Inside Broncos camp: Joe Flacco drawing rave reviews, Von Miller pushing to get even better, coaches stepping up
Here's everything you need to know on the scene in Englewood as the Broncos get ready for 2019
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The question being asked a lot these days around these parts is an obvious one: Are the Denver Broncos good enough to get back to the playoffs after two seasons with double-digit losses that led to a new coach this season?
The better question is this: Is quarterback Joe Flacco good enough?
Let's be real about this team. The defense has been good in recent years, led by All-Pro edge player Von Miller, but the offense dragged the team down. More precisely, the quarterback play did.
Since the Broncos won a Super Bowl after the 2015 season with Peyton Manning, general manager John Elway has botched the position, including using a 2016 first-round pick on Paxton Lynch, who flamed out and is now in Seattle.
That's why Elway made the move to trade for Flacco, who lost his job to rookie Lamar Jackson after getting injured. The Ravens picked Jackson in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, so he was the future – and it came sooner than maybe 34-year-old Flacco thought it would.
"It was definitely a tough time last year, the last six games of the season," Flacco said.
Flacco watched as the Ravens lost in the playoffs, which, once upon a time, was his stage to go win a Super Bowl MVP.
"I have a lot of awesome memories about my time in Baltimore," Flacco said during a post-practice interview Thursday. "But at the same time I was ready to move on. I think they were too. I couldn't be more excited about this place."
The Broncos players I talked with raved about Flacco so far. All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller marveled at the arm Flacco has put on display. Corner Chris Harris also has been impressed with Flacco.
Most importantly, first-year Broncos coach Vic Fangio has liked what he's seen.
"I see a guy who hasn't lost any skills," Fangio said. "He has a big arm, but he throws a ball that's very catchable. When he has to put some steam on it, he can do that too. I see a guy who is happy to be here. He hasn't lost his love for the game."
The Broncos are hoping they get the Flacco who has always been a playoff star. His postseason stats are amazing. He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens with a postseason run of 11 touchdown passes and no picks.
The Broncos would be thrilled to get anything close to that type of play, which would make them a contender in the division, even with the top-heavy teams in the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. But if they get some of Flacco's recent seasons, the Broncos might be in trouble.
In the last four seasons, Flacco threw 64 touchdown passes and 46 picks, which isn't a great ratio. He also played 16 games just twice in those four seasons because of injury, which is a big concern.
He looked healthy here, showing off his big arm at times in practice Thursday, especially on a long out for a completion to rookie Juwann Winfree.
"It's a hard position to fill," Elway said. "We tried to shake all these trees around here the last four years and quarterbacks didn't fall out of it. It's difficult, but we've taken our shots. We tried a lot of different situations, and I've felt like that was the way to go until we got it solidified. Hopefully with Joe this year, we've got it solidified."
If not, the heat will be even hotter on Elway than it was here for practice Thursday when temperatures reached 100 degrees.
More on the Broncos in a minute, but I also joined Will Brinson on Friday's Pick Six Podcast to talk about what I'm seeing here at training camp. Listen and subscribe below:
An unconventional OC path
One of the biggest questions surrounding this team is offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. He comes over from the 49ers where he was quarterbacks coach, but the last time he called plays as an offensive coordinator was for Wagner College in 2016. That's a big step up.
So what are the Broncos getting?
"I think we're getting a good football coach, No. 1, and No. 2, a guy who had the discipline to follow the logical plan to improve as a coach," Fangio said. "He put that as a priority over what the job was and what the next job was. He does have eight or nine years of calling plays in college, and that's an experience that's important no matter what the level. He's worked under good coaches like Kyle Shanahan. We like that offense. That's part of the reason we hired him. That offense is the basis of what we do, but Rich has learned a lot over the years. We don't have our blinders on. We know we need to adapt."
Shanahan's scheme is a zone-run based offense with lots of movement by the quarterback on rollouts and boots to hit big pass plays down the field. The Broncos will use a similar offense, which is good for Flacco. In 2014, he played under Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who ran the same style of offense, and threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes that season.
"I think Rich has done a great job of putting the offense in and explaining to us how his mind works, how he sees things," Flacco said. "I think a lot of the terminology carries over, a lot of the philosophy carries over. It's certainly helped."
Can Von Miller get even better?
In my mind, Miller is the best edge rusher in the game. In Fangio's mind, he needs to get better.
"I think he's got more to give," Fangio said Wednesday. "I think we can make him be a better player. I think he has more in him that he can be better and better."
Those are bold words for a first-time head coach. But when I asked Fangio about it again on Thursday, he didn't shy away from it.
"That's the truth, so the truth is always good," Fangio said. "I've showed him where he can get better. And he agrees. I commend him for being great since we've got him to try and get better."
Miller, who has 98 sacks in his career, is all for it.
"I want a coach who can push me," Miller said. "I want a coach who sees more in me. If you have ways for me to improve, I am all for it."
With emerging second-year star Bradley Chubb opposite Miller, the Broncos might have the best pass-rushing duo in the league by the end of the season. No, they will have the best duo.
Those two players combined with Fangio's defense are a perfect combination.
The right guy for a line in flux
One of the best additions to the Broncos is offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who is considered one of the best in the league. He comes over from Pittsburgh because he wanted to be closer to his family in the Denver area.
The Broncos line is a work in progress, and rookie Dalton Risner is expected to start at left guard, but Munchak is the type of coach who will get the best out of the group. The biggest concerns are left tackle Garett Bolles -- who hasn't played well -- right guard Ronald Leary, who can't seem to stay healthy, and a first-year starting center in Connor McGovern.
Aside from that, the line is fine. But if anybody can make it work, it's Munchak.
Reason to worry on offense?
The receivers are a worry for the Broncos.
They expect second-year players Courtland Sutton and DeSean Hamilton to be big contributors, especially Sutton outside. They also have Emmanuel Sanders back from a torn Achilles tendon. But the problem is a lack of speed. They don't run that well, which will make it easier on defenses to slow them down.
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