D-Rob will still have a chance to get to Brady
Last season the Broncos entered Training Camp with the beef necessary to make an impact in the AFC West. Or so we thought. Sam Adams, Jimmy Kennedy, Gerard Warren and others were going to stop the run, create havoc in the back field and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Too bad Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates never got the message. Before the season started, Warren was so expendable the Broncos traded him to the Raiders and Kennedy was simply thrown on the trash heap for the like of Antwon Burton. It didn't take long to show those moves, and the entire defensive interior, were a complete train wreck.
Even now the stats are hard to look at. Only two teams - Oakland and Miami - gave up more yards on the ground than the Broncos in 2007. The 2282 yards allowed on the ground were nearly twice the amount given up by the Minnesota Vikings, who led the NFL in Rush defense(1185). While the defensive tackles can't take all the blame, there was certainly enough to go around, it is safe to say the group was a major disappointment.
If the Broncos are going to improve in 2008 it has to start at DT. It is a young group, with only two players with more than 2 years experience, but it is a group filled with talent as well. In my mind this group comes into Training Camp with the biggest question mark attached to their back. No one really knows what we are going to get. Every team has those question marks somewhere, that's were a little luck comes in. The Broncos need a few breaks to fall in their favor. A group of defensive tackles that exceed expectations is one of them. Let's break 'em down --
DEWAYNE ROBERTSON (6-1, 308 / 6th Year)
Why waste time or mince words. If the Broncos interior defense is going to even think about being respectable it has to start with the most talented player getting the job done. Dewayne Robertson is that guy. The Broncos acquired Robertson for a bag of shoulder pads and end zone markers but the expectation are for the former Top 4 pick to make a big-time contribution to the Broncos run defense.
Questions abound about Robertson and his health, yet the man with the chronic knee problems has missed only three games during his first 5 years in the league. Last season, playing for a bad team, in a defensive scheme that apparently didn't fit his skills all that well, Robertson played over 75% of the Jets defensive snaps and arguably had the best statistical season of his career.
I will say I believe the concerns about Robertson's health are real and certainly valid. I expect the Broncos to tread very carefully with there new toy and even in the middle of the season expect Robertson to see somewhere between 55-60% of the defensive snaps. Keeping Robertson fresh and on the field for 17 weeks is going to be a huge priority and if the Broncos run defense shows improvement I guarantee that Dewayne Robertson is right in the middle of it.
2007 Season Notes: Robertson played all 16 games (15 starts) for the fourth time in his career, posting career highs in tackles (74) and sacks (4) for the Jets... Ranked fifth on the team (second among defensive linemen) in tackles and second on the club in sacks... Saw time on 75.4 percent of New York’s defensive snaps... Added one fumble recovery for the year... Registered a season-high eight tackles (2 solo) vs. Buf. (10/28) before matching that total a week later vs. Was. (11/4)... Had a personal-best 2.5 sacks vs. Pit. (11/18) for the second multiple-sack game of his career... Recorded his fourth sack of the season, setting a personal best, at Dal. (11/22)... Notched eight stops (3 solo) at N.E. (12/16)... Recovered a fumble at Ten. (12/23) and had four tackles against the Titans.
Perhaps the one player that will benefit the most from a presence like Dewayne Robertson is Thomas who has similar talent but needs to keep his head on straight. The Broncos took a chance on Thomas, trading away their 3rd round pick in the 2008 draft to move up in the 4th round in '07. We all know the story - lots of talent, couldn't stay off the hippie lettuce, kicked off the Florida Gators, etc - a story that added a new chapter this off-season with a recently dropped drug charge. Thomas has used the latest case of bad judgement as a wake up call and has avoided the spotlight, and his hometown of Jacksonville, FL, during the summer.
On the field Thomas showed glimpses during his rookie campaign of why the Broncos, and many draftniks, were so high on him. Defensive tackle is usually a position that takes young players a little time to make an impact, and it was no different for Thomas, but it was easy to see the talent was there. Of course, there's that back flip Thomas pulled off during training camp last season as well
I am looking for Thomas to make a jump in his 2nd season and to team up with Robertson to create a formidable 1-2 punch in the middle for the Broncos. The only thing that will keep Thomas from becoming a solid Pro is Thomas himself. A couple near-misses and second chances seem to have Thomas on that road. That can only be good news for the Broncos.
2007 Season Notes: Selected by the Broncos in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas played all 16 games (5 starts) as a rookie, totaling 30 tackles (17 solo), one interception (-2 yds.), one pass breakup and one fumble recovery... Started each of Denver’s final four games... Joined Atlanta defensive tackle Trey Lewis as one of two rookie defensive linemen in the NFL to record an interception... Was one of four Broncos to record at least one interception and one fumble recovery... Made his NFL debut at Buf. (9/9) and had two tackles (1 solo) on defense while also seeing action on special teams... Posted the first interception of his NFL career vs. Oak. (9/16) when he caught a Josh McCown pass that bounced off John Lynch’s shoulder pads... Also had one tackle against the Raiders... Shared the lead among the defensive linemen with four tackles at Ind. (9/30)... Assisted on two tackles in his first pro start—replacing Amon Gordon—on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21)... Recorded three tackles (2 solo) at K.C. (11/11) to help limit the Chiefs to 67 yards on 22 carries (3.0 avg.)... Contributed three tackles (2 solo) on Monday Night Football vs. Ten. (11/19)... Registered four tackles (3 solo) and one fumble recovery on Monday Night Football at S.D. (12/24).
By far the most "seasoned" veteran of the group, McKinley may not possess impressive numbers but McKinley's value goes alot further than tackles and sacks. Like many of the Broncos D-linemen McKinley is a 'tweener, playing both inside and outside depending on the situation. It is a valuable asset to have unless you find yourself with a team of them. With Robertson and Thomas the real deal at tackle, guys like McKinley, Josh Mallard and Tim Crowder will have the ability to move around depending on the situation.
Depending on how things shake down during training camp and the pre-season, McKinley could be the odd man out. The Broncos always has a surprise or two on the final cut list and McKinley fits the bill. An aging vet that most fans think will add valuable experience to a young group gets picked over for even younger players. That has been the M.O. in the past. If McKinley does make the cut he will play a critical roll. When I break down the D-End group I will give my thoughts on the entire D-Line. For now, we'll assume McKinley has a place on roster. If that happens, the Broncos know they'll get 110% each and every play. McKinley plays alot bigger than his size and always finds a way to the ball. Solild in the locker room, you can never have too many Alvin McKinley's to go around.
2007 Season Notes: McKinley played 15 games (10 starts) in his first year with Denver, recording 28 tackles (16 solo) and 2.5 sacks (12.5 yds.)... Registered three tackles (2 solo), including a 4-yard sack, vs. Jac. (9/23)... Recorded four solo tackles and one sack on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21)... Tied for the lead among defensive linemen with three tackles (2 solo) at Det. (11/4)... Posted three tackles (1 solo), including half a sack (4.5 yds.), vs. Min. (12/30)... Teamed with Jamie Winborn to drop Tarvaris Jackson for a 9-yard sack in overtime.
Steven Harris is the most intriguing figure on the D-Line. At 6-5/305, Harris possesses excellent size. As a teammate of Marcus Thomas at Florida, it was Harris that won the Outstanding Lineman Award as a senior.
Coming in as an undrafted free agent, Harris was able to see action in 4 games and showed some potential. The critical thing for Harris will be if he can make positive strides from year 1 to year 2. If he can, and shows the Broncos that he has longterm growth potential, it could come at the expense of an aging player like McKinley. There is just something about Harris I really like and will have my eye on him in Training Camp.
2007 Season Notes: Harris saw time in the Broncos' final four games of the year as a rookie, totaling six tackles (2 solo) and one fumble recovery... Began the year on the Broncos’ practice squad before he joined their active roster on Dec. 5... Made his professional debut vs. K.C. (12/9), assisting on a tackle and recovering a fumble... Ended the Chiefs’ final drive of the game when he recovered quarterback Brodie Croyle’s fumble forced by Josh Mallard... Added three tackles (2 solo) at Hou. (12/13) before assisting on tackles in each of the season’s final two games at S.D. (12/24) and vs. Min. (12/30).
Mallard joined the Broncos during the roster purge of 2007. It seemed like every week the Broncos were cutting guys and bringing new players in, especially on defense. Mallard was impressive in the limited action he received, showing a good motor and playing hard while not having a ton of time to prepare.
I'll leave Mallard's future with the Broncos up to your discussion. To be honest, if Mallard is one of the 53 best players on the Broncos roster, we may have some problems. Search out your feelings, you know this to be true!
2007 Season Notes: Mallard joined the Broncos as a free agent on Nov. 6 after playing in three games with Atlanta (did not record any statistics)... Played 11 games for the year, including his eight contests with Denver, and registered 20 tackles (15 solo), 3.5 sacks (7.5 yds.), one pass breakup and one forced fumble... Ranked third on Denver with 3.5 sacks... Made his Broncos debut at K.C. (11/11) and had two tackles in that contest... Contributed two solo tackles, one sack (first as a Bronco), one pass breakup and one forced fumble vs. K.C. (12/9)... Added three tackles, including one sack (3 yds.), on Monday Night Football at S.D. (12/24)... Posted a careerhigh 1.5 sacks in a four-tackle effort vs. Min. (12/30).
The big want among Broncos fans the entire off-season leading up to the draft was a Defensive Tackle. Several names were tossed around only to have each one plucked away on draft day. The Broncos finally got their man in the 5th Round, taking Carlton Powell from Va. Tech. While Powell may not have been a household name, everything I have seen and heard from and about this kid is positive.
While not spectacular at any one thing, Powell is solid in all areas and should provide solid depth. While I won't go as far as to expect big things from Powell something tells me not to be surprised if he comes right in and makes a big impact. Solid guys usually find a way.
2007 Season Notes: Powell played 14 games (13 starts) as a senior for Virginia Tech, helping the Hokies post top-5 national rankings in scoring defense (3rd - 16.1 ppg.), total defense (4th - 296.9 ypg.) and rushing defense (5th - 86.6 ypg.) while earning a berth in the Orange Bowl... Totaled career highs in tackles (39 / 11 solo) and sacks (3.5-22 yds.)... Credited with making seven tackles in the red zone and had at least four stops in four games.
Now it's your turn. What do you think about the Broncos' D-Tackle situation??