ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Los Angeles Chargers may feel as if they are looking into a mirror, experiencing a déjà vu or perhaps feeling the effects of the thin air in the Mile High City on Monday night.
While a déjà vu isn't in the team's cards, the air certainly will have less oxygen than in their new hometown of Los Angeles and the Denver Broncos will be doing their best job of mirroring the Chargers, thanks to new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
McCoy is back in the Mile High City to do what he did many years ago: revitalize the Broncos’ offense. So, what exactly does that mean for the makeup of the unit?
Versatile, dynamic and playing to players strengths have been associated with McCoy since the former offensive coordinator joined the team again in the same role in January. After coaching and building offenses for Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning in Denver, there are many different routes the offense could take.
It will be a familiar offense for the Broncos, but it won’t be based on one that called Denver home. According to initial indications, Denver’s offense will look more like the 2016 version of McCoy's former team.
“We watch a lot of film on the Chargers,” fullback Andy Janovich said when talking about how the team learned the new McCoy offense.
Not only was McCoy the head coach, and thus the leader of the offense in San Diego last season, the Broncos’ current personnel isn’t too different than what the Chargers had. Outside of the quarterback position—which can’t be a legitimate comparison at this point, as Philip Rivers is a six-time Pro Bowl player and Denver's Trevor Siemian is entering his second year as a starter—the Broncos and the 2016 Chargers aren’t too different.
They each had, or have in terms of the current Broncos, an unknown offensive line, receiving weapons and potential in the running game. Last season, both teams' offensive lines were below average—each in the bottom half of the league for sacks allowed and bottom third for rushing yards per game.
However, it’s other receiving options that could make Denver very reminiscent to the Chargers of a season ago—tight ends. Under McCoy, the Chargers not only featured tight ends in the offense, they heavily relied on them. Antonio Gates and rookie Hunter Henry played in 55 and 54 percent of the teams offensive snaps respectively, while being featured in two tight end sets often.
While Denver lacks the household names of Gates, and soon to be Henry, their young core does possess receiving ability, lead by A.J. Derby and rookie Jake Butt—although Butt won't be available at the start of the season as he'll be on the non-injury football list (NFI). Much like Janovich, Derby gave a similar answer on how he and his fellow tight ends learned the new offense.
“I have watched a lot of [film on] San Diego,” Derby said. “I think this is a great offense for tight ends. I think [McCoy’s] past record in San Diego shows that. The whole room is really excited to see what we can do this season.”
While tight ends will still be lined up next to tackles at times, McCoy’s offense will utilize them all over the field, again showing his versatility. When asked what he expects from the position this year, Derby said, “Just more spread out and more movement.”
“Like what San Diego did with their tight ends, they had two on the field like Gates and Hunter Henry,” he said. “They’re just using a lot more tight ends and having them be more versatile.”
What may be more surprising of the Broncos’ new offense is the role that Janovich will have. In a league where fullbacks are more prevalent in history books than on current rosters, the idea of running a similar offense to the Chargers was a sigh of relief for Janovich.
Last year, the Chargers, along with the Broncos, were one of only a handful of teams that carried a fullback on their roster. Derek Watt, younger brother of J.J., was McCoy’s fullback last year and played in 13 percent of the offensive snaps in all 16 games for the Chargers.
A sixth-round pick last year, Janovich not only will have a role in the offense, he could have significantly more responsibility than just a typical blocking fullback in both the run and pass game. When asked what his initial expectations are for a fullback in this new offense, Janovich said, “They used [Watt] quite a bit [in San Diego last year], so we'll see.”
At the end of the day, the only aspect of the offense that matters is how many points they put up. Last year, the Chargers scored 25.6 points per game, good enough for the ninth-most in the league, significantly better than the Broncos’ 20.8 points per game, which was the 11th worst.
On the other side of the ball, Denver's defense will benefit Monday night from their own offense running the Chargers' offense since McCoy joined the staff in January.
"From a scheme standpoint, that’s what we practice against," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said in preparation for opening night. "That’s what I told the guys. I told them we’ve been practicing against this offense since the offseason. Even though you may not know it or feel it, the muscle memory is going to kick in. It’s the same route concepts. We know that there are going to be some different things that they do, but he’s helped us in that way in terms of personnel and what they do offensively.”
Although McCoy has got a Tebow-led-offense offense to the playoffs and kicked off the incredible Manning offense in Denver, he will draw from his time in San Diego to create the 2017 Broncos offense.
It just happens to be the Broncos' first test will be against the team the offense is based on, potentially making the game seem all too similar.