ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- One of the buzzwords around Dove Valley since John Elway was hired as executive vice president of football operations has been transparency.
Whether it's keeping fans involved in the search for a new head coach that resulted in bringing in John Fox or Elway himself reaching out to fans via Twitter, the Broncos have tried to keep fans in the loop, giving them a look inside the building.
On Wednesday, Elway and General Manager Brian Xanders stuck with that theme, holding a conference call with more than 7,000 season ticket holders in the first of several fan forums.
"It was great to connect with the fans and hear their true passion and hear how long they've been season ticket holders and how excited they are for the upcoming season," Xanders said.
The forum was hosted by Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Saccomano, who introduced dozens of season ticket holders before they spoke live on the phone with Elway and Xanders.
Questions were raised on topics ranging from the offense and defense, the atmosphere at INVESCO Field at Mile High, the team's draft plans, the timing of free agency and what the running back depth chart would look like if the season started tomorrow.
In other words, it was just like any other press conference, but the questions came directly from fans -- and there were a lot more thank yous to go around.
"I'd like to thank you for doing this," said Chris, a Manhattan, Kan., native and season ticket holder since 1967. "I'm not going to lie, I can't believe I'm talking to John Elway and Brian Xanders at the moment. It's quite stunning."
One of the more humorous exchanges came when Charles Wood, Jr., a season ticket holder since 1983, called in to thank Elway for his years as a Bronco.
"Rumor has it that if we get behind by 14 points or more and there are two minutes left that you're going to put on the helmet and come in," Wood laughed. "That's what I'm hearing, I don't know if that's true or not."
Elway laughed right back: "I wish my body could handle that, but I'm not sure it can."
Elway and Xanders listened intently as season ticket holders from as recently as 2009 to as far back as 1960 joined the call, occasionally jotting down notes as they awaited a chance to answer each question.
The fact that so many fans, young and old, are so devoted to the team stuck with Elway.
"All that does is justify my feeling on the Broncos fans, what great fans we have here and the loyalty that's involved," he said.
"The Broncos fans have never ceased to amaze me," Elway said to close Wednesday's forum. "This doesn't cease to amaze me in the fact that we (had) 7,000 people on the phones. As we talked about when I first got hired here, we're going to do the best we can with transparency to make sure that we have that relationship with you and have you see a little bit what goes on inside these walls and keep that connection. We know that's the most important thing for this organization, our relationship with you all as fans. We'll do the best that we can to continue that."
The next fan forum is on May 2 with Coach Fox. Elway smiled as he told the participants in Wednesday's call that he would be disappointed if more than 7,000 people didn't call in to get to know the team's new head coach.
"So tell the other season ticket holders you know to get on that phone and hopefully maybe during the season we'll have a time to chat again," he said. "Thanks again."
WHAT THEY SAID
Below, you will find some of the responses Elway and Xanders gave to a handful of questions on Wednesday.
Elway, on which quarterback prospect most closely resembles him:
"Jake Locker, if you talk about height, weight and speed, he's probably the closest to me. We're the same height, he's faster, probably, and heavier than I was, but when you think about play style, Jake Locker is probably the closest even though (Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick) are all very mobile themselves, too."
Xanders, on what happens in the 10 minutes the team is on the board in the first round:
"When we're on the clock, what happens is we want to receive calls or we'll be making calls to other teams with regards to potential trades. But I've also seen it where the player that we want is there and we just turn the card in within the first 30 seconds. I've seen it both ways. Some teams will always wait until the (ninth) minute in the first round, wait until the end to turn it in. What's happening is they're waiting for phone calls or they're making trades or they have to call the league office on the trade, so it's a really a marketplace. Once you're on the clock, there's a supply and demand for that pick. Sometimes you get no calls and sometimes you get five calls. You have to work through all that."
Elway, on the importance of a tight end:
"I'm a firm believer that a tight end is an integral part of your offense. No. 1, for a quarterback it's an easier throw a lot of times because it's more in the middle of the field and you really have tight ends working on strong safeties and linebackers, which are usually not near the cover guys that the corners are. You find different holes in there and usually you get some good matchups. That's why Shannon (Sharpe) was so great. Looking at the draft there's no question we've been looking at tight ends in this draft. We've got
Xanders, on the crop of tight ends in the 2011 draft:
"In this draft, what's happening in college football is there's so many spread offenses and speed tight ends coming out because they're throwing the ball all over the field. In the middle rounds of this draft, there are potentially some good, young prospects there that have really good timed speed that could be a threat down the middle of the field, a vertical threat for the defense. We're excited about the group. We've been looking at it. We're still going through all that, but it's something we're definitely looking at."
"Elvis passed his offseason physical and was declared 100 percent healthy. So he's in good shape."
Xanders, on the running back depth chart if the season started tomorrow:
"Right now it's
Xanders, on evaluating players at every position in preparation for the draft:
"I think it's our responsibility to the organization and the fans every year to evaluate everybody in the draft. What happens in that process is we end up finding out about the person -- their passion for football, their knowledge -- and whether that helps us four years from now in free agency, it's something we have to do our due diligence on every year for the organization so that we can always have the best interest of the Broncos at hand. That's a priority for us, to be extremely thorough in our processes so that we evaluate all these players coming out of college so that we're always ready for now and the future."
Xanders, on whether the draft philosophy is taking the best player available or a player at a position of need:
"I've been in a lot of different draft rooms, and what I've learned over the years is you take the best player available at a position of need. Let's take an example. Let's say we feel really good about our receiver group right now, it might not be a drastic team need right now, so it doesn't mean we're going to take a receiver first. It's something we always talk about and you look across the board on offense and defense and discuss what's best for the Broncos, picking a player that can be a starter for the next 10 to 15 years. I think there's going to be a deliberation, there's going to be some debate, some opinions there, but we know we've got to fill some team needs. We're excited about who's up there at the top of the draft."
Elway, on what he's excited about for the 2011 season:
"I'm really excited to be back with the Broncos and to be a part of the organization. Really being a part of getting this football team back to where all the fans expect it to be. When I look at what we have in our head coach in John Fox, I think when you talk about the will to win, the competitiveness, I think that we've found a football coach that has all those same type of traits. He's a great competitor, he's enthusiastic, he's a guy that includes everybody in the process. When I say he's a player's coach, I don't say that in the fact that he's easy on them. He's a guy that's going to be tough on them but he's going to have a good relationship with them. That's what I'm most excited about, to watch John Fox work and bring back the enthusiasm that you're used to seeing on the football field. You'll see a football team that plays with passion, that plays hard for four quarters and is excited to be on the football field."