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Broncos: Changes await 

End Zone

So now we know that Josh McDaniels, the Boy Wonder of head coaches, really doesn't have all the answers.

Now we know, without any doubt, that McDaniels and his staff officially did a lousy job of handling their early success with the Denver Broncos, and adjusting to the subsequent troubles that turned a 6-0 start into an 8-8 finish. Instead, the Broncos looked just like another rendition of Mike Shanahan's final three teams, which capsized in December and couldn't win important home games at the end.

That 44-24 embarrassment Sunday against Kansas City, with so much at stake, confirmed several of the most obvious shortcomings that plagued the Broncos during the season's second half.

Let's start with the offensive line, which was supposed to be one of the team's strengths. Instead, right tackle Ryan Harris missed the final five games with a toe injury; guard Ben Hamilton lost his job to backup Russ Hochstein, who then went down with a knee injury; and even Pro Bowl-bound left tackle Ryan Clady was beaten regularly against the Chiefs.

Due to that lack of continuity, plus the midseason injury to veteran runner Correll Buckhalter, Denver misplaced the ground game that had been so effective in September and October.

That takes us to the second major problem: quarterback Kyle Orton. Denver made it to 6-0 by not leaning too heavily on Orton, but when the offense needed him to step up in the final two months, he couldn't finish drives or games. Settling for field goals killed the Broncos in their disastrous 20-19 home loss Dec. 20 to Oakland, and throwing two interceptions for pick-six touchdowns in the second half against Kansas City was the difference in the finale.

Retooling the offensive line might not be so difficult. But McDaniels and staff must decide whether they believe enough in Orton to give him another chance. Nobody has a problem with Orton's personality and attitude, but McDaniels couldn't lift Orton out of the mistake-prone habits he had shown in Chicago. We don't know McDaniels well enough to guess whether he might see a potential star whom Denver might grab in the next draft. My guess would be another trade for somebody who could compete with Orton or take over the starting job.

Before we leave the offense, Denver also must find another tight end, if not two. The coaches clearly have given up on Tony Scheffler, and veteran Daniel Graham has lost a step. Oh yeah, and it's a foregone conclusion that wide receiver Brandon Marshall will be going elsewhere. (Washington, perhaps?)

As for the defense, something tells me the staff won't give up so quickly on the 3-4 alignment or some of the players. Perhaps Denver will shop around to find free-agent help for the inside linebackers and down linemen, but that would appear to be a depth issue. In the secondary, cornerback Champ Bailey has slipped a little but probably not enough to be gone. Not so sure about aging safety Brian Dawkins, who wasn't making a noticeable difference down the stretch.

Placekicker Matt Prater might have saved his job for another year, especially with his deep kickoffs in the late season, but the punter job surely will be vacant going into training camp.

Don't be surprised to see McDaniels making some quick decisions. After all, it's obvious the rebuilding of the Broncos is nowhere near finished.

routon@csindy.com

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