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Elway, Broncos veterans eye offensive changes in 2019

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Chris Harris Jr. has spent more time with the Broncos than any current player not named Von Miller. He's seen division and conference championships, playoff wins and even a Super Bowl victory.

But now he and the Broncos are mired in a streak of three consecutive seasons without a single playoff berth. On Monday, Harris identified what he feels is the reason behind that drought.

"I think we just haven't evolved here," Harris said. "I think after the Super Bowl we kind of just got stagnant. We haven't evolved. We've got to figure out how we can evolve on offense, defense, special teams and everything [and] get better as players. We have to evolve with the times of the NFL. We're behind right now."

As the Broncos' head coaching search gets underway, President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway also knows Denver must adapt. He's working to ensure the next hire will be a long-term answer. Teams such as the Chiefs, Saints and Patriots — the league's No. 1, 3 and 4 scorers — have had similar coaching personnel in place for a several years.

The Broncos, meanwhile, will employ their fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons.

"Yeah, no doubt [we need to evolve]," Elway said Monday. "We've relied on our defense for a long time. I think that we're still going to rely on the defense, but we definitely have to get better on the offensive side. That starts with some continuity. It's going to be very important for us to get some continuity on the offensive side. ... That's what comes with the same system and finding the right guys. That's going to be a big part of it."

Harris only needed to look at his own division to see why innovation is necessary. In Kansas City, second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 50 touchdowns — five short of Peyton Manning's record of 55 with the 2013 Broncos — and the Chiefs claimed the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers and the Chargers posted a 12-4 season and only missed out on the No. 1 seed due to tiebreakers.

And the Broncos should expect to see plenty of Mahomes for the foreseeable future. The same goes for Rivers, who doesn't show any signs of slowing down, even at 37 years old.

"We've got to hurry up fast, because our division is very good," Harris said. "We're loaded with quarterbacks right in our division [and] in the AFC."

Harris' words come on the heels of a third straight season in which the Broncos finished in the bottom dozen in scoring. But he isn't the only one who wants to see the Broncos improve as they head into the offseason.

"It's always 'next year,' right?" wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said Monday. "You never know. Hopefully the ball rolls in our favor next year and we can bring somebody in here that can score points, and a defensive coordinator that can help us shut down these offenses. These high-[octane] offenses, that's the goal."

The 2018 season proved that the ability to score in bunches is more important than ever. The league set a record in touchdowns per game (5.4). Of the 12 playoff teams, only two finished outside the top half of the league in points per game.

For players such as Harris, 29, and Sanders, 31 there's a sense of urgency to improve. Both members of the Super Bowl 50 team, Harris and Sanders are on the last year of their respective contracts and nearing a decade of service in the league.

Contending for championships sooner rather than later is increasingly important for two of the longest-tenured Broncos.

"It's three years of not our standard here," Harris said. "I expect them to look at every option possible — every option to make this team better."

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