Shanahan’s vision: "I think we were there this year" |

Shanahan’s vision: "I think we were there this year"

AP PhotoDenver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, left, argues with referee Mike Carey after a call was changed on a challenge by the Indianapolis Colts in the second quarter of the AFC wild-card game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2005.

DENVER – Mike Shanahan has a much different vision of the Denver Broncos than most people who watched his team this season.The coach believes the Broncos are close to being among the NFL elite. He believes Jake Plummer is an excellent quarterback. And he doesn’t believe his power within the team is as all-encompassing as many people might think.Add it all up and it’s logical not to expect many drastic changes in 2005 – either on the roster or in the hierarchy – from a team that has finished the last two seasons in identical fashion, with 10-7 records and blowout losses to Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs.”I think we were there this year,” Shanahan said during a 55-minute news conference to recap the season. “You don’t finish fourth on defense and fifth on offense without being pretty good.”That’s what they were – pretty good.

But as they showed in the 49-24 loss to the Colts, they’re nowhere near as good as the third-seeded team in the AFC.To many, that might indicate retooling is in order. On the day after, though, Shanahan spoke as if it’s a matter of just a few tweaks and the return to health of a few key players, like Trevor Pryce.Pryce bought that line of thinking, too.”No one should look at this as something you need to tear down and start over again,” he said. “We’re a good football team. We have a nucleus of guys.”But there were flaws.Missing Pryce, Denver’s defense never found a consistent pass rush. That didn’t help new acquisitions Champ Bailey and John Lynch, who were brought in to make the defense better, but couldn’t – and didn’t – do it all. Denver finished with 38 sacks and 20 turnovers and, on the whole, simply didn’t make big plays.

“We were brought in to bring this team further along than where it was last year,” Lynch said. “I think in terms of making this a better team, I think we have done that. But we didn’t move them on further in the playoffs.”Meanwhile, with Plummer running the offense, it was hard to know what to expect. Was he the guy who tied the team record with 27 touchdown passes? Or the guy who threw a league-high 20 interceptions? He was a little of both – great at times, but very inconsistent and not a good decision maker.Shanahan, however, is in love with his quarterback. He spent a good five minutes praising him Monday. The Broncos must pay him $6 million on March 1 to keep him under his current contract, and Shanahan said that was all but a done deal.”He handled pressure extremely well and that’s what quarterbacks are asked to do,” Shanahan said. “He had one stretch of four games, there were eight interceptions, where he didn’t play well. I’d like to throw those games out, but I blame myself as much as Jake because I put him in situations he shouldn’t have been in.”Shanahan denied that wearing the hats as head coach and top personnel guy is too much for him to handle, as many – including a handful of former players – suggested over the season.”The only way you have a great organization is if you’ve got great people at every position,” Shanahan said. “I’m talking about college personnel, pro personnel, general manager, and without those people you don’t succeed. It’s been that way since I’ve been here.”

It means that barring a change of heart by owner Pat Bowlen, Shanahan will likely return for his 11th season as Denver’s key decision maker, earning $5 million a year to lead a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1998 Super Bowl.Among the free agents he’d most like to keep are defensive end Reggie Hayward (10 1/2 sacks), safety Kenoy Kennedy and offensive lineman Ben Hamilton.The salary cap will probably restrict his ability to make more than one or two decent-sized signings from outside and the Bailey-Clinton Portis trade that was supposed to transform Denver into a Super Bowl contender was certainly a rarity, the likes of which almost surely won’t be repeated soon.Shanahan, though, didn’t sound like a coach looking for an offseason blockbuster – only a few tweaks and a little more luck on the injury front.”The bottom line is, you either get it done or you don’t,” he said. “But for people to say we’re a long way from playing at that level, with some of the guys we didn’t have and were counting on, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

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