the coach. They just don't have a lot to work with.

Jimmy Garoppolo may have limitations, but with those weapons, he doesn't have to be an elite QB to be successful.

Just a few thoughts before a 4-day weekend.

Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.

--Dennis DeJulio

Dennis – Happy Thanksgiving to you. Sutton is on pace for 78 catches, 1,042 yards and 2 touchdowns which is only a half-tick below expectations for a 17-game season. And every time Jeudy seems to be about to reach his potential an injury stops him.

But I otherwise agree with your premise, Dennis. The Broncos’ weapons are below par, although considerable blame can be directed to the injuries of Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, Jeudy, Javonte Williams and Greg Dulcich.

All of those players are under contract at least through the next year but general manager George Paton can’t count on all of them returning to top form. He will have to add at least one receiver from either free agency or within the first three rounds of the draft. And a young back from rounds 3 through 5 should also be on the Broncos’ draft board.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos running back Latavius Murray (28) runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Denver, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

 Can anyone explain to me why .... WHY ... someone would call a pass play when their team is up by 3, their opponents is out of timeouts, and the clock is running below 2:00? Even Russell Wilson, an intelligent quarterback, throws an incomplete pass rather than taking a sack. I just don't understand.

--James Burnell

James – You have every right to be confused. Got to run the ball there. The thinking on third and 10 was to pick up the first down on one play and then kneel out the rest of the game instead of giving the Raiders the slim chance of going 80 yards with about 1:03 remaining.

Wilson was given an “option” pass. The option: If the easy completion is there, go for it, but if not, take the sack. But whatever you do, keep the clock running.

I would have liked this idea if it was third-and-4. But 10 yards was too low of a percentage. Wilson thought he had Jalen Virgil on a comeback route and indicated that the pass simply got away from him. It was a mistake. A costly mistake. A mistake that could have been avoided. Run. The. Ball.

Hi Mike, with all the reports on the number of injured Broncos, have you ever talked to anyone about could it be the elevation? Does Denver make a difference over a sea-level team? Or could it be improper stretching or conditioning?

--Ed Stoeckel 

Ed – I’m guessing less oxygen is a factor. Hydration is a must. But the Broncos have been playing in Denver since 1960 and injuries haven’t been quite as crippling as they have been in recent years. And in the 60s and 70s, water breaks were often discouraged by hard-nosed football coaches.

The current Broncos have a world-class strength and conditioning staff led by Loren Landow and highly acclaimed training staff led by Vince Garcia.

If they can’t stop the injury epidemic, a Murray State graduate who never met an 8 a.m. class that couldn’t be skipped isn’t going to have the answers. There has been considerable speculation coach Nathaniel Hackett’s keep-‘em-fresh approach to training camp didn’t properly callous the players to the physicality of football. But Vic Fangio ran as physical a camp as the new collective bargaining agreement would allow and injuries were still a big reason why he didn’t survive past his third season.

But studies, research and discussion with experts must be conducted during the offseason.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson heads back to the practice field after greeting fans along a rope line before the opening session of the NFL football team's training camp Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Hey, Mike, I've been hearing a little bit a buzz about this wide receiver Jalen Virgil, No. 15, and I hope if you have any clout you might ask them to throw him in the mix. This guy made some awesome catches in the preseason. So maybe he’ll get a shot. Okay, Jalen Virgil, that’s the man. 

Binder Brooks

Binder – I have zero clout but I do know Jalen Virgil’s career NFL stats: 1 catch, 66 yards, TD.

So why not more than one catch?

Agree, with you, Binder. With Hamler and Jeudy injured, Virgil  is the Broncos’ best remaining home-run threat. And he was fantastic in the preseason in becoming the biggest season-opening, 53-man-roster surprise.

But the Broncos’ coaching staff are trying to get Virgil up to speed, too. I know Klint Kubiak thinks highly of Virgil.

But there are all kinds of reasons why, in general, rookie receivers are often redshirted. Route running is one. Learning how to practice at the professional level is sometimes cited. Strength and technique to beat press coverage off the line is a problem for rookies. And it’s a position where you can’t have a missed assignment.

I’m not privy to why Virgil has been held back – I was surprised he only got 7 snaps last week against the Raiders. But there’s no reason to hold him back anymore. The Broncos are 3-7 and playing for next year. It’s go time for Virgil.

Credit: AP
From left to right, Denver Broncos wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland, Jalen Virgil and Montrell Washington take part in drills at the NFL football team's headquarters Monday, May 23, 2022, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Why are we the proving ground for first-year head coaches that only prove they can’t coach? McDaniels, Joseph, Fangio, Hackett.  Write the check and bring in Gruden or Sean Payton.

--Randall Peterson

Randall – The NFL game was evolving so quickly with the rules favoring the passing game, I think the Broncos’ brass wanted to keep moving forward. They wanted to find the next great coach, not just settle for a “retread” who had already failed.

Do you realize Chuck Noll went 1-13 in his first season? Bet Steelers fans didn’t think he had what it takes as they were getting beat 38-7 by the Bears, 24-3 to the Browns, 52-14 to the Vikings and 47-10 to the St. Louis Cardinals in four consecutive weeks in November 1969.

Bill Belichick was 6-10 in his first head coach season with the Browns and 5-11 in the first season of his second stint with the Patriots. Can you imagine? Boston football fans no doubt thought Jets’ boss Bill Parcells sold owner Robert Kraft a coaching lemon when Belichick was acquired for a first-round draft pick.

First-year head coaches often suffer growing pains and it’s not unusual for them to get better in year two.

But these are different times. Had Noll gone the 17-game equivalent of 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8 in today’s environment, he never would have had a chance to lead the great Steelers’ dynasty from 1972-79.

It’s a little more complicated for Hackett. I personally am in favor of (Ouch! Aah! Lordy!) giving Hackett a second season (Oy! Pow! Sheesh!) so long as Klint Kubiak continues calling the plays and he brings in a veteran consultant to help coach the offensive line. If the offense is turned over to Kubiak, can Rico Dennison, Brian Pariani or Clancy Barone be far behind?

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos owner and chief executive officer Greg Penner, from left, owner Rob Walton and owner Carrie Walton Penner before an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Denver, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

But if first-year owner Greg Penner decides a head-coach change is necessary – and it will be Penner’s call – you’re on the right track, Randall. An experienced head coach would be the way to go. Think of the Broncos’ most successful coaches in the past 30 years: Mike Shanahan, John Fox, Gary Kubiak. All had previous head coaching experience.

I just don’t agree with your two candidates. Jon Gruden is radioactive and will probably never again get another NFL head coaching job. And Sean Payton will, A, require trade compensation and the Broncos have to stop giving up first-round draft picks after giving up two of them for Russell Wilson. B, Sean Payton will likely command a $10 million a year contract. Under your scenario, Randall, the Broncos would be eating more than $20 million to let Hackett go. You think Penner and the Waltons got to where they are by squandering millions every year? My guess, is this will be a disciplined ownership group.

And C, I think Sean Payton (first names are required in Denver, where Peyton Manning and George Paton are part of the Broncos’ fabric), would rather coach talented young Justin Herbert and the rebuild the Chargers than take over a Broncos’ franchise where Russell Wilson is about to turn 34.

Frank Reich – an offensive head coach who had little chance in Indianapolis with a new old quarterback every year -- Dan Quinn or Jim Caldwell would make more sense – if the Broncos make a move. Which at this time, I’m not recommending. (Ow! Ouch! Ow!)   

Credit: AP/AJ Mast
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguar, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, in Indianapolis.

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