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REBUILD – The Denver Post

Eleven months ago, Broncos general manager John Elway stood at the front of the team’s auditorium at Dove Valley and somberly bid his trusted coach and friend farewell. For a short while, anyway.

Gary Kubiak stepped down from coaching, sending Elway and Co. on another search — their third since 2011 — for a head coach. One who fit “the culture” and understood the Broncos’ long-held standards.

“Challenges excite me. That’s what it’s about,” Elway said that day. “That’s how we adjust. Things are going to happen, good and bad. It’s all about adjusting. This game is about adjusting.”

Ten days later, Elway returned to that auditorium, looked out to a crowd of the same faces and introduced his next coach. Vance Joseph fit the culture, Elway said. Joseph was a communicator and a leader and a smart football mind, and he would be the one to guide Denver back to the playoffs, where it belonged.

“Most jobs that are taken by a first-time head coach or most jobs that are open, it’s a rebuild,” Joseph said during his introductory speech. “This job is not broken.”

In Pat Bowlen’s three-plus decades of owning the Broncos, never once did he describe his team as a “rebuild.” But these Broncos will have little choice in January, when their first losing season since 2010 culminates and gives way to an offseason of change.

Two years removed from winning the Super Bowl, the Broncos have lost their way. And their identity. And, perhaps, much more.

“Everything is tough right now. Everything,” admitted star linebacker Von Miller. “What is Bronco football? We have to find that. We have to grind and get back to whatever it is. You can’t say Bronco football is … what we did in 2015. That’s two years ago. We have to find our identity. We have to find the guys that are ready to take their game to the next level.”

“It’s taking a big toll”

Only one player on Denver’s current roster was around to witness the chaos of 2010, when the head coach, Josh McDaniels, became embroiled in a videotaping scandal and was fired in Week 12, when fan turnout dwindled at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, when the team limped to the finish line for an embarrassing 4-12 record.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, then a rookie, got a front-row seat to the season that remains the franchise’s benchmark of hell.

Losing breeds frustration, but the Broncos’ latest bout with discontent is amplified by what they do have instead of what they don’t. On defense, they have a trio of first-team all-pro players: Miller and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. They have a better run defense than a year ago, sparked by the arrival of nose tackle Domata Peko. They acquired speed on special teams, they found a left tackle in the draft and a veteran guard in free agency that Joseph dubbed the best available guy at his position. They have depth at running back, a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and, they thought, they had a pair of young quarterbacks on the up-and-up.

Unlike 2010, they have talent.

But a home loss to the then-winless New York Giants in Week 6 was the start of their collapse; each of the ensuing seven losses were worse than the one before.

“I think it’s taking a big toll, because every week we say the same things, we answer the same questions the same way,” Thomas said. “Every week we do the same thing week in and week out, and we don’t make it no better.”

The frustration is evident on game days, as early deficits spiral out of control, turnovers pile up, punts are muffed and big touchdowns are surrendered. When the losing streak reached six games, running back C.J. Anderson sat at his locker in tears after a defeat to the Bengals. Then emotions boiled over during a Thanksgiving practice four days later when a pair of skirmishes ensued and more tears followed. Defensive end Zach Kerr got into it with offensive lineman Connor McGovern. And Harris got into a heated exchange with Isaiah McKenzie that left the rookie inconsolable at his locker shortly after.

“I just come to play football, and just respect that. Always respect the vets,” Harris said afterward.

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