Part I of this series looked at the Denver Broncos offense for the 2009 season. Part II of this series will turn it’s focus to the defensive side of the ball.
The best part about the 2009 season for the Denver Broncos is that they have a chance to improve from their 2008 performance.
Realists and cynics alike will say that it’s a tall task at hand for the team to improve from their 8-8 record. However the Broncos should be better in some regard on both sides of the ball, save the quarterback position.
Last season the Broncos finished 26th out of 32 teams with a total of 26 sacks. Kansas City finished dead last with 10 and the Cowboys lead the league with 59. Against the rush, a usual strong point for the Denver defense, opponents gashed them for an average of 146 yards a game.
Additionally the Broncos finished 30th in scoring defense allowing an average of 28 points per game.
Needless to say there is much in the way of improvement in the way the Broncos apply pressure to the opposition. Ironically enough however Coach McDaniels chose to forego a number of talented defensive linemen and linebackers through much of the draft.
They chose instead to draft cornerbacks and safeties with the exception of Robert Ayers a DE/LB out of Tennessee with the 18th overall pick.
Since the Broncos appear to be moving to the 3-4, and it being in the first phase, it’s hard to know for sure who will land where given the number of “tweeners” on the defensive side of the ball.
This group is a mixed bag. In part this is why the Denver Broncos defense has fallen under intense scrutiny. It’s not that the Broncos don’t have some size and some talent at the position; it’s more an issue of not having enough of it.
Additionally to date, no one at the position has taken the bull by the horns. So that gap in leadership on the D-Line needs to be addressed. Whoever steps into the role has to bring the sense of leadership.
Ronald Fields has begun to build a decent resume with the San Francisco 49ers over the last four seasons. He is getting a solid look at becoming the starting nose tackle in the 3-4.
Marcus Thomas has shown signs of greatness from time to time. The problem is the defense against the run and against the pass has lacked greatly. Thomas came to Denver from the Florida Gators in the 2007 draft.
He has always shown promise, but has fallen short of the high expectations, possibly in part due to the desperate need to fill the needs up front. Marcus Thomas has been a developmental project, but he could be on the verge of competing to become the starter at nose tackle.
Given the amount of pressure he has played under, he has held up relatively well. Thomas still has much to prove so look for him to make a move this season.
J’Vonne Parker, Nic Clemons, Carlton Powell, Matthias Askew, are all journeymen with varying levels of experience in the NFL. None of them have started and all are aiming to make an impression.
Chris Baker played at Penn State and was later dismissed because of legal trouble. Baker wound up at Hampton to finish his collegiate career. He is seen as having definite NFL talent; the questions about him are mostly related to his off the field character.
The woes along the D-line have been a story with a one word title: Disappointment. The Broncos defensive ends are undersized to say the least. Consider the following unique deviation for defensive linemen.
The New York Giants (generally considered one of the bigger D-lines in the league and recent Super Bowl Champion) rate as a team at a +102. This means their D-Line total weight is +102lbs above the mean of 300lbs.
The San Diego Chargers are a +37 and the Broncos are a -91. The group listing of D-linemen follows:
New York Giants +102 above 300lbs
San Diego Chargers +37 above 300lbs
Denver Broncos -91 lbs below 300lbs
Oakland Raiders -145lbs below 300lbs
Kansas City Chiefs -217lbs below 300lbs
There is a quasi-relationship between the deviation number and the number of points defenses allow. Consider the Giants rated number five in average points allowed, San Diego 25th, Oakland 27th, Denver 29th, and Kansas City 31st.
There are other factors such as how well your secondary is on coverage etc... What this point emphasizes is that teams that are successful up front generally have size across the board as a team.
So given that it’s generally understood the Broncos are undersized up front and how they fix that is not an easy fix. Consider the fact the Broncos signed Sam Adams to basically plug a hole in the middle in 2007.
Sam wound up with a total of 5 solo tackles and 4 assist through 11 starts prior to being waived. So while you have to be big up front you need athletes at the top of their game. Adams abruptly retired.
Kenny Peterson has cross-over skills that make him more of a “tweener” than a true defensive end or an ideal defensive tackle. Kenny is the eldest statesman on the D-line reaching his seventh year in the NFL.
He has the smarts to take a lead role at this point in his career; however he does not have a definite inside track to any position considering his physical makeup. He will however be given an opportunity to be a starter at DE.
Darrell Reid also has crossover skills at DL / LB. He comes to Denver by way of Indianapolis. Reid may find himself in the starting role at DE or OLB since early indications are the Broncos like him on the field in tandem with Robert Ayers starting at OLB or DE.
It is a bit of a pickle with DJ Williams in the mix. How the Broncos find the right mix on defense under the new scheme is a definite challenge that coaches like to have on their plate.
While Reid has appeared in a large number of games over his four years with the Colts he only had two starts. He has been a staple on special teams and has occasionally filled the role as a fullback in goal line situations as well.
Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss were the Broncos first and second round investments in the 2007 drafts and they have yet to pay dividends. They are talented but undersized at their position.
Crowder has shown the most promise of the two when healthy. There is also some discussion of moving Moss to linebacker permanently to free him up to better utilize his speed and rangy later strength.
Ryan McBean has good size but is still a question mark. Elvis Dumerville is severely undersized but has great speed and has made a mark in applying pressure but he needs a supporting cast.
Elvis will most likely remain a starter since he is the Broncos best pass rusher at this stage. Elvis is being looked at outside linebacker as well.
The Broncos Drafted Robert Ayers out of Tennessee and he should see a significant amount of time at D-end as the starter or at linebacker. The Broncos also signed undrafted free agents Rulon Davis out of Cal and Everette Pedescleaux from Northern Iowa, both have good size but are rookies that need to make an impression.
Ever since Al Wilson was more or less forced into retirement, the Broncos middle linebacker situation has never been the same. It did improve in 2008 and was a major upgrade to the 2007 DJ Williams experiment gone awry.
The middle of the Broncos defense has been a key to beating the team over the last few seasons. With that in mind the Broncos brass went in search of the type of talent that could plug the holes in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
Andra Davis and Boss Bailey are likely candidates to control the middle in the 3-4 schemes. Davis comes to Denver from Cleveland where he amassed 83 starts over seven seasons and some pretty impressive numbers at the position.
He will definitely be a force in the middle of the field. Bailey is bouncing back from an early end to his 2007 campaign and may be a much better fit on the inside with his size.
Backup fullback Spencer Larsen should get some relief time in the middle as well with his skill set being a true asset for the Broncos. Nic Griesen a journeyman from the Ravens, Jags, and Giants should get some time in the middle as well.
Mario Hagan and Louis Green will fight to move up and make a dent in the middle position.
With all of the new talent at the outside backer position, this is a group of athletes that can truly define this team going forward. The Pittsburgh Steelers current defense may be the fastest defense of all-time.
What makes them so affective is the overall team speed that is primarily reinforced by the outside linebackers and safeties. Part of the model is being implemented into the Broncos 3-4 scheme.
In order for the concept to work you have to have fast athletes that will fly around. The Broncos have focused intently on making certain they are stronger at outside linebacker and the safety position.
There is a mild log jam developing at the outside position and there may be an odd man out from time to time depending on the situation.
Currently DJ Williams should be a given at the outside backer spot. The only problem to that thinking is this years first rounder Robert Ayers is getting serious consideration at outside linebacker and possibly Darrell Reid.
At the other outside position, a pair of defensive ends will also be given serious consideration at outside linebacker. Both Elvis Dummerville and Jarvis Moss could both improve the defense and their careers from the outside.
One of last years pleasant surprises Wesley Woodyard will have to work hard to get some time at the position.
Champ Bailey is the only remnant of the defensive backfield from the 2005 team that hosted the AFC Championship game. Fortunately for the Broncos he is still among the best in the league.
Without a doubt, this group along with the Safety position has been the most upgraded positions on the team as well they should be. Dre Bly fell short of the hopes Denver fans had of him complementing Champ Bailey as another coverage corner.
The Broncos may have found a solution in Andre Goodman who comes to Denver from the Miami Dolphins. Last season he had five interceptions and a staggering 19 deflections at the corner position.
For a cornerback, that is a lot of touches that eventually translates to more team turnovers.
Alphonso Smith was the first third round pick this season and seemingly has all the tools. Most immediately Alphonso is known as the guy Josh McDaniels traded a number one pick to get in the second round this year.
Given the state of the corner position this may have been a near essential pick-up for the Broncos. They probably could have gotten Smith for less and still retained the first rounder.
He is seen as a cover corner that is most ideal to a nickel or dime package DB to start. He could also become the kick and punt returner or split time with Eddie Royal on special teams.
Following Smith are a slew of youthful corners that will take time to evaluate how they match up. Rashod Moulton, Jack Williams, and Joshua Bell are all entering their second season.
The Broncos also picked up Tony Carter from Florida State and DJ Johnson from Jackson State as undrafted free agents.
The numbers are there and the talent should be on board at this point, it’s probably a matter of who will take charge to become a force on the field.
It’s almost all that should be said. B-Dawk as he’s otherwise known has a way about him that is more infectious than the swine flu. The Broncos biggest free-agent signee works hard to pump up his teammates and get inside the head of the opposing quarterbacks.
Brian Dawkins is a leader by example and by speech. He’s not quiet when he’s on the field. He wants people to know he’s there to wreak havoc. Better than that, he’s among the smartest football players in the entire NFL.
With the tone being set at the safety position expect this group to be among the toughest on the field at any given moment.
Renaldo Hill comes to the Denver Broncos from the Miami Dolphins. Heading into his ninth season in the NFL out of Michigan State he has also played for Arizona and Oakland. He is seemingly the perfect complement at free safety to Brian Dawkins strong safety.
Hill signed a four year deal worth $10 million dollars when he came to Denver.
This tandem is the real deal and provided they stay healthy will become a reliable source for attitude and strength in the defense.
The Broncos also have youth that won’t be viewed immediately as great depth but could become that way by the end of this season or next.
Fox spent about half of last season on the inactive list he was also out with a concussion late in the season. His tackling must improve if he is going to hang around.
Josh Barrett was the Broncos seventh round selection in the 2008 draft out of Arizona State. He spent most of the season on the practice squad.
Barrett later saw action in six games and started three games after the safety position was riddled with injuries late last season.
Herana-Daze Jones saw spot action in two games late last season for the Broncos. He was with the Bengals in 2006-08 before being released during the season. He has never been a starter but could be a serviceable backup at the position.
Darcel McBath is viewed to be a “tweener” between safety and cornerback, while not the strongest; he is viewed as a very good athlete. He’s a good cover guy who can tackle. He’s not the typical big safety, but will add versatility to the position.
He is most likely projected to be a free safety in the NFL.
David Bruton was the Broncos 2009 fourth rounder out of Notre Dame. He is 6’ 2” 219lbs and no doubt packs a wallop.
This is part of the long range projection to have youth behind the immediate veteran needs. He has an infectious smile, was one of three team captains for the Irish in 2008 and was the teams leading tackler.
He appears to have all the goods in the make of becoming a top notch talent in the league.
He’ll benefit from being brought along slowly behind some solid veteran talent. Bruton also impressed at the combine by running the second fastest time among the safeties at 4.46.
Britton Colquitt from Tennessee has signed on to compete at punter with Brett Kern.
Kern may have out kicked his coverage under the Broncos poor special teams’ coverage. He averaged 46.7 yards per punt, good for seventh overall. The net average however dropped him to 16th with an average of 37.8 yards once the dust settled.
Colquitt arrives in Denver with some baggage having been stripped of his scholarship his senior season following a DUI and leaving the scene of an accident. That incident was actually his second alcohol related offense while he was at Tennessee.
Physically he has all the tools to compete and win the punter position. For Colquitt it’s more of an issue of character and if he can bounce back from a difficult senior season in 2008.
The area of special teams has been a clear weakness of the Broncos the last decade. The new regime must emphasize the importance of this often forgotten phase of the game.
Eddie Royal will probably start as the return specialist; however he may eventually split time with the likes of Alphonso Smith.
While the Broncos haven’t shown their hand on how they plan to scheme offensively or defensively this coming season, fans should expect imitation and implementation.
The imitation fans do expect fits the mold of the New England Patriots concept of “team”. Imitation not entirely expected will most likely resemble the Pittsburgh Steelers bruising offensive attack and swarming defensive schemes.
The defense overall will have to utilize the depth of speed to overcome its lack of size. The best part of being in a 3-4 with the type of talent the Broncos possess, it will be easier to confuse opponents.
There will be a wide variety of defensive fronts that will make this defense more flexible in problem solving attacking offense.
The old Orange Crush was a 3-4 that was known as a “bend but don’t break” defense. Historically their numbers are still among the best ever.
These Broncos have a long way to go and much to prove, however by being a more flexible, physical football team that is the positive step they needed to take.
The offense won’t entirely lure the fans to sleep due to the exceptional talent on the outside. However, it will most likely not be as explosive at it has been in the past.
There are still a number of questions still to be answered but the Denver Broncos do have good talent on board on both sides of the ball. How well that talent gels and rises to the occasion will determine the outcome of Coach Josh McDaniels rookie campaign.