Filling In The Gaps: Rebuilding The Broncos' Defense

Joseph VaccarelliContributor IMay 23, 2009

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 21:  Cornerback Champ Bailey #24 of the Denver Broncos 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)

There's only word that sums up the Denver Broncos defense's 2008 season.  Abysmal.

Last season, the Broncos ranked 29th in yardage allowed and 30th in points, giving up 448 points.

Injuries definitely played role in the Broncos defense being so porous last season, but personnel issues were also at the forefront of the Broncos' problems.

Well, the Broncos have attempted to rectify the personnel problem with new players and new coaches as Mike Shanahan and Bob Slowik are now gone and Josh McDaniels and Mike Nolan are in.

Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan is also planning on implementing a 3-4 defense, something the Broncos haven't used in some time, and will be asking their remaining players, as well as free-agent acquisitions and draft picks to adjust to this new system that will feature three down lineman and four linebackers.

The defensive line, which consisted of Elvis Dumervil, Dewayne Robertson, John Engelberger and Ebenezer Ekuban will return only Dumervil, and he most likely will move to outside linebacker where he will do some pass coverage and rush the passer.

Look for free-agent acquisitions Darrell Reid and Ronald Fields to contribute heavily here along with holdovers Kenny Peterson and Marcus Thomas and undrafted free agent Chris Baker from Hampton.

The pass rush will still be an issue as the projected starters had a combined total of five sacks in 2008. The Broncos hope Reid and Peterson will step up and get to the quarterback as well help Fields, Thomas and Baker plug the middle and stop the run.

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The linebackers will have a distinctly different look than last season. Middle linebacker Nate Webster and leading tackler Jamie Winborn are gone and the Broncos hope free-agent Andra Davis can fill the void as well as Boss Bailey, a starter who missed most of the 2008 season due to injury.

D.J Williams is another holdover that will return to his outside linebacker position and the other outside position is up for grabs. Dumervil, first-round draft pick Robert Ayers and holdovers Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder may all see time there. All natural defensive lineman, the player who is able to hone his pass defense skills will most likely see the most action. Don't be surprised to see these guys on the defensive line as well at times.

The secondary probably had the largest shakeup as three of the four starters won't be back. Dre Bly, Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree were all cut or will not be retained. Champ Bailey is the only starter remaining from last season.

Bailey will hope he can stay healthy all season, while the other corner position will be filled by either Andre' Goodman or second rounder Alphonso Smith.

For the safeties, both Manuel and McCree were colossal disappointments last season. The team will look for better performances out of Renaldo Hill and big-splash free agent Brian Dawkins. Second-rounder Darcel McBath may also see some action.

For the 2009 season, the secondary should be much improved, but the big question will be how the rest of the team adapts to the 3-4 defense. If Dumervil, Ayers or Moss can be effective at the outside linebacker position, the team should be just fine.

Some criticized the Broncos for using only four of their 10 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, three of those used in the secondary, but if the penciled in starters on the defensive line can step up and contribute. The Broncos defense could be a force to be reckoned with in 2009.