Much has been made about Elvis Dumervil’s pectoral injury and the expected impact on the Denver Broncos.
With the rising star out indefinitely, the Broncos are left to pick up the pieces of a defense that fell apart during their 2-8 finish in 2009.
Here is what Denver has to work with:
Dumervil’s current replacement at outside linebacker is Jarvis Moss, an unproven, athletic player entering his fourth season with the Broncos.
The former No. 17 overall pick has started one game and recorded 3.5 sacks in his first three seasons. At 6’7”, 257 pounds, Moss’s athletic build is ideal for the 3-4 defense, yet his lack of experience will be a limiting factor.
Lack of experience is also an issue for one of Denver’s new additions, like defensive end Justin Bannan, who has started more than seven games one time in his eight-year career.
Bannan and fellow new teammate Jamal Williams are primarily run stoppers, as Bannan has five sacks in eight seasons and Williams has 13 sacks in 12 seasons.
Ryan McBean, who started 14 games with Denver in 2009-2010, joins them.
Veteran linebacker D.J. Williams, one of the longest tenured Broncos, is joined by Mario Haggan and Robert Ayers to round out the front seven.
Haggan tallied one sack in 16 starts with the Broncos last season, while Ayers is coming off a rookie season as a role player, seeing action in 15 games.
Changing of the guard is also happening at the coaching level, with Don Martindale taking over for Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator.
It will be Martindale’s first defensive coordinator job in the NFL. He spent several years at the college level and with the Oakland Raiders, mostly as a linebackers coach.
With that emphasis, Martindale ought to help the less experienced players settle into their roles with Denver.
Dumervil tallied 17 of Denver’s 39 sacks in 2009-2010, with five more coming from defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday, who is no longer with the team.
With all the change in Denver’s front seven, it will take time for players to become comfortable in new roles and Martindale’s system.
Time, however, is not on Denver’s side, as they face Indianapolis, Tennessee, Baltimore, and the New York Jets in Weeks 3 through 6.
These opponents boast some of the best offensive lines in the NFL, which means the Broncos could struggle to pressure the quarterback if the defense fails to adjust quickly.
The upside of a tough start to the season is that Denver’s pass rush will get a good test against playoff caliber teams.
Even when Dumervil does return, he will have to make his own adjustments to a new system, and there is the concern of how the injury will impact his ability to evade defenders.
With many changes on the defensive front and Dumervil out indefinitely, it is very unlikely that the Broncos will have the third-ranked pass defense in the NFL for a second straight season.