The Denver Broncos suffered a huge blow during their first week of training camp with the news that star linebacker Elvis Dumervil may be lost for the season, or at least most of it, with a torn pectoral muscle.
For now, the Broncos are saying that Dumervil will be out "indefinitely," while ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the 2009 NFL sack leader will be out four months. Regardless of phrasing, it appears Dumervil will be sidelined at least through Thanksgiving.
Losing Dumervil comes at a significant cost to the Broncos, who are relying on him as the centerpiece to what the team hopes will remain a strong defensive unit. Here are a number of reasons why his absence will have a huge effect on the Broncos in 2010.
The Denver Post reported that Dumervil tore the right pectoral muscle during one-on-one drills at camp. It became extended before coaches saw him leave the field holding his right arm and chest area.
It is a crucial injury for a pass rusher who uses his right side as his main point of attack when rushing the passer.
Dumervil will undergo surgery in the next couple of days; that much is unavoidable. However, the Broncos must now weigh the options of keeping him on the roster.
If they do, they will take up a roster spot at a position where depth is certainly required. If the Broncos put Dumervil on injured reserve, they have no opportunity to bring him back should be ready to go for the season's last four weeks.
Just last month the Broncos rewarded Dumervil with a massive contract extension. Dumervil, who tallied a team-record 17 sacks in 2009, inked a five-year, $58.332 million extension with over $43 million in guaranteed money.
Tim Tebow may be the new face of the Broncos offense, but Dumervil was the returning star who was going to have an important impact on every down starting in Week One. The Broncos obviously lose that now.
The burden of replacing the team's leading sack artist now falls to a pair of former first round picks.
Jarvis Moss (2007, 17th overall) and Robert Ayers (2009, 18th overall) must now fill in the production left by Dumervil. That is a tall order for a duo that has combined for 35 tackles and 3.5 sacks since joining the NFL. That is meager production for a pair of highly selected outside linebackers.
Losing a guy who had 17 sacks a season ago is one thing. Losing the guy who recorded 43.5 percent of the team's sacks is a whole different level.
But that's exactly what Dumervil did last year on a team that tallied 39 sacks, which was 10th in the league. Vonnie Holliday ranked second on the Broncos last year with 5.0 sacks, and fellow defensive end Darrell Reid recorded 4.0 sacks. D.J. Williams and Andra Davis both made 3.5 sacks last season.
Holliday is now in Washington with Mike Shanahan, which likely puts the burden on Williams or Moss and Ayers to pick up the slack.
The Broncos finished seventh in total defense a year ago and ranked 12th in fewest points allowed. Take out a huge weapon, though, and the fallout could be ugly. In a division where the Broncos' biggest hurdle is a team with an All-Pro quarterback, losing the team's best pass rusher is a punch to the gut.
Not only did Dumervil command double teams and extra attention, he also opened up possibilities for others on the Broncos defense to become playmakers. Without his threat, teams will have an easier time scheming for Denver.
Dumervil is only 26 years old, but already the 2006 fourth round pick had become a vocal leader on the Broncos defense.
The Broncos still have Champ Bailey at corner and the always boisterous Brian Dawkins at safety, but the Broncos need a leader who will step up in the front seven. Who that player will be should be resolved by the end of the camp.
The Broncos' 2010 season did not lie entirely on Dumervil's shoulders. Questions at quarterback and wide receiver leave the Broncos a bit exposed in the AFC West. However, the Broncos relied heavily on their defense last year to carry them through games when the offense sputtered.
Denver may now be without that security blanket given the shakeup in the front seven. The Broncos do not have the early look of a Super Bowl contender, but the road became even bumpier with Dumervil's injury.