Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels confirmed Friday that he will employ the 3-4 defensive alignment and suggested the team won't be hamstrung by finances in free agency.
In his first public comments since he was introduced as Mike Shanahan's successor last month, McDaniels said at his NFL combine scouting news conference Friday that the Broncos will be aggressive when free agency begins Feb. 27.
"We're interested in a lot of things and we have areas we can improve on. We have, obviously like every team does, needs and holes to fill, so if there's a player out there we feel will fill that, then we're going to be aggressive in pursuing," McDaniels said.
"We have (salary cap) room available, so we'll see how it goes in the next few weeks."
The Broncos cleared about $30 million in cap space this week by releasing seven veterans, most of them on defense, putting them under the $123 million salary cap for 2009.
Even with the economy faltering, team owner Pat Bowlen apparently is ready to open his pocketbook more than he did last offseason, when the Broncos didn't sign any big-name free agents.
"Just the salary cap," McDaniels said of financial barriers the Broncos will face. "We do have cap room available so we'll see how it goes in the next few weeks."
The Broncos especially need help on defense, where they finished at or near the bottom in every major category last season while surrendering 448 points.
McDaniels and new general manager Brian Xanders released five players who started on defense last year: cornerback Dre' Bly, safety Marquand Manuel, defensive linemen John Engelberger and Dewayne Robertson and linebacker Jamie Winborn.
In his wide-ranging interview, McDaniels acknowledged publicly for the first time that the team will change its strategy and rely heavily, if not exclusively, on three down linemen and four linebackers.
"You're going to see some 3-4 from us," McDaniels said. "I'm not going to say we're going to be all 3-4, but it's going to be some combination thereof. I think the 3-4 defense presents some unique challenges to an offense."
McDaniels served on Bill Belichick's staff in New England, and the Patriots used the 3-4 during their Super Bowl runs.
The switch to the 3-4 means the Broncos will be looking for a nose tackle and outside linebackers, either in free agency or in the April draft.
McDaniels also said he's met several times with quarterback Jay Cutler, who had voiced his displeasure at Shanahan's' firing on Dec. 30 after the team failed to reach the playoffs for the third straight season.
"I wasn't worried about it. I met with him several times, and I'm confident in what I can do and what our staff can do and how good we can be, and Jay's going to be a big part of that," McDaniels said. "My focus is on telling him how he's going to be better, because we all can improve. Certainly, that's our goal.
"That's what my communication with him has been, to get him up to speed and to talk to him how I feel next year and going forward is going to be different than the years he's played here already in Denver. I think we have a good relationship now. It's definitely on the right track, and I'm looking forward to working with him this year."
With his background tutoring Tom Brady and Matt Cassel, McDaniels will work closely with Cutler to develop the team's new offense.
McDaniels also said he was consulted by team officials on the decision to promote Xanders from assistant GM last week and that the two of them will work together in building the roster.