Denver's Patchwork Defensive Line Could Kill The Season

Jesse SchafferCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2009

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 21:  Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas #79 of the Denver Broncos is poised at the line of scrimmage as he defends against the New Orleans Saints during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 21, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Saints 34-32.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Two years ago, Mike Shannahan hired Jim Bates to apply his two-gap 4-3 defense. The Broncos drafted linemen Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder, and Marcus Thomas and signed free agents Sam Adams and Simeon Rice.

Unfortunately the changes didn't live up to the hype, as Denver finished 30th in rushing defense and 19th in overall defense.

Last year, Shannahan fired Bates in favor of Bob Slowik and a more conventional 4-3 defense. The Broncos then acquired defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson in a trade with the Jets and placed linemen Kenny Peterson and Nic Clemons on the main roster. Once again the unit fell apart and Denver finished 27th in rushing defense and 29th in overall defense.

See a pattern yet?

If there is one major factor that led to Shanny's exit from LoDo, it was that he was a very poor talent evaluator of defensive linemen, especially with players from the draft.

His inability to put together a quality front four took all the potential his past two Broncos' teams had and squashed it before the season could even begin.

One of the general concepts in football is if your team can stop the run, your chances of success go way up. As much of a boring cliche as that may be, there is truth to it; out of the teams that ranked in the top 10 in defending the run last year, 7 of them made the playoffs. So what does all of this mean for the Broncos this year?

Trouble. Truckloads of it.

The new d-line put together by Josh McDaniels is terrifying, in a bad way. None of the players on the roster have much if any starting experience in a 3-4 scheme (the system that will be used this year by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan) and many of them have been career backups.

Last month during team mini-camps, Ronnie Fields, Ryan McBean, and Kenny Peterson were taking snaps with the first team defense. A root canal without painkillers may hurt less than for those three to be the starters come September.

Marcus Thomas, the 2007 4th round pick with "1st round potential" is also still on the roster and has yet to make an impact that is non-marijuana related. Moss and Crowder have been banished to linebacker in the hope that they might actually show up and play some football.

The rookie d-lineman, led by Chris Baker, Rulon Davis, Carlton Powell, and Everette Pedescleaux (say that three times fast), have fans hoping for a gem. The problem with gems is that you have to pull them out of a pile of rocks and look closely before you can decide if you have one or not.

There is no doubt that many of the guys I mentioned have the potential to be good players, but the Broncos can't keep placing all their hopes on potential. They need solid contributions from players who will be good, not from ones who could be.

To be fair, it was slim pickings this offseason for d-linemen whose abilities fit the 3-4 system. The asking price for high commodities such as Albert Haynesworth and B.J. Raji was far too high and undeserving.

Guys like Igor Olshansky, Grady Jackson, and Chris Canty were available though, and would've brought more proven resumes to Denver's defensive reboot than the ones McDaniels recruited.

I may sound like a pessimist, but I have viewed this subject from each perspective. Sayre's excellent training camp preview shined a much more positive light on how these players could turn out, and in a perfect world that's exactly what would happen.

Unfortunately, these days Dove Valley is anything but a perfect world. The dark clouds that formed at the end of the Mike Shannahan era are not to be parted easily. If anything, the Broncos will win less games before they win more, struggle mightily before they succeed. Before that shift to sunnier skies can proceed, the defense must improve.

Someday we may all have a good laugh over how much I underestimated these players, but I don't believe that will be this season. It won't be next season or any season after until the talent at Denver's defensive line finally gets the upgrade it so sorely needs.

However, I would love to be proven wrong.