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Mason's Mailbag: 3-4 run D, draft trades, and orange as Denver's identity

As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Should I be worried about the switch to 3-4? I've always felt to play good defense you have to stop the run first which we've done well the past few years. Or should I not worry because we'll still run nickel half the time with four down linemen?
-- William Denning

First, there's no indication that the Broncos' run defense, to which you refer, will suffer solely by changing to the 3-4 base alignment. In the last three years, teams that run a base 3-4 allow fewer yards per carry (4.18 to 4.21 yards for base 4-3 teams), and permit a lower first-down rate (one every 4.64 carries vs. one every 4.48 carries for base 4-3 teams).

Of greater impact will be personnel -- especially what happens at nose tackle with Terrance Knighton due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 10, and how well Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan transition to playing "mike" and "moe" inside linebackers in the 3-4 alignment. Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway has noted that Sylvester Williams could be a fit at nose tackle, and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has found success with different types of nose tackles. But the types of rushes up front will be dictated by whether the nose tackle is a massive gap clogger or a smaller, quicker type who makes the most of stunts and twists.

Beyond nose tackle, you switch things up from a fairly successful philosophy on the whole -- second in yards per play allowed and third in yardage per game since 2012 -- you're taking a risk. But the Broncos are counting on seeing improvement in sack rate (despite the presence of pass rushers like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware in 2014 and Elvis Dumervil in 2012, it is seventh-best in the last three years) and points allowed (10th-best since 2012). So there is room for the growth.

The Broncos have the top run defense in yardage per play and per game since 2012. But if the Broncos can see improvement in the pass rush and on the scoreboard, the transition will be a successful one, even if their run defense is off just a bit from the last three years.

The lower you draft in each round, the less "currency" you have, unless you take the gambit of trading picks from future years to move up. That being said, you're always happy to draft at the end of the first round; it means you're succeeding on the field.

A trade would be no surprise if they see a player they covet dropping unexpectedly into the 20s, or if they feel they can get a targeted player in the second round, as was the case in 2012 with Derek Wolfe (although the negative of this is that you lose the fifth-year option that your receive for first-round picks, which is why a pick at the end of the first round is so valuable for teams early in the second round, and why you might be able to massage an above-market-rate deal).

The Broncos are expected to receive some compensatory picks from the NFL's mysterious formula of dispensing extra picks as a result of additions and losses in the previous year's unrestricted free-agency period. But those selections, which are tacked on to rounds 3 through 7, are untradeable assets, leaving the Broncos with their current allotment (their first-rounder, second-rounder, third-rounder, fifth-rounder, sixth-rounder and Chicago's fifth-round pick) from which they can make deals.

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Could you help getting some chatter out about our home uniforms? The orange is kitcshy, but those puppies must be cursed, and they look too, ahem, cough, Cleveland. Plus we won back-two-back wearing the dark blues at home! Time for a change!**
-- Todd Holaday

"Time for a change" after three seasons back in orange? Good grief, man.

Besides, the Broncos also had their worst season in the last four decades wearing blue at home (for six of eight games) and had a five-year stretch without a winning season with blue as the primary home jersey.

Success isn't about the jerseys or colors. It's about the players and coaches wearing them. The Broncos lost four Super Bowls in orange because they got beat in multiple ways, not because of their jerseys.

Orange is the Broncos' identity. Look at the stands at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the last few years: an ocean of orange. During the blue days, it was a mishmash of blue, orange and white. Fans spoke, and by going back to orange as the primary jersey color, the Broncos restored a crucial part of their culture.

And it's unique: seven other teams use navy blue as their primary colored jersey choice (San Diego, Tennessee, Houston, New England, Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis), but the Broncos are the only club rocking the orange. Be distinct; don't be content to remain part of a crowd. That's good advice, whether you're talking to a child or about football uniforms.

If anything, I want more orange. Not orange pants -- at least not with the orange jersey; that's too much of a good thing, and I don't dig the monochromatic look unless it's Johnny Cash-style black from head to toe -- but the ability to wear orange more often.

If the NFL would adopt the soccer policy of allowing teams to wear their primary jersey colors unless there was a clash -- in which case, you go to your "change kit," in soccer parlance -- then the Broncos could wear the orange in road games against the Raiders, Chargers, Bears, Lions, Colts, Steelers and Browns this year. (They couldn't wear orange at Kansas City, because red and orange are too close to each other.)

This will remain my dream, because how cool would it be to see a Broncos-Raiders game in which Denver wore orange and the Raiders wore their trademark black jerseys with their silver helmets and pants?

You won't get any help getting some chatter about a color change from me, Todd.

There's no indication of any plans to update the uniforms, and I would personally hope that any future changes continue to use orange as the primary color.

Is it too early to think of Chris Harris as the new Champ Bailey? He was a shutdown corner this year.
-- Josh Stephens

As outstanding as Harris is, it's unfair to him -- and to Bailey -- to compare the two. They are different types of cornerbacks, with different skill sets, although Harris is Bailey's heir as a leader in the secondary (and even has the same locker-room stall as the future Hall of Famer).

Don't focus on Harris being "the new Champ Bailey. Instead, enjoy him being "the first Chris Harris Jr."

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Should the Broncos and Knighton not agree on terms (though I hope they do). Does Malik Jackson have the size to play nose tackle?**
-- Michael Carr

No, and as Head Coach Gary Kubiak noted last week, Jackson and fellow 2012 draft pick Derek Wolfe are good fits as 3-4 defensive ends. Their inside-outside dual role depending on situation and formation put them in position

Last year, necessity forced the Broncos to play some standouts out of position: right guard Louis Vasquez at right tackle and safety T.J. Ward as a linebacker in the nickel. While this helped get the best 11 players on the field in a pinch, you don't want to start the year by moving players from their optimal positions; that's an adjustment you make only when absolutely necessary.

There is speculation among media types in St. Louis (largely as published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) that Stan Kroenke may purchase the Denver Broncos from the Bowlen family in order to resolve the current exemption he has been granted by the NFL related to cross-ownership restrictions. Is Kroenke's purchase of the Broncos a realistic possibility, or more likely wishful thinking from a city grasping at straws to keep their NFL franchise in town?
-- Mark Daniel

Wishful thinking in St. Louis. That's not happening. The Broncos are not for sale,there are no plans for it, and no timetable has even been set for a potential transition of ownership to one of owner Pat Bowlen's children.

#askmase Do you believe that there are "pipeline" schools that the broncos look into? — Drew (@DrewMaycumber71) February 25, 2015

I wouldn't call them pipelines, but teams do establish relationships with coaches at some universities, and that leads to recommendations that can pay off. Look at the Broncos last year, signing two undrafted rookies from Duke: running back Juwan Thompson and defensive end Kenny Anunike. The Broncos' connection to Duke football is well-documented, given Peyton Manning's long-standing connection to Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe and the workouts Manning has with his receiving targets at Duke's facilities. The connection goes further, to Duke's offensive coordinator, Scottie Montgomery, a Broncos wide receiver in 2001 and 2002.

Colorado State is another school that has provided an unusual amount of Broncos prospects in recent years. In both cases, you make connections, you find people whose recommendations you trust, and proceed.

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Every week it seems like you have someone question if we should be moving on from Peyton Manning, whether it's through free agency and claiming we could somehow get Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers or trading up in the draft or even promoting Zac Dysert from the practice squad. The legend still posted great numbers on the season despite a major injury and his game knowledge alone makes him a standout, what could you say on the topic to finally silence these quick-to-hate fans? Please.**
-- Eddie Verrills

Let's start with the notion that somehow acquiring an elite quarterback from another team is absurd. Think of Seinfeld"s George Costanza, low-level New York Yankees executive, saying, "I think I may have found a way for us to get [Barry] Bonds and [Ken] Griffey [Jr.], and we wouldn't have to give up that much." And for those who counter, "We got Peyton!" that happened because of an unusual set of circumstances -- injury, complete team collapse and the draft availability of the best quarterback prospect in a generation -- which is unlikely to repeat itself.

Manning's output at the end of the season certainly scared some Broncos fans. And they look at his age and know that no quarterback 39 or older has ever started in a Super Bowl (although Brett Favre, at age 40, was one bad pass away from doing just that and had the highest quarterback rating of his career in that 2009 season).

But what I've tried to remind fans who are ready to move on from Manning is this: accept what you're asking for. Accept that the best chance for your team to win a Super Bowl this year would have sailed away. Accept that the potential outcomes for the season have a wide variance. With Manning playing a full season, the Broncos' floor is probably 9-7. Without him, the possible outcomes increase exponentially: they could be elite if Brock Osweiler blossoms; they could win five games if he struggles.

Broncos fans who don't want Manning back should understand that if they got their way, they'd trade the proven for the unknown, and a quarterback situation at least half the league envies to one fraught with questions. Because the bottom line on Osweiler, Dysert or any young quarterback without extensive regular-season experience is this: you don't know what will happen. Not you, not the team, not Elway.

And while I didn't have space to include the message I received from "confessed Manning fan" Tim Johns, I want to add how much I appreciated his extensive thoughts on this subject.

This isn't a question. Just wanted to thank you for answering the fan questions. It's great having one like you with the Franchise! I'm a younger fan, and it's great having constant updates. Thanks again. -- Jared George

You're welcome. This has become my favorite part of the week, because some of the questions require research and thought for proper replies. It's great to receive the intelligent questions that hit my inbox every week.

Would you guys be interested in drafting Nick Montana? He is the son of the famous Joe Montana. I hate to say his because I have lived Peyton Manning since I was 5 but father time is aging Peyton and I believe finding guys that could be Manning's replacement know will help out a lot.
-- Quinton Sullivan

The reality on Nick Montana is that he's already had a shoulder injury, couldn't get his starting job back as a senior and showed a lack of game awareness when he did play in 2014 by spiking the football on a fourth-and-1 play near the end of the first half Oct. 19 against Central Florida. I don't see him as a viable prospect, not compared with dozens of other quarterbacks in this year's class who have more playing experience and better college performance.


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