As mini camps open for this year's NFL season, the Denver Broncos are facing a battle that will be difficult to win. The free agency season and the NFL Draft have concluded and one would expect a team which finished 30th in the league on defense would have addressed defense in free agency and on draft day. New Head Coach Josh McDaniels decided, instead, to use his first pick (12th Overall) on running back Knowshon Moreno from Georgia.
While Moreno is a fantastic running back, the Broncos had already gone the RB route early during free agency by signing Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan. On Thursday, they also brought in former Houston Texans' running back Darius Walker. They will now boast eight running backs on their roster. Though Denver lost seven tailbacks to injury last season, their running game was not what caused them to surrender a three-game division lead with three games left in the season and miss the playoffs.
Their usually stout defense was ranked at the bottom or near the bottom of the league in almost every category. The offense, despite the injuries at running back, managed to score just over 23 points per game which put them in the middle of the pack. Their defense, though, allowed 28 points per game which ranked 30th in the NFL. They were also minus 17 in their giveaway/takeaway differential which ranked a paltry 30th in the league.
The Broncos two star defensive backs, Champ Bailey and Dre Bly, had less than stellar seasons and the Broncos saw only 6 interceptions all season long. Bailey actually missed seven games during the season due to injury which took away the shut down corner Denver can usually count on. They also got manhandled on the line giving up 4.8 yards per carry and over 115 yards per game.
Denver did try and address some of their defensive short comings with their three subsequent picks in the 2009 Draft. With their second pick (18th Overall) they took Robert Ayers, a defensive end/line backer out of Tennessee. Ayers, though, has been tagged by many as a "one year wonder." He does show some upside with pretty good speed and power getting through to the quarterback. The Broncos most likely plan to use him as an outside linebacker. Don Martindale, Broncos Linebackers Coach, was the one responsible for scouting Ayers so he knows very well what the rookie can do.
After Ayers Denver drafted CB Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest) and S Darcel McBath (Texas Tech) both excellent position players. Smith tallied a whopping 20 interceptions during his college career. He can also make an immediate impact on kick returns as he averaged 20.7 yards in his time with the Demon Deacons. McBath was a first team All Big 12 safety in 2008 with an impressive 70 tackles and 6 picks.
So, looking at the 2009 season Denver needs to have these defensive picks make an impact from game 1. The rest of the NFL knows their weakness. They were exploited last year and until they can prove differently teams will continue to attack them. With the exit of Jay Cutler and basically the Broncos entire offensive playbook this defense will have no choice but to improve and improve quickly. If not the don't look for them to be even close to the 8-8 season they had in '08.