(Photo credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)
In 2005, a 22-year-old Mike McDaniel was living the dream.
The Greeley, Colo., native was a coaching intern on the Broncos' staff, helping Denver to a 13-3 record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
Flash forward 18 years later, and McDaniel will be trying to take down his hometown team when the Miami Dolphins face the Broncos on Sunday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
McDaniel is preparing for his first meeting as a head coach against the team that took a chance on him back in the mid-2000s, as Miami and Denver have not met since 2020. McDaniel took over as Dolphins coach last season, leading the team to a 9-8 record and its first playoff appearance since 2016.
Miami (2-0) picked up right where it left off under McDaniel, as the Dolphins are averaging 30 points and a league-best 462.5 yards per game following last Sunday's 24-17 victory over the New England Patriots.
Safe to say, it's been the start to his head-coaching career that McDaniel envisioned, but he knows it might not have been possible without the time he spent in Denver.
"It was the team that I found my love for football with," McDaniel said. "Also, a couple of the biggest influences that I've had from the game of football in terms of Mike Shanahan and by extension Kyle Shanahan and Gary Kubiak.
"It's a great franchise. ... Tremendous organization, and I wouldn't be here without it."
Emotions aside, this week is all business for McDaniel and Miami, which could be leaning on its rushing attack to get past the Broncos (0-2).
Jaylen Waddle is in danger of missing Sunday's contest due to concussion protocol, and after being held to 40 yards against New England, Tyreek Hill will have to deal with star cornerback Pat Surtain II.
"You want to talk about a tough position, that's why you kind of know by name the guys that are the best in the business, and I think he's in that category for sure," McDaniel said of Surtain. "He's a heck of a player."
Waddle did not practice on Wednesday, while Hill was limited with an ankle injury.
Although Denver hasn't been able to get in the win column just yet, Russell Wilson is finally starting to look like the quarterback the Broncos thought they were trading for when they shipped a package of three players and multiple draft picks to Seattle two offseasons ago.
Wilson completed 18 of 32 passes for 308 yards, three touchdowns and an interception last weekend, but despite his efforts, Denver still fell 35-33 to the Washington Commanders.
The Broncos led 21-3 at one point but surrendered 10 points in the final 1:47 of the first half before crumbling following the break.
Still, it was an encouraging performance for Wilson, who reached the 300-yard mark 21 times during his 10 seasons with the Seahawks before doing so just once during the 2022 campaign.
Denver's two losses have come by a combined three points, and executing plays when it matters most is quickly becoming an issue.
"As we've learned the past few years, almost every game is one score -- seven points, three points," Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry III said. "We need to finish those games 'cause we've lost too many over the past four years that I've been here."
Linebacker Frank Clark (hip), nose tackle Mike Purcell (ankle) and safety Justin Simmons (hip) missed Denver's practice on Wednesday. Offensive tackle Garett Bolles was limited due to an ankle injury.
In addition to Waddle, running back Salvon Ahmed (groin) missed Wednesday's practice. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead (back/ankle/knee), defensive tackle Raekwon Davis (wrist) and linebackers Jaelan Phillips (back) and Andrew Van Ginkel (ankle) were among those limited for the Dolphins.
--Field Level Media