The Broncos' season was an unqualified success from a few different angles.
Coming off a 4-12 season, with a new coaching staff and no offseason to get acclimated to core philosophies, Denver ended up winning its first AFC West title since the 2005 season and ab AFC wild-card playoff game vs. Pittsburgh.
John Elway, as executive vice president of football operations, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox had promised a measured, tactical approach in sync to rebuild an organization that not only needed a personnel makeover but some work, too, to rebuild its reputation and placate an uneasy fan base.
And, with Fox's steady hand, a few key player pickups, and, especially in the promotion of quarterback Tim Tebow to starter after a 1-4 season start, exceeded meager expectations and put the Broncos back on the national map.
"The bandwagon is now full again," Elway would say at a season-ending press conference following a blowout loss in the divisional playoff round in New England. "That thing was pretty empty last year."
But keeping it stuffed to the brim won't be easy.
Keeping the Broncos square in the public eye may rest on Tebow's shoulders until the roster is restocked fully in the next couple of years. A huge gap still exists between the modicum of success the club had this year and the ability to contend for titles on a yearly basis.
If Tebow can keep the starting job Elway said he's "earned the right" to hold in training camp, it, at the very least ensures that the bandwagon keeps many of the passengers. If Tebow proves to be the pocket passer the team needs to get to Super Bowl caliber, even better on that count, given the religious fervor - no pun intended - the quarterback attracts.
But if Tebow fails, it removes a necessary bridge until the Broncos as a whole gain the kind of relevance they deserve from the national stage. That's because the needs on the roster without the Tebow hype in the way to obfuscate become that much more clear; and, with a first-place schedule next season, that much more taunting, too.
Elway and Co. promise aggressiveness in the coming months to try and restock the talent base. Quarterback continues to be the most nagging question - and there will be competition there regardless -- but just as pressing are numerous holes on the defensive side of the ball, issues at running back, tight end and elsewhere.
The front office and Fox continue to call things a "work in progress." Consider 2011 a good start. Fox was credited by Elway, and rightly so, for leading a staff that squeezed the most from, and adapted to, its talent.
But the downside of the success that Denver did have, which would have been impossible in a stronger division, is that it tumbled down the draft board to No. 25 and will have a harder time coming up with the young, impact stars the team requires to take step two in the developmental curve.
"I think it was invaluable for our team to get the experience of the playoffs because when you get into the playoffs, it steps up another level," Elway said, adding, "It was a big building block going forward ... We hadn't been there for awhile and a lot of guys on this football team hadn't been there.
"So I think when you look at the season as a whole, the experience that we gained being in the playoffs will definitely help us in the future."
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