The Denver Broncos defense must start from scratch.
Not just because the team is switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4, but because there are only three starters worth salvaging from the 11 who finished the season, and two of them will have to play a new position in 2009 if they want to stay on the field.
Champ Bailey is the obvious one. The 30-year-old cornerback just finished his 10th NFL season and, despite missing seven games to an injured groin, is still among the league's best at the position. He's arguably the Broncos' best tackler.
Trading him makes little sense because his value would figure to be low coming off his worst pro season. But aside from that, he plays with the kind of toughness and smarts Denver lacks on the defensive side of the ball.
Elvis Dumervil is another, but he'll probably have to make the transition to outside linebacker to keep his starting spot in the 3-4, according to observers. At 5'11" and 260 pounds he's hardly the prototype at the defensive end position in the new scheme. As the Rocky Mountain News' Jeff Legwold points out, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots' ends all go at least 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds.
But like Bailey's toughness, Dumervil's never-stop motor is unique among the Broncos' current defensive players. And he would appear to have the speed to play an outside spot that would allow him to rush the passer.
That final spot belongs to D.J. Williams. An inconsistent tacker, Williams nonetheless has the speed to cover the field and possesses the overall athleticism the Broncos need, especially when their other options are backups moonlighting as starters in Nate Webster and Jamie Winborn.
Williams seemingly would have to move -- again -- back inside, where he played in 2007 before shifting to the outside in 2008 in the 3-4.
That leaves eight other starters -- Dre Bly, Dewayne Robertson, Webster, Winborn among them -- that only helped make Denver's defense an NFL laughing stock in Mike Shanahan's final season.
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