ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It wasn’t long after Case Keenum arrived as the Denver Broncos' choice to be the quarterback of the present and the (at least near) future that the new guy quickly summed up the organization’s feelings about the 2017 offense.
“Last year’s [offense]?" Keenum said. "It’s over.”
It better be if the Broncos really are going rebound from their 5-11 finish in 2017. And if Keenum is going to be all they hope he can be behind center and grow beyond the two-year deal he signed in March. Because last season, the Broncos were tied for 26th in the league in scoring (18.1 points per game), and only the winless Cleveland Browns had more turnovers than the Broncos’ 34.
They went through a three-quarterback rotation -- twice -- and fired their offensive coordinator in November. When that rather substantial dust settled, they decided a solution could be found in not only a change in personnel, but dialing back how much of their playbook they take into each game.
“I think, with Case and our whole offense,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said, “we have to do everything we possibly can that gives us the best chance to play good football. And that might include not trying to do some things some weeks.”
Denver general manager and executive vice president of football John Elway put it another way:
“I don’t know [that] what we were doing for most of last year was a good fit for us ... we didn't look like we were doing what our guys could do or had a good feel for.”
A 3-1 start was quickly swallowed by an eight-game losing streak and a pile of turnovers, and many Broncos said offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was simply taking too much into each game. With that, the Broncos were almost paralyzed by the volume of plays and inability to learn it all in practice.
As a result, the Broncos often struggled to get lined up and rookie left tackle Garett Bolles appeared to be swimming in indecision while their quarterbacks paid the price.
Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch took their turns at quarterback, and Joseph ultimately fired McCoy with two years left on McCoy’s contract and six games remaining in the season. Bill Musgrave called played plays the rest of the way. The Broncos won a couple of games, and Musgrave went into the offseason as the fulltime offensive coordinator.
Joseph hasn’t tasked him with reducing the Broncos’ playbook overall. However, Joseph would like Musgrave to be more judicious about what's in each week's game plan. That includes finding plays that better fit with who is in the lineup. That less-is-more idea could speed things up, especially if “we always think, 'players first, scheme second,'” Joseph said.
“I always think we’re at our best when we play fast," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “You can move everybody around, show defenses all kinds of things, but keep it so everybody can play fast, too."
Keenum will be the centerpiece of those efforts. After Joseph saw Keenum take too many chances in search of big plays when both were with the Houston Texans, Joseph saw another part of Keenum’s game during his 3,547-yard season with the Minnesota Vikings last season.
“He is not afraid to push the ball downfield, but with that being said, as I watched him this year, he was also different in that he was patient also,” Joseph said earlier this offseason. “When he was a young guy, it was crazy watching him play. But watching him play currently, he’s still aggressive, but he’s also smart with the football.”
In the end, the Broncos haven’t consistently stressed opposing defenses. They haven't averaged more than 23 points a game -- a middle-of-the-road total -- since 2014, which was Peyton Manning’s last healthy season and when the Broncos topped 30 points eight times. By contrast, the Broncos have scored more than 30 points only once in each of the past three seasons.
“I’m excited to figure out how to move the ball, get some first downs, score some points,” Keenum said. “Because that means we’re winning some ball games. We want to do as much as it takes to win some ball games.”