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Broncos turn page on McDaniels era, take first steps forward

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Josh McDaniels and his videographer have been fired, Denver is abuzz with hope that John Elway will gain a greater role with the Broncos as a chief football executive, and interim coach Eric Studesville exudes enthusiasm.

But that dark cloud that hung over the fractured franchise hasn't dissipated just yet, quarterback Kyle Orton insisted.

"The only way you lift anything is to win football games," Orton said Wednesday before Studesville's first practice. "I mean, if you want to feel better as a player, if you want to feel better as an organization, if you want to feel better as fans, you've got to win."

The Broncos haven't done much of that lately, winning just twice since September and five times since McDaniels burst onto the NFL scene by winning his first six games last season.

They travel to Arizona for a matchup of 3-9 teams Sunday.

Studesville said he wouldn't change much on offense, defense or special teams. But one thing he did adjust was the volume on the music that McDaniels liked to blare over the concert-style speakers during practice. They were silenced after stretching Wednesday, replaced by the sounds of hits and hollers.

When Studesville was promoted, the typical reaction -- even among Broncos players -- was "Eric who?"

Studesville had only been with the Broncos for 11 months, hired Jan. 23 to replace longtime running backs coach Bobby Turner after six seasons in Buffalo.

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McDaniels didn't like to let his assistants speak with the media too much, and the only interview Studesville had given in Denver was a brief chat with The Associated Press in mid-November.

So the stealthy Studesville gathered his captains Wednesday morning ahead of his first team meeting for a get-to-know-me session one day after standing in front of cameras and recorders for the first time.

"Really, what I wanted to do was just kind of open those lines of communication," Studesville said. "Some of those guys don't know me very well."

The players quickly got a taste of his passion.

"He's lit up like a kid on Christmas Day," defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson said.

Correll Buckhalter said the rest of his teammates finally saw what the running backs have witnessed all year.

"All he knows what to do is work," Buckhalter said. "He wants everybody to come to work happy, just to feel like you want to come here even though it's a rough season. We still have four games to go."

Studesville said offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will call the plays from the sideline, something McDaniels used to do. McCoy was the quarterbacks coach last year, so Orton is accustomed to having him in his ear.

As Studesville tries for a quick fix to the many problems facing the Broncos on the football field, the organization's brain trust is mapping out a long-term plan to resurrect the franchise.

Team owner Pat Bowlen faces a massive rebuilding project to fix the mess that McDaniels left behind when he was fired Monday after going 11-17 and making a series of personnel miscalculations that cost the Broncos talented players and valuable draft picks.

The Broncos' to-do list includes reconfiguring the structure of the football operations, retooling a gutted roster, refurbishing their tarnished image and regaining the trust of their frustrated fans.

McDaniels was fired with the franchise mired in its worst funk in four decades and encumbered by a videotaping scandal that cast the Broncos as cheaters, although the team's front office and the league said they found no evidence the coach had ordered the illicit taping.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to meet with fired videographer Steve Scarnecchia, who was busted for wrongfully taping the San Francisco 49ers' walkthrough Oct. 30 in London after he had been caught up in the 2007 videotaping scandal in New England.

Asked if that meeting had been scheduled, league spokesman Greg Aiello said: "At this point, we are going to consider that a confidential matter."

The NFL fined the Broncos and McDaniels $50,000 each for his failure to report the video violation. If the league uncovers evidence of a more widespread breach, the Broncos could be subject to more severe penalties.

In his 23 months on the job, McDaniels seemed intent on imitating his mentor, New England coach Bill Belichick, from his hoodie to his aloofness. But McDaniels never adopted Belichick's personnel acumen, a series of lopsided trades leaving the Broncos with just a half-dozen picks in next year's draft with which to rebuild a roster that has lost the likes of Peyton Hillis, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.

Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis said the next coach probably won't have the same amount of power that Shanahan enjoyed or which McDaniels was given when he was hired at age 32 with no head-coaching or NFL executive experience.

It's still an attractive job, Ellis insisted.

"I believe that we can set up a structure that's attractive to the next candidate and move forward," Ellis said.

Elway returned to the team as a consultant this year, and Bowlen dined with him Monday, spawning speculation that the Hall of Famer could have an expanded role in the organization, perhaps by overseeing an organizational chart that includes both a general manager and a coach with separate duties.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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