Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Klee: Overhauled offense carried Broncos to Super Bowl

By Paul Klee Updated: January 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — At times the words blur together, like a run-on sentence that rambles on and on without end.

Words, so many words, enough to send a football coach swearing four-letter words at the English language. "I'm so sick of words," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase told me Wednesday. There is no Words with Friends on his smartphone, either.

"I need a break from words," he said.

This is the burden of overhauling, then overhauling again, the Broncos offense until it became the record-setting monster it is now. When Denver ditched its Kyle Orton-led offense for a Tim Tebow-led offense for a Peyton Manning-led offense — all in a span of roughly two years and three months — they bridged a football gap as wide as the Hudson River. A Tebow offense is to a Peyton offense what Omaha is to Manhattan.

"It's very, very different," running backs coach Eric Studesville said.

The problem, though, was not in the process of transforming an entire system of offense. The problem is they ran out of words.

"It was a nightmare," said Gase, the 35-year-old who will call the plays into Peyton Manning's helmet when the Broncos meet the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. "It was like, 'We need a word that starts with 'R' but has a 'W' in it.' And you try to find it."

Their vocabulary improved.

"We spent a lot of time on Scrabble.com," Gase said.

NFL records improved, too.

---

Gase spent Wednesday morning on a boat. Off in the distance over his left shoulder, a Coast Guard skiff, complete with a machine gun perched on the bow, bounced through the Hudson. The Manhattan skyline formed a fitting background.

How did the Broncos get here, docked to the edge of the Super Bowl? With an offense that crushed NFL records for scoring with 606 points.

How did the Broncos build the greatest offense in NFL history? With an offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, who later left to coach the Chargers; another coordinator, Gase, who never played college football and once interviewed for an insurance job in a booth at Applebee's; and the ultimate quarterback, Manning, whose neck scar was visible during a media session Wednesday on a boat.

"When I was in high school, I enjoyed the sport (of football) a lot," Gase said. "I just was terrible at it."

He was a wide receiver.

"Slow. Catch a little bit. Poor route runner."

The evolution of the Broncos' offense - not Gase's playing ability - remains the key point that turned a 1-4 start in 2011 into a 15-3 Super Bowl favorite in 2013.

It remains somewhat underappreciated how dramatic the overhaul was.

"Which one?" Gase joked.

Perception suggests the Broncos morphed overnight into a juggernaut when Manning signed with the Broncos as a free agent on March 20, 2012. The reality is more complicated.

Gase broke it down this way, in its simplest form: when Manning arrived in Denver, McCoy and Gase met with the quarterback to form a plan. They took some of the offense they used with Orton and combined it with some of Manning's offense from the Colts. And the zone-read option offense from the previous season with Tebow?

Gase swept his hands to the side as if clearing papers from the table.

"Then all of the sudden, we have to make that switch and said, 'All this stuff goes in the back of the playbook,'" he said.

That's when the new words — the new "code words," as Gase put it — started rolling in.

"We were trying to get on the same page: What do we want to call these formations?" Gase said. "McCoy did a great job sitting all three of us down. Then Peyton would go, 'Yeah, I can learn that.'"

Manning's first concern seemed to be making the complicated uncomplicated.

"He was great. He said: 'Let's make it to where I'm good, but at the same time Demaryius (Thomas) and (Eric) Decker aren't learning thousands of new things.'"

If Manning’s first Broncos offense was a motorcycle gang, the addition of Wes Welker and a full-health Julius Thomas formed a jet fleet.

“It’s a block of clay; we get a chance to then mold it into what it looks like,” said Studesville, the running backs coach.

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In this offense, Manning is a pointillist covering Times Square in sidewalk art. Their attention to detail is that of a scratch handicap preparing for Q school.

The offense is timing-based; no surprise, since the watch on Manning's wrist Wednesday was set 10 minutes ahead of the actual time. And there seems to be a formula in place for everything.

— The weather. Quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp gauges the direction and force of the wind when third-stringer Zac Dysert goes through a workout 2-3 hours before kickoff.

"In New England, I could see Dysert's throws going awry," Knapp said. "So I know it's going to affect any quarterback, because he's got a very strong arm."

— The defensive formation. On third and 10 against the Patriots in the AFC championship game, Manning audibled to a running play with Knowshon Moreno. "The perfect call," said Studesville, the running backs coach.

"With a quarterback like Peyton, if he doesn't see something he likes, he's going to change the call," Gase said. "I can't tell you how good that feels, having a quarterback who will make the right call, if I called a bad one."

— The unthinkable. What if Manning is sidelined? To prepare for this instance, every Friday backup quarterback Brock Osweiler is given a sheet with four empty spaces: favorite first-down calls, favorite third-down calls and favorite red-zone calls.

"And a category if there are any plays he's uncomfortable with," Knapp said.

— A familiar defensive coordinator. Manning often refers to games he played in 10 years ago, simply to prepare for a certain coordinator.

"He'll say: Well, this coordinator I'm facing this week, he was the coordinator for so-and-so in 2003,'" Knapp said.

After all the changes, the Broncos settled on a single buzzword: aggressive.

"There were situations where (coach John) Fox would say: 'If we get in this spot, we're going for it. And we're going to get it,'" Gase said. "He always felt like, 'If we get it on the fourth down, that's going to suck out the will of the defense.'"

After all the changes, the words, the play calls, the codes, still seem endless.

"I'm not kidding," Gase said. "I need a break from words."

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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