2008 Denver Broncos - Breaking Down The Roster #4 - Defensive End


Dumervil will continue to crush opposing QB's in '08

A few days ago we took a look at the interior of the defensive line. We all know the problem the Broncos had stopping the run, and there has been plenty of talk about why. The Broncos have gone to great lengths to improve the interior, both on the line and at linebacker. Equally important to me is the ability to create a pass rush from the front four. As the New York Giants reminded us in Super Bowl XLII, it doesn't matter who the quarterback is, or how talented the offense is, if you can create constant pressure with your front 4 you are going to have a chance to win the game.


Let's look at the stats, shall we? Again, sack totals are not tied directly to the defensive end position, but I do believe an effective pass rush, generated by the front four, is directly related to a team's success. The D-End is a big part of that. When the Broncos were winning more games in a 3-year period than anyone ever('96-'98), they were consistently in the top-10 in sacks -

1996 - 40 sacks - #8
1997 - 44 sacks - #10
1998 - 47 sacks - #6

Fast forward to the past 5 years, and the Broncos haven't had the same success. Ironically, when the Broncos advanced to the AFC Championship in 2005 they had their worst season in terms of sacks -

2003 - 36 sacks - #13
2004 - 38 sacks - #14
2005 - 28 sacks - #28
2006 - 35 sacks - #15
2007 - 33 sacks - #16

Does that mean that getting to the quarterback isn't that important?  Of course not. In 2005, the Broncos knew they didn't have a great pass rush up front so they sent the house, alot.  Think back to the playoff game against the Patriots, the Broncos blitzed 8 or 9 guys almost every play.  Finally we came up against a team, the Steelers, that handled that pressure.  The result was....well...we don't need to talk about it.

The rebuilding of the d-line began, and it went into overdrive in the 2007 draft.  The Broncos focused heavily on the defensive ends in last year's draft, taking Jarvis Moss in Round 1 and Tim Crowder in Round 2. The goal was to let the rookies come along slowly with veterans John Engelberger and Ebenezer Ekuban getting a majority of the reps, along with Elvis Dumervil. Those plans ended when Ekuban blew out his Achilles in the pre-season.  The result was a struggling defense. 

Heading into 2008, the Broncos look to be healthy and hungry up front and are primed to break out.  If we are talking about a successful season in 6 months, the following group would have had a huge hand in it.  Let's meet them.

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EBENEZER EKUBAN (6-4, 275 / 10th Year)

Big things were expected from Ekuban heading into 2007.  As one of the infamous "Browncos", Ekuban had actually been highly effective.  Coming over from the Browns in the Reuben Droughns trade, his 63 tackles in 2006 were easily a career high, and the 7 sacks were his second best total.  With a batch of rookies coming in, Ekuban was going to be the veteran presence the Broncos disparately needed.  That all ended when Ekuban tore his Achilles tendon against the Dallas Cowboys.  It continued a steamroller of injuries that paralyzed the Broncos during the pre-season.

An injury as significant as the one Ekuban endured is tough to come back from for a young player, let alone a 10 year vet.  Ekuban went through it, and the Broncos saw enough to re-sign him to a contract.  We really don't know what to expect from Ekuban, but one thing is for sure.  Even if he cannot come back as the player he was before, his presence on the sideline, in the locker room, the meeting room, sitting along side Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder will be invaluable.

The Broncos are likely to take things slow during training camp with Ekuban, but I will be keeping a close eye on #91.  I always pull for guys that battle back from injuries and something tells me Ekuban will be a solid contributer in 2008.

2007 Season NotesEkuban spent the season on injured reserve with a torn right Achilles’ tendon suffered in the Broncos’ second preseason game at Dal. (8/18)... Placed on injured reserve on Aug. 20.

 

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JOHN ENGELBERGER (6-4, 260 / 9th Year)

I'll admit it.  I have never been high on Engelberger, but it really isn't his fault.  Engelberger is the type of player that every team loves to have.  High energy, over achiever, doesn't quit.  The problem is, the Broncos, at times in 2007, had a d-line filled with those types of guys.  At some point you need pure talent.  For that reason my opinion of Engelberger has changed.

Pressed into a lot more action than the Broncos would really like to see, Engelberger was a steady contributor on 2007.  Engleberger's strength is stopping the run, and his 41 tackles were the second highest of his career.  In three seasons with the Broncos, Engelberger has played 46 of 48 possible games and has provided stability.  In 2007, Engelberger was a Ed Block Courage Award nominee after paying through a painful shoulder injury, starting 15 games.  There is no doubting this guys toughness.

While Engelberger does play hard, the Broncos hope he doesn't play nearly as much has he had to in 2007.  With Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, along with Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos hope to have the three guys that can get a majority of the snaps.  Engelberger, at this point of his career, should be energy off the bench.  That isn't a knock on Engelberger, but for the Broncos to be successful, they'll need their most talented players to be on the field making plays.  If used correctly, Engleberger can provide solid leadership and energy.  If pressed into a lot of action, look for him to wear down.

2007 Season Notes:  Engelberger led the Broncos’ defensive line with 59 tackles (40 solo), starting 15 of 16 games played... Had at least a share of the tackle lead among the defensive linemen seven times... Added one sack (8 yds.), two pass breakups and one forced fumble... Earned the team’s nomination for the Ed Block Courage Award by starting its final 12 games despite suffering a fifth-degree separation of the AC joint in his right shoulder in Week 4 at Indianapolis... Led the defensive line with six tackles (3 solo) at Buf. (9/9)... Recorded five solo stops vs. Oak.(9/16)... Tied for the lead among the linemen with four stops (2 solo) at Ind. (9/30), the game in which he suffered a fifth-degree separation of the AC joint in his right shoulder... Recorded four tackles (3 solo), including a sack (8 yds.), on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21)... Led the defensive line with five tackles (3 solo) vs. Ten. (11/19), giving him exactly 200 career solo tackles... Posted six tackles (5 solo) at Oak. (12/2), eclipsing 300 total tackles for his career... Made three tackles and forced a fumble that led to a Denver touchdown vs. Min. (12/30).

 

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ELVIS DUMERVIL (5-11, 260 / 3rd Year)

Too short, too small, blah blah blah.  Elvis Dooooooomervil has been hearing that his entire football career, at every level.  And people wonder why I'm not a stats guy or combine guy.  What Dumervil gives up in size, he makes up for 10 times over in heart, desire and of course, ability.  After leading the team in sacks as a rookie, Dumervil did even better in 2007, registering 12.5 sacks, good for 6th in the NFL and 9th best in team history.  Not bad for being too small.

Here's a solid breakdown of some of Dumervil's brighter moments from 2007 -

Dumervil is going to be a monster in 2008.  I really believe it.  Last season I predicted 10-15 sacks for Doom and he came in at 12.5.  This season I expect even more, with Dumervil breaking the 15 sack barrier and making his first Pro Bowl  Is that optimistic?  Yes, but the Broncos need that type of dominant player on the line, and Dumervil has shown to be the closest thing.  In his 3rd year, Dumervil should be entering his football prime, and he has been unstoppable getting to the quarterback at every level.  The NFL will be no different.

2007 Season Notes:  Dumervil was one of three Broncos defenders and the only defensive lineman to start all 16 games as the second-year player finished the year with a team-high 12.5 sacks (62.5 yds.), 56 tackles (43 solo), one interception (27 yds.), seven pass breakups, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries... 12.5 sacks tied for sixth in the NFL and tied for ninth in club history for a single season... Sack total also represented the most by a Bronco since 1999 (Trevor Pryce, 13)... Tied for the NFL lead among defensive linemen and ranked second among all Broncos with four takeaways (3 FUM, 1 INT)... Three fumble recoveries tied for third in the NFL (tied for AFC lead)... Four forced fumbles were a team high and tied for ninth in the NFL with two of them being returned by teammates for touchdowns... Seven pass breakups were the most by a Broncos defensive lineman since 1995 (Michael Dean Perry, 8)... Earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors with a three-sack game vs. K.C. (12/9)... Posted four multiple-sack games, marking the most by a Bronco since 2000 (Trevor Pryce, 4)... Started for the first time as a pro at Buf. (9/9) and recorded the first interception of his NFL career on a tipped pass against the Bills... Notched his first two sacks of the season vs. Oak. (9/16)... Contributed five tackles (3 solo), including a pair of sacks (10 yds.), along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery vs. Jac. (9/23)... Registered three pass breakups at Ind. (9/30)... Led the defensive line with six solo tackles, including a pair of sacks (18 yds.), on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21)... First sack forced a fumble that was returned 50 yards by Tim Crowder for a touchdown... Registered two solo tackles, one sack and one forced fumble at K.C. (11/11)... Sack against the Chiefs forced a fumble that Nate Webster returned 17 yards for a score... Earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance vs. K.C. (12/9) when he recorded five solo tackles while matching his career high with three sacks... Helped limit the Chiefs to 16 rushing yards on 17 carries (0.9 avg.) and totaled two of his sacks on consecutive plays... Led the defensive line with five tackles (4 solo) and added a sack at S.D. (12/24)... Recovered two fumbles, including one in overtime to set up the game winning field goal, while posting five tackles along with half a sack vs. Min. (12/30) in the season finale... Also drew a facemask penalty in the end zone in the fourth quarter against Minnesota that resulted in a safety.

 

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JARVIS MOSS (6-6, 265 / 2nd Year)

Impact player or 1st round bust?  One injury-plagued season doesn't definitively answer that question, but how Jarvis Moss fares in 2008 will go along way towards finding that answer.  Moss came in with a lot of fan-fare when the Broncos traded up in the 1st round to select him.  After an injury-riddled college career, Moss was hurt early in training camp, further slowing his progress.  After looking solid for 6 games, Moss's season ended on a "freak" injury in practice.  We'd be forced to wait to see if Moss could be the destructive force the Broncos need.

Fast-forward to 2008, and Moss appears healthy and ready to make an impact.  Think about it for a second - Dumervil creating chaos on one side while Moss collapses the pocket on the other - a potentially deadly duo, IF Moss can stay on the field.

Moss is a freak athletically, so much so that he put tremendous stress on the lower half of his body.  His mind wants his body to do things it simply cannot and it leads to pulls, sprains, and in the case of his 2007 injury, a broken ankle.  Can Moss lasso all that talent and keep his body strong enough to compensate?  That's the question that will get answered in pre-season.  If Moss can somehow stay healthy, the Broncos are going to reap the rewards.  If he cannot, Moss could go down as the next, latest bust in the 1st round of the draft.

2007 Season Notes:  Selected by the Broncos in the first round (17th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft, Moss played six games (1 start) as a rookie, posting 14 tackles (7 solo), one sack (7 yds.) and one forced fumble before being placed on injured reserve on Nov. 6 with a fractured right fibula... Totaled four tackles (3 solo) in his NFL debut at Buf. (9/9)... Forced a fumble on his first professional sack (Josh McCown) vs. Oak. (9/16)... Had three tackles in his first NFL start at Ind. (9/30)... Suffered his leg injury during practice preparing for the game at Det. (11/4) and was inactive for two games before he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 6.

 

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TIM CROWDER (6-4, 275 / 2nd Year)

Crowder didn't come in with all the attention that Jarvis Moss had, but in some ways I think that is exactly how he liked it.  Quiet, but highly effective over 4 years at the University of Texas, Crowder a jack-of-all trades, master of none of the d-line.  His rookie season played out that way and showed the Broncos have a solid contributer.

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 Crowder's 2007 highlight came in prime time
via cache.viewimages.com

An ankle inury slowed Crowder's progress early on, but even while battling through the pain Crowder was abe to tally 4.5 sacks, impressive for any healthy rookie.  The highlight had to be the 50 yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, in primetime, against the Steelers.  Crowder got stronger as the year went on, something you always look for from a rookie, and with a full-year's experience under his belt Crowder should be ready to breakout in 2008.  I felt last year that Crowder would be the most stable and effective of the D-Line rookies, and it turned out he was.  I expect more of the same in 2008.

2007 Season Notes:  Selected by the Broncos in the second round (56th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft, Crowder played 13 games (1 start) for Denver as a rookie and totaled 22 tackles (18 solo), four sacks (39 yds.), one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries... Tied for fifth among NFL rookies and ranked second on Denver with four sacks... Registered a sack in three consecutive games (Gms. 9-11), becoming the first Bronco to accomplish that feat since 2004 (Reggie Hayward, 4 gms.)... Scored on a 50-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21), becoming the first Broncos defensive lineman to score on a fumble return since 2002 (Chester McGlockton)... Declared inactive for the first three games of the season due to an ankle injury suffered during training camp... Started in his professional debut at Ind. (9/30)... Registered the first tackle of his career vs. S.D. (10/7)... Posted four tackles (3 solo) and the first sacks of his career with two takedowns (21 yds.) of Brodie Croyle at K.C. (11/11)... Added a 15-yard sack vs. Ten. (11/19) on Monday Night Football before recording one sack at Chi. (11/25) to extend his sack streak to three games... Recovered a fumble vs. K.C. (12/9) to set up a touchdown and helped Denver hold the Chiefs to the third-lowest yards per rush average (0.94, 17-16) in a game in club history.

 


Kenny Peterson (6-3, 300 / 6th Year)

Peterson's career with the Broncos has been nothing if not eventful.  Peterson joined the Broncos midway through 2006, seeing action in 3 games.  Peterson came into Training Camp in 2007 looking to compete in a deep D-Line pool only to get suspended for the first four games of the 2007 season for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance. Peterson was cut upon his return only to be signed a month later when the Broncos D-Line was in shambles. 

Upon coming back to the Broncos, Peterson was pressed into action the final 7 game sand actually proved to be a solid role player.  WHile listed as a D-End, Peterson can slide inside as well and plays acceptably well, well enough for the Broncos to keep him around to compete for a job in 2008.

Whether or not Peterson can win a job remains to be seen.  With Moss coming back and youth behind him, Peterson is assuredly on the bubble.  But like a bad cold, Peterson seems to hang around and we'd be foolish to count him out.  After-all, he is a Buckeye!

2007 Season Notes:  After competing in training camp with the team, was suspended by the commissioner for the first four games. After serving his suspension, was released by the team on Oct. 8. Re-joined the team as a free agent on Nov. 13. Made season debut on Monday Night Football vs. Ten. (11/19), and assisted on a tackle. Led the defensive line with seven solo tackles, including a sack (8 yds.), and a pass defensed at Chi. (11/25). Dropped QB Rex Grossman for an 8-yard loss in the second quarter moving the line of scrimmage to Denver’s 43-yard line. The sack accounted for his personal most sack yards in a game. Played on defense and special teams, but did not record any stats at Oak. (12/2) and vs. K.C. (12/9). Posted two tackles (1 solo) and a pass defensed at Hou. (12/13). Played, but did not record any stats at S.D. (12/24). Posted three tackles (2 solo) in the season finale vs. Min. (12/30).

 

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PAUL CARRINGTON (6-7, 270 / 3rd Year)

Carrington is in his 3rd year in the NFL, though his only game action came in 2006 as a member of the Falcons.  After joining the Broncos as a free agent midway through the 2007, Carrington seemed to be a body to use on the practice field, never active for any of the 8 games the Broncos signed after his signing.

Carrington seemed to be on his way after playing in 15 games(2 starts) for the Falcons in '06, but under new coach Bobby Petrino, Carrington was cut at the end of Training Camp.

While a senior at Central Florida, Carrington recorded 46 tackles, nine sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and an interception (20 yds.). In his junior season, he started seven of 11 games for the Golden Knights and registered 30 tackles, four sacks, three passes defensed, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble and an interception.

Unless the Broncos sustain a rash of injuries I think Carrington will experience a similar fate in 2008 as he did in 2007.

2007 Season Notes:  Carrington joined the Broncos as a free agent on Nov. 6 and was inactive for all eight games with the club... Competed in Atlanta’s training camp to begin the year but was waived on Sept. 1.

 

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NIC CLEMONS (6-6, 300 / 6th Year)

Officially, Clemons is entering his 2nd NFL season, when in reality he's been battling for a position on a NFL roster since 2003 when he entered the League as an UFA with the Washington Redskins.  Since then, it has been a revolving door of Training Camp disappointments for Clemons -

2003 - Cut, then signed to the Redskins' practice squad

2004 - Cut after Redskins' training camp, signed to practice squad

2005 - Actually saw some action in 8 games, the only games day experience Clemons has seen.

2006 - Cut after Redskins' training camp and spends the year out of football

2007 - Cut after Falcons' training camp and spends the year out of football

Enter the Denver Broncos, who signed Clemons to a future-contract on 12/31/07.  Clemons will come to camp, where he has a ton of experience getting released, and will probably suffer the same fate.  Gotta love the fact the guy won't quit on his dream!

2007 Season Notes:  Clemons participated in training camp with Atlanta but was waived on Sept. 1 and spent the regular season out of the NFL.


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LARRY BIRDINE (6-4, 270 / 2nd Year)

Birdine was a rookie in 2007, spending 8 games with the Broncos, all of them inactive.  After coming into the League as a UFA with the Packers, Birdine was signed to Tennessee's practice squad in September.  The Broncos picked Birdine from the Titans in November.

Of all the roster fodder at the bottom of this list, Birdine is the most intriguing to me.  While playing for Oklahoma, Birdine played in 41 games (14 starts) where he amassed 103 tackles (61 solo), including 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception among seven passes defensed. He helped the Sooners reach the BCS national championship game twice (2003 and '04). As a senior, Birdine played in 14 games (13 starts), compiling 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two passes defensed. After a breakout sophomore campaign, Birdine missed the entire 2005 regular season due to a torn left biceps muscle, but returned to play in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon. As a sophomore, Birdine played in all 13 games (0 starts) and posted career highs in tackles (40), solo tackles (29), tackles for loss (11), sacks (7), passes defensed (4) and forced fumbles (2) to go with his only fumble recovery as a collegiate. Against Texas A&M, Birdine registered a career-high three sacks and forced a fumble. As a redshirt freshman, Birdine played in all 14 games (1 start), totaling 24 tackles (15 solo), four sacks, a forced fumble and his only collegiate interception. He made his first collegiate start at Colorado (10/25/03) and responded with a sack.

When coming out of Oklahoma, Scout.com had this to say about Birdine -

Pos: Exciting young prospect with tremendous upside for the next level. Explosive off the snap, outstanding in pursuit and makes plays in all directions of the field. Plays with good pad level and rarely off his feet. Knifes inside of linemen, getting through blocks to make plays against the run. Adequate job holding the point.

Neg: Must improve his playing strength. Not the most instinctive defender. Suffered a knee injury prior to the season and will sit on the sidelines this year.

Analysis: A defensive end who plays with great suddenness and consistently disrupts the opponents game plan, Birdine was an up and coming star prior to his injury. Needs to get back to playing form in 2006 yet a definite early round prospect to keep an eye on.

So, what the hell happened?  An early round prospect to completely undrafted.  Did he ever come back from the biceps injury?  Will he??  It's obvious Birdine was a talented football player at some point.  While chances are he'll simply become another roster cut in August, Birdine could be a diamond in the rough, someone to keep an eye on.

2007 Season Notes:  Birdine, who entered the NFL with Green Bay as a college free agent on May 4, joined the Broncos on Nov. 6 after Denver signed him to its active roster from Tennessee’s practice squad... Declared inactive for all eight games on Denver’s active roster... Signed with the Titans’ practice squad on Sept. 4 after he was waived by Green Bay on Sept. 1.

Ok, your turn.  Give your thoughts on the D-End situation, and remember to grade the unit in the MHR poll!

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