Broncos hope something better grows out of offseason optimism in 2020

Miller: Broncos will be a totally different team next year (1:19)

Linebacker Von Miller says the Broncos will build on experience and that Bradley Chubb's return will fuel the team. (1:19)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was only 12 months ago that Joe Flacco was going to solve the Denver Broncos' quarterback riddle in the post-Peyton Manning era and that Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were going to be one of the league's most disruptive pass-rush duos. A revamped offense with an up-and-comer in coordinator Rich Scangarello was going to be an updated version of the unit that fueled the Broncos' glory-filled runs when Mike Shanahan or Gary Kubiak was calling plays.

Oh, the optimism that grows in the summer sun. None of that happened. As Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said early in the offseason, "Hope is not a good strategy, right?"

Last season, the Broncos stumbled face-first from the gate, scoring 16 or fewer points in their first three games and four of the first six, while the defense posted no sacks in the first three games and had none in four of the first five.

In short, by Halloween, the party was already over, with the Broncos having a 2-6 record, Chubb on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury and a battered Flacco headed to injured reserve with a neck injury. Scangarello would be fired in the first week of the offseason and Flacco would eventually be released, as his Broncos career comprised exactly eight starts and perhaps fewer highlights.

And Miller, in particular, openly wondered how something he thought looked so good had gone so awry.

"It is tough," he said earlier this offseason. "You always come in with the expectations and we worked hard, had good players, good coaches, but we just weren't able to get going in that early part of the season. I want that to be different, and I'm going to do everything I can to help change that."

Well, here they are, again awash in football optimism well before the games are played.

Miller started working out for the 2020 season just days after the 2019 season ended, dealing with COVID-19 in between. He has bombarded social media in recent days with the results of those grueling workouts. Chubb is healthy, again, and says he's ready to "show what I can do." Rookie wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler carry a pile of expectations. Pat Shurmur, who is now the team's fifth different offensive coordinator in the past five years, has promised a multifaceted attack that will push the ball down the field.

Then there is quarterback Drew Lock, who without questions is facing the heaviest load of expectations. The Broncos went 4-1 to close out the 2019 season in Lock's five starts. The team has essentially constructed an offseason plan around him, including using the first two picks of the draft on wide receivers for the first time in franchise history.

And let's remember what has transpired this offseason. Fangio has already discussed the difficulty in managing outside expectations following a virtual-only offseason program.

"I have told [the team's media relations staff] to make players a little less available to you guys because you all seem like you want to pump their tires," Fangio said last month. "They're suckers for that too, like we all are. ... We have a lot of work ahead of us. We did end the season on a high note. We do believe we improved our roster, but that doesn't mean anything."

That is the flip side of the big finish in 2019. In those four wins in December, just one came against a team headed to the playoffs -- a 38-24 win over Houston -- and the loss was, by 20 points, to the Chiefs, who are really the most significant, and only, measuring stick for anything the Broncos do on the field in the season to come.

Or as Miller has said, "I don't want to feel good and then not feel good. We just have to get back to the grind, every day, every week, and keep pushing through the ups and downs with the same intensity. Just basics, keep grinding."