With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror for all but two teams, it's time for NFL.com's annual "Exit Interviews," a chance to review the ups and downs of each team's past season and spin it forward.
2011 in a Nutshell: Dumervilmania? OK, maybe not. Tebowmania was an 8-8 team, with Tim Tebow himself going 7-4 as a starter. This club won the AFC West by default when the competition was hit hard by injuries (Raiders, Chiefs) and chronic underachievement (Chargers). Still, the Broncos made the playoffs on the strength of a quarterback who brought great competitive energy, and a defense that was clutch in the middle of the season.
The defense as a whole struggled at times, but there is talent on that side of the ball, enough to greatly contribute to the six-game win streak in the heart of the season. In the five games that Miller played in that streak, the defense yielded just 14 points per game.
Now, to the offense ...
To ignore Tebow's impact on the franchise is to dismiss CGI in movies, or the iPad. Despite not being a classic dropback passer, the young quarterback out of Florida thrived once he had the opportunity to run the zone-read offense. Some of the biggest plays of the Broncos' season came courtesy of Tebow's monstrous legs.
Remember the touchdown vs. the Jets? The big runs against the Raiders? Or the clutch scampers against the Steelers, including a big touchdown? Ironically, it was his on-time, on-the-mark throw to Demaryius Thomas that won that game in overtime. It showed both Tebow's development and the development of a playmaker in the 24-year-old Thomas. Moreover, the game-winning play reflected Mike McCoy's offensive acumen and versatility, which played an integral role in his quarterback's success ...
What Went Not So Right: ... except McCoy still has a mountain of work cut out for him. Tebow's game needs to be developed further, so the passing attack isn't a liability. His footwork, throwing motion and inaccuracy all made running a modern pro offense difficult, which is why head coach John Fox pulled the trigger on going to a collegiate attack.
It was obvious in the playoff loss to the Patriots that Denver was systematically challenged when trying to mount a multi-score comeback. And there were times when the Denver defense could not hold the fort, like in late-season losses to the Bills and Patriots. Denver can still give up the big play, thanks in part to three rookies in the secondary. First-year man Chris Harris had his struggles, while safety Quinton Carter allowed four touchdowns, despite being thrown at only 30 times. Fellow rookie safety Rahim Moore gave up threes scores, even though he was thrown at just 14 times. Meanwhile, no one was creating turnovers. The secondary as a whole had eight interceptions -- three players in the NFL had seven by themselves.
Offseason Crystal Ball: The Broncos' offseason issues started when defensive coordinator Dennis Allen departed to become Oakland's latest head coach. The new DC will need to replace Brian Dawkins, who is 38 and had no picks in 2011. Bailey will be entering his 14th year, and like Dawkins, can't play forever. Getting the most out of youngsters Carter and Moore and finding ways to get takeaways will be a priority.
Mayock: Top draft prospects
Speaking of coordinators, it looks like McCoy will be back after losing out on the Dolphins' coaching job. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to make a better passer out of Tebow, as well as create more plays in the passing game. With the club not getting anything from Knowshon Moreno in three seasons, can McCoy really rely on a 30-year old Willis McGahee to rush for over 1,000 yards again? Denver must be more efficient throwing the ball to have more success in 2012.
Team Needs and Draft: Team president John Elway and Fox will likely lean toward acquiring some defensive talent in the draft and free agency. The Broncos' nickel and dime packages were pretty vulnerable late in the season. They need to get better on the interior. An inside linebacker would be a good start, unless Nate Irving is deemed to be the guy. That said, in my initial mock draft, I have the Broncos taking defensive tackle Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, especially with Brodrick Bunkley being a free agent.
Getting secondary help in the draft wouldn't be the worst thing ever. Considering Denver took two safeties (Moore and Carter) in last year's draft, it's a safe bet the Johns will look at corners. Tight end and offensive line depth are also strong possibilities.