The Denver Broncos are in trouble. Before the season even starts for the Broncos, the defensive line, a major weak link in 2011, remains the largest looming question mark on defense again in 2012.
All offseason, analysts and fans alike have raised concerns about the lack of depth on the defensive line, pointing to the crushing losses of Ty Warren last offseason, as well as Kevin Vickerson to injury before the season even started. Another blow to the defense was suffered when the Broncos lost the above-average Brodrick Bunkley to the New Orleans Saints.
Warren and Vickerson have recovered from their season-ending injuries, but to what extent they can play in 2012 remains to be seen, especially for Warren, who has been out of football for over two years due to various injuries. Both restructured their contracts this offseason.
The Broncos' biggest free-agent acquisition on the defensive line was a familiar one in former University of Colorado product Justin Bannan, who played with the Broncos for a single season in 2010.
Bannan had a decent season, but he didn’t particularly light up the stat sheet. He is a serviceable “fill-in” guy who would hold the line but not really generate tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Against the run, Bannan is a solid tackler, but he hasn’t been known for great penetration on the line, accruing about three or four STFs (stops for loss) per season.
Other additions to the defensive line include Ben Garland, an Air Force cadet who was granted leave from his post from the Air Force to play football. Garland is fighting for a roster spot this offseason. He is a hard worker and overachiever, but it appears like the NFL game might be beyond his abilities at defensive end.
The recent arrest of Elvis Dumervil following a road rage incident might force the Broncos to keep Garland and give him a shot, which I believe could be a mistake.
Dumervil’s lawyer, Harvey Steinberg, may petition to delay the case until after the season, but the NFL may still levy a suspension on Dumervil for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, has been known for issuing suspensions to players who weren’t even convicted of charges, such as Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers, who was accused but not convicted of sexual assault of a college student. Roethlisberger was given a six-game suspension despite charges being dropped by the state of Georgia.
If the Broncos lose Dumervil to either a suspension or possible lengthy prison stay, the Broncos defense will face some stiff challenges on defense. The team has the second-hardest schedule in the NFL based on last year’s overall team records. An aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge is a third-degree felony, carrying a three-year mandatory prison sentence upon conviction.
With several highly touted prospects available with their first overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, the Broncos traded it and then passed on Kendall Reyes (Connecticut), Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) and Devon Still (Penn State) to select the solid yet unspectacular DT/DE out of Cincinnati, Derek Wolfe.
Wolfe could be a starter on the Broncos defensive line with the hodgepodge of players occupying roster spots. Throwing Wolfe into the fire right away could be a mistake for a Broncos defense that has struggled mightily against the run for several seasons now.
In the fifth round, the Broncos selected Malik Jackson out of Tennessee to compete with Robert Ayers for a position at defensive end. Jackson is a speedy lineman who will likely convert to defensive end in the NFL, as he is undersized as an interior lineman. Against bigger offensive linemen, he has a tendency to be overwhelmed and taken out of plays completely because of his lighter weight.
A wild card for the Broncos defensive line will be Sealver Siliga, a practice-squad player signed as a college free agent by the San Francisco 49ers who hasn’t seen very much action in the NFL as of yet. He will likely back up Warren and get the nod if Warren cannot cut it in the NFL any longer. Siliga has the size for the NFL but remains mostly untested.
The Broncos are facing an uphill battle on the defensive line in 2012. There remain more questions than answers at this point, and if they lose Dumervil for an extended time period and Warren can no longer cut it in the NFL, expect the Broncos' season to be in serious jeopardy at making a run for the title.
At this point, the lackluster pickups by the executive VP of football operations (John Elway) and his coaching staff for the defensive line are a cause for major concern for a team that generated minimal pressure in the middle of the defense and was frequently victimized against the run in 2012.
Be sure to watch for any recent developments in the coming weeks and during training camp on the defensive line.