The Denver Broncos, who launched the 1981 season with a 9-7 upset of the Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders, have the youngest head coach in the National Football League this year in 37-yea-old Dan Reeves. The well-regarded Reeves was the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator since 1977 and had been a member of Coach Tom Landry's staff since 1970.
Since nobody remains with Landry very long if he can't organize, teach, motivate, learn to love the 25-hour day, and fer ret out mistakes, Reeves had enough practical experience to satisfy anyone casting about for an NFL head coach. His biggest test will come in the area of huma relations -- how he handles the 45 egos that exist on any pro football team.
Denver already has a new chairman of the board in Edgar F. Kaiser Jr. Outside football, Edgar is the chief executive officer of Kaiser Resources Ltd., a privately owned diversified Canadian company that is also the controlling parent of Kaiser Oil.
Although the Bronco's new owner has inherited a team in transition (Denver was 8-8 in the AFC West last season), he has also bought into an organization that has had 80 consecutive regular-season home game sellouts -- and there are 75,103 seasts in Denver's Mile-High Stadium!
Reeves's ultimate contribution is expected to come on offense, which was his specialty with the Cowboys. While Dan will also approve all of the Bronco's defensive sets, the scouting and groundwork that goes into breaking down opposing teams and figuring out how to stop them will be done mostly by his assistants.
When Reeves opened training camp this year, job-seekers for quarterback included Matt Robinson, Craig Morton, and rookie Mark Herrman of Purdue.
Robinson, who started eight games for Denvr last season after being acquired from the New York Jets, didn't even last through the exhibition schedule, eventually being claimed on waivers by the Buffalo bills.
Instead, the starting job was won by Morton, a 17-year veteran with career totals of 1,910 pass completions for 24,250 yards and 162 touchdowns. The two biggest things against Craig are his lack of mobility and the fact that he has thrown 22 interceptions in his last two seasons.
Reeves thinks he can solve this problem by building Craig a better protective pocket from which to throw in conventional situations and relying on the shotgun formation in others. In the shotgun, the quarterback, standing several yards behind the line of scrimmage, takes a long snap from center, thus buying a few extra seconds in which to pick up his receivers.
The tough Oakland defense provided a stiff test in the opener, but Morton managed to complete 12 of 25 passes for 194 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown toss to Rick Upchurch, and was not intercepted at all. He had a better day than Super Bowl hero Jim Plunkett in what was basically a defensive struggle, and of course the bottom line was that the Broncos won.
For backup insurance behind Morton, the Broncos picked up Steve Deberg on waivers from San Francisco just prior to the opening of the season. And of course there is also Herrman, who set nine NCAA passing records in 1980 at Purdue and is being groomed for the future.
The Bronco passing game is helped by a good corps of receivers in Haven Moses (38 catches for 674 yards in '83); Upchurch (46 for 605); and Riley Odoms (39 for 590).
"Basically, we'll be in a rebuilding situation this year; evaluating personnel, getting our priorities straight, and correcting mistakes," Reeves told reporters prior to the opener. "What I'll be looking for is week-to-week improvement, getting more thrust into our running game, and playing well enough defensively so that we won't be giving up more points than we score.
"Reaslistically, I think we've got a shot at a 10-6 season, especially if we get away well," Dan continued. "I think a team need to set goals for itself to improve, and that you've got to have an offense with a lot of flexibility to combat the kind of sophisticated defense that are in use today. I'm not talking about a complicated defense, but one where you can do a lot of different things from a lot of different formations."
What Reeves has been taking a hard look at since he came over from the Cowboys is the Broncos' overall performance in 1980, when they finished 25th in total of" fense and 15th overall on defense.
Since Landry uses a lot of different-looking defenses to cut the opposing quarterback's reading time down, look for Dan to employ many of those same things. The difference is that Landry already has proven combinations available , where Reeves is still looking for people he can depend on.
Denver is probably in the NFL's toughest conference. The Raiders, the tough San Diego Chargers, and the about-to-explode Kansas City Chiefs all have to be played twice.
Much will depend on Morton's staying power and how well his teammates protect him in passing situations. Otherwise, there might be a quick shift to Herrman, whose arm is big league even if his NFL experience adds up to less than four quarters played during the exhibition season.