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Denver Broncos: Why Vance Walker Deserves More Playing Time in 2015

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor IMay 25, 2015

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Vance Walker (99) comes onto the field during an NFL preseason football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

The Denver Broncos are going to be featuring a new defensive look in 2015. Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Denver will be running an aggressive 3-4 defense this season. They should blitz a lot more than the Broncos did last year under former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and this should help them get more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The outside linebackers (Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware) will be turned loose to get after the passer, but the defensive line could create some pressure as well. This offseason, the Broncos weren’t able to spend as much in free agency. They lacked the salary-cap room they had last year, so the Broncos had to find well-priced veterans to add to the roster.

One of the best free-agent additions they picked up this offseason was former Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Vance Walker. The Broncos signed Walker to a two-year deal worth $4 million with a $1.5 million signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. Walker is going to compete to start this year for the Broncos at defensive end, but he could end up playing at multiple positions in 2015.

He understands what is going to be asked of him and his teammates as they transition to a 3-4 defense.

“I just know as far as the defensive linemen, we’ve got a lot of new terminology and plays. It’s tough kind of forgetting what you did in the past and doing what your coaches [ask] and what is required for the team to be successful. You can tell everyone is starting from square one.”

Walker deserves to be a featured part of this defense. In this article, we examine why.

Run Defense

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

Walker has an intriguing skill set the Broncos can utilize in multiple ways. Measuring in at 6’2", 305 pounds, Walker has a squatty build which helps him stand strong as a run defender.

He’s got incredible functional strength and can be tough to move at the point of the play. Walker does a good job of peeking in the backfield and diagnosing where plays are headed. He’ll use his powerful arms to stack and shed blockers on his way to the ball-carrier.

Walker doesn’t mind defending the run or rushing the passer.

“I’ve always been able to play multiple positions, so I think it will be along those lines. I can pass-rush as well. Really whatever I can do to help the team.”

Opponents who face the Broncos may want to keep the offense cold on the sidelines. This will lead to game plans that are more run-heavy so long as the game is close. Defending the run is critical for the Broncos in 2015—perhaps more than ever.

With pass-rushers like Miller and Ware, opponents will try to soften up the Broncos defense up the gut. They could often use running backs on dives and draw plays up the gut to slow down the rushers on the edge. Denver needs to be strong against the run in the middle of the line. They’ll also need ends who can set the edge to keep contain on the outside.

Pass Rush

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Watching Walker get after the passer from the edge should be something Broncos fans get used to this season. He’s a big man, but Walker does a good job with quickness after the snap. An experienced veteran, he does a good job of anticipating the snap, which allows him to get to the passer faster.

He has multiple moves to get to the quarterback. Walker uses his powerful base properly, and he understands how to use leverage to get his blocker off-balance. Power isn’t his only trick. Walker can rip or swim past his opponent, too, and he does a good job of mixing up his pass-rushing moves.

Walker has been on the other side of the ball going against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as both a member of the Chiefs (2014) and the Oakland Raiders (2013). He’s glad to be on the same team for this season.

“It’s pretty amazing just from being around other teams and scouting him. Just his progressions and how he’s able to decipher defenses, coverages and everything. He’s definitely the best at it.” Walker summarized, “I’m happy to be on his side.”

Manning led the NFL in snap-to-pass timing in 2014. It takes Manning only 2.2 seconds to get rid of the ball on passing attempts. Manning also led the NFL in average time in the pocket at 2.13 seconds.

As you can see, the best quarterbacks in the game get rid of the ball in the blink of an eye. Exterior pressure is great, but it takes some time for outside rushers to get to the quarterback. Interior pressure is key for teams who want to take down the NFL’s best quarterbacks. (Advanced stats via ESPN employees-only database.)

Walker’s ability to consistently get interior pressure on the quarterback should greatly help when the Broncos go up against guys like Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers or Tom Brady. The Broncos should get through the regular season with double-digit wins again this year, but getting it done in the postseason will require consistent interior pressure on the quarterback.

The Fit

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 23:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers throws as he is pressured by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams #92 and defensive end Derek Wolfe #95 of the Denver Broncos during a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In the 3-4 defense, Walker should be a perfect fit at defensive end. However, an argument can be made that he’s the best option the team has at defensive tackle.

Walker knows all three spots on the defensive line, so he can essentially fit anywhere the Broncos want him to. “Offense aren’t used to that.” Walker explained, “They’re not used to seeing bigger guys at ends and vice versa. The guards can’t handle the speed. I think a lot of it works in our favor.”

With question marks at the defensive tackle position, Walker may play more inside than some think. Sylvester Williams can be penciled in as the starter at this time, but if he struggles then more of Walker at tackle could be the answer the Broncos are looking for.

Walker is ready for anything that is asked of him.

“The nose [tackle] can play 3-technique or end. It pretty much has a lot of versatility in this system. The biggest thing is really getting after the quarterback.” Walker exclaimed, “That’s something that I like to do. I’m just looking forward to it.”

When pushed about which spot he preferred, Walker wasted little time with his explanation. “Inside just because I’m a big guy. I like to fight.” Walker certainly has a lot of fight in him, and no matter where he’s lined up, he will battle on every snap.

College Connection

Don Feria/Associated Press

Walker was a star player for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in college, and there was a time when both he and Demaryius Thomas were on the same team. Thomas has turned into an NFL star even though he was on a college team that rarely threw the ball. Walker knew Thomas had star potential back at Georgia Tech.

“I did. We all did. Back at [Georgia] Tech—I want to say that he came a year after me, and he redshirted his first season at Georgia Tech. We had to go against him playing defense. Just the stuff that he would do, it just left us amazed.” Walker continued, “We always knew he’d be on par with [Detroit WR] Calvin [Johnson] because Calvin was there with us as well. It’s not really a surprise what he’s doing.”

Thomas and Johnson are superstars in the NFL, but they’re not the only stars to come from that team. Former defensive tackle Leati Joseph "Joe" Anoaʻi (aka Roman Reigns) has become one of the top professional wrestlers in the WWE.

“I love him to death. He is a really good guy. He had a crazy side to him, but he was a really good guy.” Walker reminisced, “A really hard worker. He knows he’s blessed and he’s always trying to outwork everybody.”

Expectations

As a veteran on the defensive side of the ball, Walker will have more responsibility than some of the younger players around him. The team can look for Walker to be a natural leader on the field, and his guidance should help a lot.

“We have super high expectations. Just to be the best. We’ve got a really good group of guys between the D-Line, the linebackers, the ends obviously, the cornerbacks and safeties. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team more talented.” Walker re-emphasized, “We’ve got really high expectations. We’ve just got to go out there and work every day to live up to those.”

Walker’s work ethic is well known, and he’s a player who leads by example on and off the field. That type of dedication to his craft is infectious, and younger defensive players should be able to look to Walker as an example of true professionalism.

Summary

Walker should be able to come through for the Broncos as a run defender and pass-rusher. He may not have been a big-name free agent, but Walker could end up being the most important addition the Broncos had this offseason.

The key ingredient to being a productive interior pass-rusher is simple according to Walker. “You’ve just got to hate quarterbacks. That’s the biggest thing.”

The Broncos weren’t able to add big-name free agents this offseason like they did last year. However, Walker is a seasoned veteran who should be able to make a name for himself in 2015.

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.

Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac. Transaction history provided by Pro Sports Transactions.

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