Straight From The Horse's Mouth: Q & A With Broncos Stable On The Dennison Hire

With our constant connection with all things Denver Broncos during the Smithiak era, I have maintained a good working relationship with Bryan Douglass of Broncos Stable on the Fanball Sports Network since I have worked over there for Don’t Mess With Texans. So, with not knowing a ton about the most recent acquisition of a former Denver associate taking place in the person of Rick Dennison, I had a Q & A with Bryan about him.

After the jump…

Thanks for coming in, Bryan. I know you're the guy to talk to about anything Denver related. Here we go:

MK: I will be the first to admit that the only thing I really know about Rick Dennison is that he is a former Denver Broncos linebacker who became an Assistant Coach. Could you tell me anything about what he was like as an offensive coordinator?

BD: Dennison... I am the first to admit no place or insight into the mind of Josh McDaniels (or Mike Shanahan for that matter), but I have some knowledge on Dennison's football history (when you cover the Donkeys AND NFL offensive lines, that will happen).

In short, he's the local boy made good... grew up in Fort Collins (about 30 minutes north of Denver), played HS ball in the big city, followed by college skin at Colorado State. The Broncos signed him as an undrafted rookie in the early '80s and he flourished. The guy milked it for all it was worth; playing linebacker and serving as a local hero (think Mark Wahlberg in "Invinceable" but with more mountains).

Shanny brought him in as an "offensive assistant" and he got promoted to special teams coach shortly after. That's where he first earned fame, coaching kicker Jason Elam and return man Darrien Gordon.

He earned another step up after Shanny attributed the quick and surprising rise of Clinton Portis to the guidance provided by Dennison. He got a shot to serve as the offensive line coach (though stories indicate he spent just as much time collaborating those blockers with the rushers), and after four years of amazing success in that role, he got a shot as coordinator.

That is where you might find a bit of grey area. Dennison was there in the transition from Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler. That's also the time the Broncos started earning fame for their toilet paper approach to rushers. And somehow, Dennison doesn't get much credit for all of that, probably because most prefer to reflect on the team's 24-24 record over that three-year span (great on offense, horrendous on defense... and to be honest, the man hiring him to move to Texas earned the bulk of the praise built by those teams).

Overall I have to say the resume suggests a TON of potential. He's a guy that overachieves, he's proven his abilities in a system that was constantly changing, and to be honest Mike... those offenses he built were MUCH more dynamic and thorough than most believe. I'd certainly suggest the man seems to know talent, he appears to have a knack for recognizing strength and weakness, and he can build around that.

I would think such visions would please the folks in Houston.

MK: Was the "demotion" from offensive coordinator to offensive line coach last year a knock against Dennison, or was that Josh McDaniels just wanting complete control of the play calling?

BD: I'm not sure it would be fair to call it a "knock" on Dennison (and I don't think McDaniels was going to seize full control of plays called during the game either). In fact, I would tend to suggest it was a sign of respect. I may be wrong but I don't believe it's all that common for a new head coach to keep too many parts from the previous regime. McDaniels wasn't too shy about change, but he retained Dennison. It may have been in a so-called "lesser" role but I doubt anyone, with a sense of reason, would expect Dennison to step into an entirely new offensive system and immediately take the wheel. The offensive line was one aspect of the Shanahan squad that remained largely unchanged. McDaniels added pieces for depth including Brandon Gorin, Russ Hochstein, and others. He gave center Casey Wiegmann a well-deserved raise, and all indications suggested that it would be business as usual up front.

It didn't work. In my humble review of the performance, Ben Hamilton proved incapable of formulating his skills to the changes in offensive design. Hamilton's not a big guy. He's the traditional Mike Shanahan lineman--speedy, doing his best work in getting into the defender and holding the point of attack. The running backs of the Shanahan era were speed guys as well (except Terrell Davis... he started with TD but moved on to guys like Clinton Portis, Mike BellTatum Bell, Selvin Young, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and so on). They worked the B gaps (between tackle and guard), they came around the corner (typically called the C gap), and they worked off pitches. McDaniels doesn't do this.

His system pushes the rusher up the middle through the A gaps (between center and guards. Which is where Knowshon Moreno earned his respect while working in the dirty south). That requires the guards to "pull block," or to influence the defender away from the center to open the lane through the middle (in other words, Josh wants his rushers moving DIRECTLY from point A to point B and to get downfield. Not to work down the line in search of the gap or around the end). Hamilton couldn't do it, he was pulled from the starting line, and I would expect McDaniels realized he and Dennison weren't likely to be a match at that point.

It would also serve well to keep recent events in mind. Folks were surprised when the Broncos rejected the Redskins' request to interview running backs coach Bobby Turner. Most feel the performance of those rushers wasn't up to snuff and thus they struggled to understand why the team was taking a stance to keep Turner in the fold. The lazy reaction suggests owner Pat Bowlen didn't want to give Shanahan the satisfaction (and that may have played a role... c'mon man, that's GOOD stuff), but I might suggest those rushers performed rather well considering the circumstances and Josh may feel they are on the right path. They just need to get a better guard to work with Ryan Harris (the one guard that excelled in the McDaniels offense before injury put him out of commission).

I don't think that's a reflection on Dennison. I just think their views on the proper way to utilize those commodities isn't a match.

MK: Being a Gary Kubiak fan yourself, do you think this is a hire based off of accomplishments, or is it just a case of Gary hiring his buddies?

BD:  Aren't folks out there ready run Kubiak to the gallows? You don't think he's willing to take that reality and put his job on the line to give his buddy a job, do you? Trust me, I sincerely doubt Kubiak would bring the guy in if he didn't think it was a move in the right direction. If you check that Texan roster you'll see the build is very similar to Shanahan teams of old. Strong quarterback with smaller, speedy rushers (that would be Steve Slaton). And as you witnessed, the loss of one man (Chester Pitts) blew it all to hell. Dennison's track record suggests that roster could be a great fit for his system.

Dennison served as the Broncos offensive coordinator from 2006 through 2008. In that time the Broncos transitioned from Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall seized the spotlight from Rod Smith, and the Broncos failed to enjoy the services of one outstanding rusher. In 2006 Dennison helped an undrafted rookie named Mike Bell earn 677 rushing yards behind leading rusher Tatum Bell (1,025 yards). In 2007 Selvin Young utilized the Dennison system to post the third-most rushing yards in a single season (729) by an undrafted rookie running back in NFL history. In his first season as the offensive coordinator ('06) the Broncos finished as the 21st offense in the NFL in terms of yards. The next year (moving to Cutler) they improved to 11th. In 2008, they ranked 2nd.

That certainly indicates Dennison is doing something right... but I'll offer this as well.

In those three seasons with Dennison serving as the offensive leader, the Broncos filed the following NFL rankings in terms of points scored (in order): 17th, 21st, 16th.

I would bet McDaniels found issue with those results. They moved the chains, but they struggled to make good on the effort.

It's fair to suggest Kubiak is reaching for an option of comfort, but the resume speaks for itself. I just hope the struggles to put points on the board don't persist. The fans in Houston have already seen that show. If you can't put the biscuit in the basket, it won't help Kubiak's cause to maintain employment.

MK: Having been with the organization as a player and a coach for the last 27 years, are Denver fans sad to see him go?

BD: Denver is a manic town. Just ponderous. There is a definitive generation split in my opinion, but after the last 12 months I would suggest more and more of the young, more forgiving members of the Bronco pulpit are turning in favor of the typical negativity put forth by the old timers. Read the papers and you can't help but notice the negative tone about Josh, about the state of the team, about the direction of the team... and these days, papers are published for the old farts that want to walk out to the end of the driveway to find out what's going on beyond it. As I type these words the Dennison deal isn't done but once it is I can all but guarantee the heads of the Post will be organizing shopping sprees for torches and pitch forks.

Dennison is widely respected but those in town with short-term memories won't express any care or worry about him leaving. If you support change and you no longer find a desire to daydream about the days of Shanahan, you don't care. It's a natural step in the evolution. You are more worried about who will follow, who the Broncos are going to sign to play offensive guard (put my vote down for Eugene Amano btw), how the Broncos are going to approach Kyle Orton in settling his contract situation, things of tangible concern you see on the field.

The old guard will miss him (there are some here that still talk about Kubiak), but, as usual, it will all be forgotten if the team can win. I can only hope the process takes so long that Jim Zorn, Eric Mangini, and Jason Garrett can't be considered as viable replacement candidates (I would be rather happy to see Dick Jauron in town... don't laugh, I'm hoping I have time to make that case on my own blog soon).

MK: Anything else you can tell Texans fans about Dennison would be great.

BD: From my seat, if I were a fan in Houston I would be looking at the situation and expressing hope that Dennison will not come in and destroy the progress enjoyed by Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson this season. That battery is the catalyst for playoff salvation and it is very, VERY reminiscent of the situation Dennison enjoyed once Cutler emerged in the wake of The Snake's retirement. Folks forget Plummer retired, surprised the team, and all but forced Cutler into the starting role. Dennison was the man in charge of making that work, and he did so with Brandon Marshall (Rod Smith left as well). And he did that in the midst of shock. Plummer left the team in the lurch, and while it may be fair to say Cutler was working towards that role, he certainly wasn't assured of being the starter in that season. Dennison held it together and not only did it work, it exploded.

There is one big difference: Schaub and AJ already have that chemistry established. If they can get another guy working over the middle (think Eddie Royal... well, Eddie Royal circa 2008, not Eddie Royal '09). That should be Kevin Walter, but after this season it is hard to say that's still true. Get Pitts healthy and working in support of Slaton, it could be the difference that allows Houston to compete for the playoffs.

If I lived in Houston, I'd be excited.

Thanks for having me in Mike... always a pleasure.

________________________________________________________________

There you have it, guys. Thoughts?

I'd like to personally thank Bryan for taking time out of his busy schedule (he the Managing Editor of the Fanball Sports Network and as an Associate Editor for Fanball.com, as well as writing for the Broncos, Nuggets and the PGA) to answer my lousy questions. You can check his Broncos page out at Broncos Stable on Fanball.

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