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Elway philosophical shift back to run-and-gun Broncos: 'I think we're heading in right direction'

Tired of ranking near the bottom of NFL rankings in points scored, Elway explains loading up on offense this offseason.

DENVER — John Elway and Vic Fangio were relaxed and reflective. A bit fatigued, perhaps, but in good spirits and humor following what they confidently believe was a job well done.

Elway, the Broncos general manager and Fangio, the team’s head coach, had just completed the second and third rounds of their 2020 draft Saturday night. They had explained their moves to the group media and team web site via Zoom video sessions, and after dealing with specific questions about their draft picks, they didn’t mind expanding into philosophical questions that came from an exclusive interview with 9NEWS about the state of the team.

"Damn, you ask very long-winded questions," Fangio said via Zoom video from his home as Elway laughed loudly from his. "I can’t remember half the things you just said."

Elway, as a former quarterback and a Hall of Fame QB at that, approached this offseason as if he was tired of watching desultory offensive football. Not only had the Broncos suffered three consecutive losing seasons, they were boring in defeat.

Since winning Super Bowl 50 – and including their Super Bowl-winning season of 2015 – the Broncos’ offense has ranked in the bottom-half of the 32-team NFL in points scored.

Year: PPG (Rank)

2019: 17.6 (28)

2018: 20.6 (24)

2017: 18.1 (27)

2016: 20.8 (22)

2015: 22.2 (19)

2014: 30.1 (2)

2013: 37.9* (1)

*NFL record in the 14-game and 16-game eras. The 1950 Rams averaged 38.8 points in a 12-game season.

Elway reacted to his team’s five-year offensive slump by stacking that side of the ball this offseason. He started by signing free-agent running back Melvin Gordon and right guard Graham Glasgow to lucrative contracts. Elway then spent the first two rounds of the draft taking the accomplished and polished receiver Jerry Jeudy and then small but lightning fast receiver KJ Hamler in the second round.

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The third round brought center Lloyd Cushenberry III – every offense starts with the snap – and the fourth round Saturday morning added tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who caught 17 touchdowns in 18 games from Drew Lock at Missouri.

It marks Elway third dramatic shift in roster building. He built a Showtime Lakers-style team when the Broncos went to Super Bowl 48, where they got crushed by Seattle, in 2013. Then he had a Bad Boy Piston-type defensive win to win it all in 2015.

And now Elway is flipping back to rebuilding the offense, again.

"I will tell you this, after 2013, I said, ‘OK, it’s not all about scoring points and all those type things and Peyton broke every record that year that was available and we go to the Super Bowl and we get beat 43-8," Elway said. "The next year we said ‘OK, we’re going to commit to the defensive side, realizing we have to play some defense, put a good defense together and we play great in 2015 and we were able to win a Super Bowl.

"But you know it’s still a combination of both and I think we’re building around a young guy in Drew Lock who still has a lot to prove. He showed us a lot in the five games he started last year. But ultimately to win in this league you’ve got to win as a football team and as well as the coaching staff. I feel great about the staff that Vic has put together.

"And I think we’ve got some quality kids who want to get coached and want to get better. We drafted kids that have potential to get better. And so that’s a key thing is we have to continue to get better.

"Obviously, we’re going to be very young. We’re going to be very young on the offensive side. We’ve got some veteran leadership on the defensive side. Continue to work on this, put the right guys in the right spot and I think we’re heading in the right direction. But we’ve got to take one step at a time and the players have to commit to getting better each day."

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
From left to right, John Elway, Vic Fangio, and Matt Russell on Friday, April 26.

The additions of Glasgow and Gordon, and doubling up on firepower with Jeudy and Hamler in the first two rounds of the draft followed the selection of  talented tight end Noah Fant in the first round of the 2019 draft and left guard Dalton Risner and the quarterback Lock in the second. And in 2018, 1,000-yard receiver Courtland Sutton was taken in the second round while 1,000-1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay was part of the undrafted rookie class.

This won’t be football. This figures to be a track meet.

Many defensive-oriented coaches prefer their offense to stay on the field through a ground-and-pound ball-control attack.

"That’s not me," said Fangio, a defensive-embedded head coach. "If we can get leads – we need to be able to run the ball when you need to run the ball. And you need to run the ball as a mix to help the passing game.

"But we need to score points. There’s always times during a game or during a season when, yeah, we need to run it. But that isn’t me. I’m not Woody Hayes. I like to see points, I like to see the ball thrown around the field in a sensible, logical manner. If there’s that stereotype out there about defensive head coaches, I know for a fact I don’t fit that."

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