ENGLEWOOD, CO -- Few teams that finished in last place the previous year enter the next season in win-now mode.
But that's where the Denver Broncos stand as they head into training camp. Eschewing the chance to take a quarterback with the No. 5 overall pick in a passer-rich draft, the Broncos opted for outside linebacker Bradley Chubb at that spot while putting their offense into the hands of Case Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game but was jettisoned by them in favor of Kirk Cousins.
Denver signed Keenum in March because of his accuracy, his ability to avoid giveaways last year -- just seven interceptions and one fumble in 15 regular-season games -- and his leadership qualities. Another reason they signed him was his readiness to lead a veteran team that has 12 potential starters still remaining from their Super Bowl 50-winning team, led by defensive stalwarts Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr.
The clock is starting to tick. Eleven projected first-teamers are 29 or older, including Keenum, who might represent the last, best chance for the rest of the Broncos' defensive and receiving core to return to the sport's elite.
Keenum's performance will be crucial for Vance Joseph, who enters his second season as head coach under pressure after the Broncos tumbled from 9-7 to 5-11, finishing with their second-worst record in the last quarter-century.
Some of the blame rested at the feet of assistant coaches who were fired just after the season. But most of it landed at quarterback, where Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch struggled in performance -- and in getting the offense on the same page.
The offense has changed a bit since last season. Mike McCoy's complex scheme has been replaced by a simpler system installed by Bill Musgrave, who became offensive coordinator in Week 12 last year following McCoy's dismissal. The points of emphasis fit Keenum snugly, particularly its focus on quick decisions and short-to-intermediate targets, which eases the pressure on an offensive line that took its lumps last year.
"Obviously, you want a system to fit all your quarterbacks, but that's almost impossible sometimes because of different skill sets," Joseph said. "Having Case as the starter has definitely helped matters."
However, Denver's chances of success will also revolve around what Joseph learned from last year and can apply to this season. Last year, the Broncos suffered through an eight-game losing streak that was their longest in a half-century. They cycled through three quarterbacks during that skid, but the losses remained the same, usually pockmarked by early giveaways that put the defense on its heels in its own territory and led to multi-score deficits on the board.
"I think last year was a teaching moment for me," Joseph said. "When you lose that many games in a row, my job is to fix it quicker. Good teams don't lose three and four games in a row, so that's on me. I can do better there and I will do better."
If he doesn't, and the Broncos struggle again, they could be mashing the reset button and staring at a long, laborious rebuild.