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Nothing easy for new Broncos coach McDaniels

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo

The summertime smog that forms over downtown Denver has drifted to the southeast. The dark cloud is now settled squarely atop Broncos headquarters. Denver fans are still stunned by the April trade that sent star quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago. Replacement starter Kyle Orton has struggled in two preseason games. Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall was suspended for insubordination Friday following his temper tantrum at a recent practice. And at least so far, 33-year-old Josh McDaniels hasn't justified his wiz-kid billing as the replacement for longtime Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.
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The gloom and doom has reached a crescendo with Cutler returning to Denver for Sunday night's preseason game. "You hear about all the Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall stuff," Broncos defensive end Kenny Peterson said after Friday's practice. "Watching the news, that's all they talk about." Yet if you listen to Peterson and other Denver veterans, the skies are clearing. In fact, some players believe the sun is already shining along Broncos Parkway despite what from the outside seems like a dreary preseason. "You definitely feel the negativity, but it's different in here," Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We feel so confident in this locker room. We've got issues we've got to work out as far as Brandon and things like that, but it doesn't stop us from working and getting ready. We're going to keep on pushing." McDaniels would have it no other way. As a Bill Belichick disciple in New England, McDaniels' attempt to minimize the Cutler and Marshall fallout is no surprise. During a Friday news conference, McDaniels insisted that the ongoing problems with Marshall aren't a distraction for the Broncos and reinforced the point that one individual isn't above the entire team. "When we came here, we made a lot of decisions to change some of the things that were in place," McDaniels said. "We feel good about where we're at going forward. This (Marshall situation) doesn't mean anything in terms of what our season is going to be like or what our players are going to do on the field starting in September." To prove such talk isn't spin, McDaniels must mend fences with Marshall or find a way to replace the 100-plus catches he provided the past two seasons. Marshall, who was suspended for the rest of the preseason, became at odds with Broncos management when his pitch for a big-money contract was denied. Marshall then demanded a trade like Cutler did after his relationship disintegrated with McDaniels and team owner Pat Bowlen. The thought of Denver entering this season without Cutler or Marshall on the field was once unfathomable. With both players just 25 years old, Cutler and Marshall were the cornerstones for a team whose biggest problems last season were defense and a head coach who had outstayed his welcome. McDaniels, though, alienated Cutler with his trade interest in New England quarterback and protégé Matt Cassel, who instead landed in Kansas City. Cutler was then able to force his way out of Denver by refusing to return messages left by McDaniels and Bowlen. Trying to replace Cutler with Orton — a pedestrian player during four seasons in Chicago — was considered a risqué move. Orton's shaky preseason play hasn't changed that view. He debuted with three first-half interceptions at San Francisco. Orton was much improved last weekend against Seattle but that 18-for-26 passing performance was overshadowed by a major gaffe destined for an NFL bloopers special. A left-handed toss into the end zone was not only intercepted. It showed a horrendous lack of judgment — something the Broncos can't afford with an overhauled defense that may need time to gel under new coordinator Mike Nolan. McDaniels was asked whether his handling of Cutler and Marshall have tarnished the franchise's once-proud image. His response: "For one or two instances to stereotype an entire group of men as a certain type of guy or organization is dead wrong."
It now falls upon that group to show McDaniels is right. As McDaniels tries to implement a Patriots-style methodology, Broncos players have experienced a much different offseason and training camp than under Shanahan. A slew of veteran free agents were signed. A first-round pick was used on a running back (Knowshon Moreno) for the first time since 1985. McDaniels implemented more player rules and tried to reward those who bought into his team-first philosophy. For example, the 10 closest parking spots at team headquarters are reserved for the top participants in the offseason workout program. "When you get on the field, guys genuinely like each other," said Peterson, who landed one of those spaces. "Any time you put that into the equation, you have fun and you get things done." Bailey, who has spent six of his 11 NFL seasons in Denver, said this was his toughest preseason yet — and he missed the first several days of practice. "I haven't been in full pads as much my whole career," Bailey said. McDaniels, too, has apparently come across much better behind closed doors than in his dodgy media appearances. "The guy is better than I ever expected," Bailey said of New England's former offensive coordiantor. "It's ridiculous all the ins and outs he knows about the game. He's a year older than me and he acts like he's been around for 40 years." A strong performance against the Bears or winning the Sept. 13 regular-season opener at Cincinnati would help buck the negative perception of the 2009 Broncos. But while stating he wants "people to feel good about us," Bailey also added that such adulation "really doesn't matter." Wide receiver Brandon Stokley agrees. "We don't need to beat our chests and say, 'Hey, we're not going to be a bad team like everybody thinks,'" Stokley said. "We feel like we have a lot of talent. We're just going to go out and play." After a stretch like this, that's all the Broncos can do to get out of the haze.
Tagged: Chiefs, Kyle Orton, Jay Cutler, Brandon Stokley, Champ Bailey, Bears, Matt Cassel, Brandon Marshall, Kenny Peterson, Broncos

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