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There’s a question that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to the NFL.
Which position is most important to a team’s success? More often than not, it’s the quarterback or head coach. Some might say the running back, depending on who the player is and the team. Some may even say the defensive coordinator.
Let’s look at the Denver Broncos. The obvious choice is Peyton Manning. The next is new head coach Gary Kubiak. Some could say C.J. Anderson. Some might say Wade Phillips. There is an argument for all of them, and all will play pivotal roles as the Broncos inch closer to the NFL Draft and the start of organized team activities. With all the change at Dove Valley, what happens over the next few weeks and months is crucial to the success in training camp and the season.
There is one who is left out of the discussion when it comes to importance, and he’s the truest Bronco of them all: Rick Dennison. Kubiak is obviously the man with the Denver offense. After all, it was, in part, his leadership as the Broncos offensive coordinator that led them to back-to-back Super Bowl wins. As the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens last season, Kubiak guided the franchise to the best offensive season in its history.
But don’t look past Dennison. He knows what it takes to create a masterful offense as well, and that’s why he’s the most important to Denver’s success. Along with Alex Gibbs, Brian Pariani and the other offensive coaches, the system they put together now will ultimately lead to success when the season starts.
To see the elements this offense is known for pieced together with what Manning and the Broncos have done the last three seasons has to make putting the playbook together fun. But it’s also the biggest unknown, and perhaps even for them until they get on the field and see it live.
Given the success the Ravens had last year, there’s no question the new Broncos offense has the potential to be the most balanced in the league. That hasn’t been the case in Denver the last three years.
But to get an idea of what Dennison brings as the Broncos offensive coordinator, you first have to look back at where he came from.
It started as a linebacker for the Broncos. As it says on the team website, during his nine-year playing career in Denver, Dennison appeared in 128 games (52 starts) and totaled 514 tackles (316 solo), 6.5 sacks, four interceptions, 10 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
It then continued as a coach. Of Dennison’s 20-year NFL coaching career, 15 have been with the Broncos, including three seasons (2006-08) as Denver’s offensive coordinator.
His coaching tenure with the club started in 1995 and he held various roles with the team, including offensive assistant (1995-96), special teams coordinator (1997-2000) and offensive line coach (2001-05, ’09) in addition to his three years as offensive coordinator.
When it comes to tenure with the organization, Dennison stands supreme – even over John Elway and Kubiak.
But this goes even deeper.
Dennison went to Rocky Mountain High in Fort Collins and played football at Colorado State University. As the story on the Broncos’ website said, Dennison joined the Broncos as a college free agent from CSU, where he was named a second-team All-American as a senior. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from CSU in 1979, followed by a master’s degree in the same field from the school in 1982. So Dennison is not only a bright football mind, he really is a genius. Are you going to question the mind of a genius? If that doesn’t get Broncos fans and players excited at the prospects of his offense, nothing will.
Since he grew up in Fort Collins, it’s not far fetched to think Dennison also was a Broncos fan. As a linebacker, he would have had two of the best in the NFL to model his game after – Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson. When he was in high school, that would have been the beginning of what we know today as the “Orange Crush.”
Of course, all of this means nothing if Dennison also isn’t great at what he does. No one would care that he’s the truest Bronco of them all. As is the case with the other coaches who have made their return to Denver, if they weren’t great at what they do, this wouldn’t work.
What adds to the drama is that Dennison knows what the Broncos are all about. He knows what Pat Bowlen’s expectations are and wants to bring them to life. Dennison isn’t scared off by the Super-Bowl-or-else mantra in Denver because he’s lived it. His predecessor didn’t, and it was too much for him to bear.
When you add it all up, there is no truer Bronco than Dennison. There’s also no one more vital to the success of this organization.
Will he help the Broncos take that final step?