ENGLEWOOD • With a $52 million smile and an All-American wife with Colorado roots, Ja’Wuan James won the press conference.
Good luck keeping this delightful personality off the local airwaves when he retires.
“Got me all riled up!” said James, the newest member of the Broncos offensive line.
Hmmm. The temperature gauge in my pickup truck read 18 degrees about the time James landed from south Florida. So it’s definitely not the weather that made him chipper. What gives? Well, one chat with offensive line guru Mike Munchak had James ready to run through a wall.
“He’s about ball,” James told me at UCHealth Training Center. “That’s what I’m about.”
And the 2019 Broncos are about the blame game. Judging by the moves that are shaping the next team at Broncos Stadium at Von Miller Field (just an idea!), the front office is convinced the coach and the quarterback were the biggest problems. Everything else just needed tweaking.
Look closely at the changes this offseason. Despite that ugly 11-21 record over the past two seasons, the Broncos are mostly sticking by their men — except for the coach, Vance Joseph, and QB, Case Keenum. They gone. But the core of a losing roster barely changed a bit.
Denver’s moves so far have been smart ones. Upgrade at quarterback (Joe Flacco), rebuild the defensive secondary (Kareem Jackson, Bryce Callahan), fill the lingering hole at right tackle (James, the happiest dude at 5,280 feet).
But they are not franchise-altering moves. Instead, the Broncos are banking on the idea that coach Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and Munchak are the real difference-makers. If three words can describe the theme of this offseason, it’s “Coach ‘em up.”
“It’s been really good so far,” Elway said of the working relationship with the new coaches.
“Seamless,” Fangio said.
Elway hasn’t been shy about his belief that Joseph’s coaches failed to squeeze the most out of the roster it was dealt — or that the roster wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
“We’re trying to evaluate what went on and then find solutions,” Elway said in January. “One of the solutions is that we’re going to need our core guys to play better.”
So the boss is sticking by his guys. Elway pledged to bring back Emmanuel Sanders, coming off an Achilles injury, and Derek Wolfe, who’s had all of the injuries. Defensive linemen Zach Kerr and Shelby Harris are back, too. The directive lobbed at Fangio: Coach ‘em up.
No one had a better week than Broncos secondary coach Renaldo Hill. The No Fly Zone is no more, but the sequel is going to be worth a watch. Cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan should bring a smile to the face of Chris Harris Jr., who last year was the most frustrated guy in the room. Can’t blame him; Bradley Roby struggled, Tramaine Brock hardly played.
But none of those things are going to matter if left tackle Garett Bolles and the offensive line don’t show major improvement. There’s a belief inside the building that Munchak appreciates the athleticism of Bolles and thinks he can turn the penalty-prone blocker into a real player.
“It can make a ton of difference,” James said of top-tier coaching on the offensive line. “You’re leading not just one guy. You’re coaching five guys that have to work together. You’ve got to have those guys jell and at the same time respond to you. Shoot, he definitely has that.”
Rainey James was seated in the second row of the press conference. Ja’Wuan’s wife is from here, a former Gatorade Player of the Year softball star from Legacy High in Thornton.
“We always talk about one day I’m going to let her pitch to me, but I’m a little nervous,” Ja’Wuan said.
Munchak had already made his pitch to James, getting one of the biggest Broncos all riled up.
“He’s talking about all the technique we’re going to use, the previous guys he’s coached, talking about me personally, the things he saw in me that he loved, the things he saw in me that we’re going to correct,” James said.
Coach ‘em up.
The 2019 Broncos are counting on it.
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)