Updated Sept. 17, 2011 @ 3:30 p.m. ET
John Fox's first season in the Rocky Mountains was going to be a steep, uphill climb even if he had a full complement of players, as the Broncos' young roster had very little time to learn the coach's offensive and defensive schemes because of the lockout. On both sides of the ball, the playbook saw drastic changes, going from a vertical passing offense to a ball-control, run-dominated attack and also switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. Four rookies were opening-day starters, two on each side of the ball.
However, Fox's job has become much tougher because so many important players have been out with injury. Only two weeks into the season, the coach has had to adjust his playbook and style of play even more than before because he lacks the optimal type of personnel to run his scheme properly.
On offense, a hamstring injury to starting RB Knowshon Moreno and a groin injury for WR Brandon Lloyd, both of which occurred in the Week One loss to the Raiders, dramatically alters the scheme. The team is already without WR Demaryius Thomas, who missed all of camp rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon and then broke his finger in practice. That increases the load put on the shoulders of expected backup RBs Willis McGahee and Lance Ball, along with WRs Eric Decker and Eddie Royal.
Defensively, the team is at an even greater handicap. DTs Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas, the two guys who were supposed to anchor the 4-3 by taking on offensive linemen and slowing opposing running backs, both are out — Warren was placed on I.R. Sept. 17 because of a triceps tear, Thomas with a shoulder strain and groin pull. Three other starters — DE Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), LB D.J. Williams (elbow) and CB Champ Bailey (hamstring) — also have missed time, further weakening the unit.
Fox won't make excuses for his team, telling the media, "I've said it many times and I will continue to say it: It's next man up. There are no excuses, no explanations; just find solutions. Our solution is next man up."
That strategy is admirable, but it could be a long season in Denver if the projected starters don't return soon. Team insiders question the roster's depth and the ability of the team's backups, many of whom are still learning the systems and weren't expected to make major contributions so early in their young careers.
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