As the rebuilding process winds down along the coaching staff, the countdown begins for the the Denver Broncos to embark upon their long journey of removing the ghastly mole that has resided on the face of the franchise for the better part of a decade: the defense.
Shortly after naming 32-year-old Josh McDaniels the next head man in Denver, the Broncos announced that Mike Nolan, formally the head coach in San Francisco, would be taking over a Denver defense that finished the '08 campaign 30th in the NFL in total defense.
The buzz in Denver surrounding the transition has loomed around which scheme the new staff will install moving forward. 4-3 or 3-4? Denver has been a 4-3 defense under the direction of Mike Shanahan, but will now be steered by a group of coaches who have histories rooted in the 3-4 attack.
On the surface, a 3-4 scheme appears to be a daunting task of a transition for Denver. They certainly lack some of the key components of a strong 3-4 mold at this point. They do not have a classic nose tackle anywhere on the current roster, and are also void of a pure pass rusher along their line-backing core.
It is difficult to predict a likely plan of attack for Denver this off season if the 3-4 is the alignment of choice, but given the landscape of free agents, and Denver's ridiculous cap space heading into the '09 season, the transition to a respectable defense may not be as far away as some may think.
Here is a look at potential moves the Broncos may look to make after free agency begins on Feb. 29.
What little talk there is in Denver right now about possible off season acquisitions centers around this man. Peppers has made it known to the front office in Carolina that he wants a change in scenery.
It is unknown at this point if his name will ever actually reach the open market, but if it does Denver would definitely be at least interested. If Denver continued to use the 4-3 attack, Peppers would certainly provide the pass rush off the edge which the Broncos have lacked since the departure of Trevor Pryce.
Haynesworth is probably the biggest name on the list of players potentially available this off season, and will command big money. As with Peppers, it is unknown if he will actually hit the market, but adding Haynesworth to the middle of a defensive line already featuring Peppers could mean disaster for Denver's 2009 opponents.
Adding these two to the defensive line could also provide a launching point for current Broncos' defensive end Elvis Dumervil and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. Both have been serviceable for Denver in recent years but could take off with the double teams Haynesworth and Peppers would command.
Although nearly the entire Baltimore Raven's line backing core has been mentioned as possible free agents, Vilma should be Denver's top target at linebacker in the months to come.
Vilma has been an above-average player in the league since arriving from the University of Miami, which conveniently is the Alma mater of current Broncos linebacker DJ Williams.
Adding Vilma to the roster could allow Williams to remain at his most natural position, the weak side, and would only leave the strong side needing to be filled by an extensive cast of suitors, including Boss Bailey, Wesley Woodyard, Spencer Larson, and Jamie Winborn.