As we get closer to kicking off the 2020 NFL season, the Denver Broncos are looking to make their first trip back into the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 under the leadership of then-head coach Gary Kubiak. Training camp has been very different this offseason for second-year head coach Vic Fangio and the rest of his coaching staff, as they’ve encountered several aspects that are severely different compared to previous seasons, with virtual meetings being the biggest part of the adjusted training camp schedule.
Through the adversity, the Broncos coaching staff is working hard with players to prepare them for the rigorous regular season. We’ll take a look at coach Fangio and several of the key position coaches in this Broncos coaching spotlight for 2020 season and how they’ll be setting up this team for success in 2020.
Coach Fangio looks to build on the positives of the 2019 season.
When the Broncos hired Fangio before the 2019 season, it symbolized a change for the franchise. The former San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears defensive coordinator took over in Denver as a first-time head coach after 30-plus years of coaching in the NFL, and this hire was meant to bring a shift of culture to the Broncos. After the previous coaching staff led by Vance Joseph left the Broncos locker room with questions concerning culture and unity after back-to-back losing seasons, Fangio brought in a new style of coaching that was needed if the Broncos wanted to right the ship.
After the 2019 season, where Fangio saw his Broncos finish 12th in the league in defense and 28th in offense, there was still room for improvement. Fangio, along with general manager John Elway, made several offseason moves to help bolster the roster and add more veteran presence to a team that is filled with young talented players like quarterback Drew Lock, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, and safety Justin Simmons. With veteran players like Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. heading elsewhere in free agency, Fangio filled those veteran spots with Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye. These two veterans continue to add specific characteristics to the Broncos that Fangio has harped on since taking over as the head coach in Denver.
What changed for the Broncos coaching staff in 2020?
After a disappointing offensive performance in 2019, Fangio seemed to have Rich Scangarello penciled in once again to run the offense. However, that all changed in January when the Broncos named former New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur the offensive coordinator, and relieved Scangarello of his duties with the team. Fangio, a first-time head coach in 2019, experienced his fair share of growing pains with the first-time coordinator but noted that the change was in the best interest of the team and their future.
“Pat is an established play-caller with significant experience leading an offense,” Fangio said. “I determined that a change at offensive coordinator ultimately would be best for our team. We need to do everything we can to get better — in all areas — as we start working toward next year.”
The Mike Munchak effect on the Broncos offensive line
In 2019, when Denver hired Fangio, one of the top targets for the head coaching job was former NFL offensive lineman and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach, Mike Munchak. Munchak didn’t land the top gig, but the Broncos made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he made the lateral move to the Mile High City to make his impact on the Broncos’ struggling offensive line.
Munchak’s effect on the offensive line was noticeable last season, especially in players like former center Connor McGovern, rookie left guard Dalton Risner, and left tackle Garett Bolles in the last five games of the season. Bolles had his struggles, particularly against the Chicago Bears, but Munchak’s persistence with him did look to be paying off as the season drew to a close.
The loss of Ju’Wuan James for the 2020 season is a big one for this Broncos offensive line, but the team added more talent by signing free agent right guard Graham Glasgow and drafting LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III in the 2020 NFL Draft. This gives Munchak two more quality interior offensive linemen to help protect Lock while also putting the focus more on Bolles and either Elijah Wilkinson or the newly-signed Demar Dotson at right tackle. With Bolles being in the last year of his contract, all eyes could be on how he progresses this offseason with the help of Munchak.
Adding more experience to help the youth on the Broncos
Along with Shurmur, Fangio brought in Mike Shula to be the quarterback’s coach. Shurmur and Shula worked together with the Giants during the 2018-19 season, where Shula was the offensive coordinator. Shula will be tasked with helping develop Lock, the same way he helped David Garrard with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cam Newton during his stint with the Carolina Panthers. His familiarity with Shurmur and his track record with developing quarterbacks are two significant factors that Fangio pointed out after the hire was announced.
Ed Donatell focused on continuing the defensive success
While Denver’s 7-9 record in 2019 wasn’t a true reflection of the team, the Broncos defense was quietly one of the best units in the league. Led by defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, in his third stint with the team (1995-99; 2009-10), the Broncos defense finished 10th in points allowed and more impressively, finished the season as the league’s toughest red zone defense. Even after losing critical veterans like Wolfe and Harris, Donatell has a chance to continue his strong level of command from his defensive players. Denver’s additions of Casey and Bouye are great, but the young players that went through the growing pains of the new defensive scheme last season are back and have experience.
Just like the young players that are looking to help this Broncos’ offense explode in 2020, the defense has some young players that are ready to keep the train going. Players like Simmons, Alexander Johnson, and Dre’Mont Jones are prepared to help this defense reach new heights this season. Simmons was one of the league’s best safeties in 2019 and being that he’s seeking a new contract from the team, he’ll have to be ready to continue that high level of play in this scheme. Von Miller, who had a relatively quiet year in 2019, has come into training camp with a renewed energy and is looking to make a loud statement in his second year of playing in Fangio and Donatell’s defense.