Broncos' direction easy to question
Apparently, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels has his fans, although Jay Cutler obviously isn't among them.
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There were a lot of interesting notes from Broncos supporters in my inbox this week. A fan named Naoki likes what McDaniels has done in finding players for every phase of the game. He liked the draft because of Knowshon Moreno, the team's new feature back. He likes the idea of having Richard Quinn as a blocker out of two-tight end sets. He has high hopes for Alphonso Smith at cornerback. He thinks Darcel McBath and David Bruton will help on special teams.
On some fronts, though, we are going to have to agree to disagree. Although the Broncos have made a lot of moves, I'm still looking for the feeling that they have a plan. Remember, Mike Shanahan was fired because of his decisions as a general manager, not his play calling.
That's the explanation I offer to Brandon in Denver, who writes, "What is your problem with the Broncos? You have beaten on them like the red-headed stepchildren of the NFL all offseason.''
Brandon, you probably saw that Chris Simms is making a run at Kyle Orton for Denver's starting QB job. If Orton doesn't start after the Broncos gave up Cutler to get him, that's the first major demerit. I've been critical of teams switching to a 3-4 without having a proven nose tackle. The Broncos didn't find one during the offseason. That's a second potential demerit.
The Broncos are acting like the equivalent of an expansion team. They made 14 unrestricted free-agent signings and already have cut two. I'm pessimistic, but that's why they play the games.
Let's go to this week's mail.
From the inbox
Q: John, what would be considered a successful first season for Steve Spagnuolo as the Rams' head coach?
Will in Boston
A: The Rams should be delighted if they win seven games. Six would be a solid number. The roster is in total transition. General manager Billy Devaney is smart in trying to rebuild the offensive line. With the past two drafts and past two years of free agency, he's off to a good start there. The team lacks experience and depth at wide receiver and has some holes in the middle of the defensive line. In overall talent, the Rams are near the bottom of the league.
Daniel in Houston diagnosed the Cowboys' problems this past season as not being able to cover in passing situations and lacking the ability to make offensive adjustments at the half. They might be smoother on offense this season because they don't have to incorporate Terrell Owens' ego into every offensive decision. But if Mike Jenkins doesn't come on this year, the Cowboys will have the same problems in coverage. Tice in Raleigh, N.C., is an impatient Bills fan who downgraded their draft because they didn't get a left tackle or an outside linebacker. He also notes the Bills drafted four players undergoing position changes in the pros. I have some reservations about whether Langston Walker can bail out the Bills at left tackle, but they were able to get a pass-rusher (Aaron Maybin), and Owens' signing should open up some things on offense. It wasn't that bad. Adam in Seattle wonders which new coach will have the most success this season. I say the Seahawks' Jim Mora. He has the best team of all the rookie coaches and experience as an NFL head coach. Justin in Mayfield, Ky., is a big Michael Vick fan who wonders whether Washington or Minnesota would be interested in signing him. The answer is no. Neither team is showing much interest. Andy in Dayton, Ohio, thinks Eric Mangini has worked wonders with the Cleveland Browns and believes this past season's problems can be blamed on poor play by the offensive line and Braylon Edwards' dropping passes. I think it was more than that. Their schedule was tough, and the talent level couldn't handle it. They couldn't stop the run, and it's hard to win with such a bad run defense. C.T. in Athens, Ga., wonders what the Panthers will do at quarterback after this season. If Jake Delhomme does well, the Panthers have two years to find a replacement. If he struggles, they might start looking after this season. Tobias in Aarhus, Denmark, loved the Bears' trade for Jay Cutler, but he is worried about what will happen if Orlando Pace can't hold up for an entire season and has concerns about the Bears' pass rush. A new team and a fresh start could be a boost for Pace. He's on a winner again. I look very optimistically at the pass rush because Rod Marinelli is coaching the defensive line. Derek, a Patriots fan from Phoenix, is concerned about the pass rush. It's a problem, but the Patriots don't have many other problems. They are the best team in the AFC East and one of the best teams in the AFC. To Sean in Long Beach, Calif., I don't think Plaxico Burress will end up in Tampa Bay. He's a split end, and Antonio Bryant holds down that position pretty well. Robert in Longview, Texas, raises a good point. He keeps hearing how Miles Austin will beat out Patrick Crayton for Dallas' No. 2 wide receiver spot. Austin isn't a burner, and that's why I think Crayton will beat him out. Mitch from New Orleans has come up with an interesting problem. He notes that the 2013 Super Bowl, recently given to New Orleans, could conflict with Mardi Gras if the NFL adds one or two regular-season games. First, if the league expands its schedule, it will go to 18 games, but the problem is real, because the tail end of Mardi Gras would conflict with the beginning of Super Bowl week. Wow, what a party.
Matt in Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: I don't like that fit for several reasons. Sure, Jones can add speed and height to the Jets' receiving corps, but his off-the-field problems could get worse in the New York market. The Jets clearly don't need to take that chance. It could be disastrous for both sides. The other problem with Jones is his lack of consistency on the field. Plaxico Burress would offer a more consistent target for QB Mark Sanchez.
Markham in Virginia
A: You should go into the personnel business. I think he'd be a perfect fit for the Redskins. He could help out Phillip Daniels at defensive end. In some pass-rushing 3-4 schemes, he could work at outside linebacker and allow Brian Orakpo to play more at defensive end. The plan now is for Orakpo to play strongside linebacker on early downs and move to defensive end on passing downs. Maybe it's me, but I still like the idea of having Orakpo at defensive end more. Ellis would give the Redskins experience and more flexibility. I like the fit.
Q: Do the Packers have any chance of being a contender in the NFC North?
Chastain in Las Cruces, N.M.
A: There is no question the Packers are back as contenders in the NFC North. So much of that has to do with the development of Aaron Rodgers. This past season, Rodgers was great most of the game, but he didn't have the experience to win in the fourth quarter. That should start to happen this season. The key to the Packers' season will be how well they convert to the 3-4 defense. The NFC North is one of the most exciting divisions in football. All four teams have easy schedules. The Bears should be better with Jay Cutler. The Vikings are loaded and will get even better if they get Brett Favre. As for Green Bay, I think the Pack is back to a degree. They probably won't be at the 13-win level, but they clearly have a chance to get to nine or 10 wins if the defense comes around.
Q: The 49ers showed a lot of improvement last year under Mike Singletary. The knock on the Niners always seems to be QB play; if Shaun Hill performs at a top-15 level, do you think the 49ers have a legit shot at the NFC West?
Mark in Fremont, Calif.
A: If Hill can perform like a top-15 quarterback, the 49ers have a legitimate shot at the NFC West title. Hill isn't bad. He has a 62 percent mark in accuracy and shows good leadership in the huddle. He also has a flare for rallying a team in the fourth quarter. Clearly, Hill has the edge over Alex Smith, and Singletary has established a physical style for the team that seems to suit Hill.
Q: As a Saints fan, there is nothing was more hurtful than seeing a great offense cut down by an awful defense. Will things be different this year?
Tomaso in Florence, Italy
A: There is no doubt the defense will be better. The question is how much better. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams brings an aggressive approach to the scheme. He'll blitz. He'll play some Cover 4. He always seems to do a great job of getting the most out of his defensive tackles, which should be good for Sedrick Ellis. I still worry about how a bad start could affect the psyche of New Orleans' defensive players. The Saints should have no trouble with Detroit in the opener. I worry about the next three games, knowing that Charles Grant and Will Smith will be serving four-game suspensions to start the season. As long as the Saints come out at least 2-2 and show some improvement on defense, all should be fine.
Q: I just can't believe that people continue to waste time with all these comparisons. Ben Roethlisberger is simply the best QB in football. What else does he have to do to prove so? How long did it take Peyton Manning to win one Super Bowl?
Brian in Richmond, Va.
A: Although I agree that Roethlisberger might be establishing himself as a Hall of Famer, it's hard not to put Tom Brady and Manning at the top of the list of active quarterbacks. Manning and Brady have set records for touchdown passes. They have turned losing teams into Super Bowl contenders. Roethlisberger had the benefit of going to a playoff team, which gave him time to grow. This past season was his coming out party because he started to win games in which he threw 30-plus passes. Until Brady and Manning slip, however, they remain the best.
Q: Will the Steelers find their missing power running game this year? Last year, the Steelers experienced a lot of transition along the offensive line and still could not find a solid, reliable power back.
David in Sacramento, Calif.
A: The hope of the power game rides with Rashard Mendenhall, and things look encouraging. He's a big back with a lot of speed. Willie Parker will be the starter, but the plan is to get Mendenhall into the mix. He should get 10 to 15 carries a game. The Steelers always will be a team geared to run the ball. That's their personality. Parker is in the last year of his contract, so the Steelers have time to develop Mendenhall without putting much pressure on him.
Q: What is the expectation with Lovie Smith leading the Bears' defense and being head coach? it seems like a risky approach where both the defense and the team stand to lose.
Stanley in North Carolina
A: Smith is a good enough coach to pull this off. He's a great playcaller and he's organized enough to work both jobs successfully. The Bears needed to do something because the defense had become stale in terms of imagination. I still think the Bears made a mistake in letting Ron Rivera go, so this is the best way to fix it. Smith might look to find a new coordinator next offseason, but that's for another year. Smith's hiring of Rod Marinelli to coach the defensive line was an excellent move. The two are close, and Marinelli can handle a lot of things in practice. This should work.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.