On another post someone asked if anyone could give a run down on the current defensive line. I'm no expert, but I've been putting together my own notes so here goes...After the disastrous experiment with Bates and the Run Contain in 2007 I think most of us assumed that the defense would probably improve in 2008, “it couldn't possible get any worse.” Well it did! The Broncos finished 2008 near the bottom in almost every statistical category measured. With Shanahan now gone and a new HC and DC on board the question is, is there anything worth salvaging from the 2008 defense?
It's tempting to blame the debacle of 2008 on the players. But there are many signs that the system (or lack of) played a role in the poor performance. All indications are that we will converting, or at least transitioning, to a 3-4 base defense. Based on that, here are my views on the current D-line players. I'm interested in what others think.
Denver finished 26 in the league in sacks with 26 sacks. However 8 of those came from LBs. In a 4-3 defense, particularly one that doesn't blitz, the lack of pressure from the places too much pressure on the Dbs; coverage must be maintained too long. This was reflected in Denver's ranking of 26th in passing yardage. Fortunately, most 3-4 systems are less dependent on the D-line for pressuring the QB, mixing in various blitzes and pass rush specialists for pressure. One bright spot – if the team does go to some kind of zone-blitz scheme, Marcus Thomas picked up one of the few interceptions for the team on a play where he dropped off into the coverage.
My first impression was, what defense? We ranked 27th against the run. But as I looked at the data closer I noticed that we gave up a disproportionate number of long running plays, really long running plays, 6 runs over 40 yards, 5 of them over 50 yards. Most teams gave up only 1 or 2 runs that long; only eight teams gave up more than 3. If you adjust for the league average of long runs, Denver would have ranked near the middle. Not great, but a vast improvement. The point is, in my opinion, that long runs are more the responsibility of the LBs and DBs. The first 3-4 yards is on the D-line, but after that the LBs and DBs need to stop the play. I now feel that, the D-line play on runs may not have been as atrocious as my first impression.
D-Rob – A lot of fans were disappointed with Robertson's performance this year. I didn't expect much so I guess I was harder to disappoint. We knew he couldn't pass the physical; we knew his snaps would be limited. Given those two he was adequate, but not the dominant run stopper that many had hoped for. D-Rob is a FA and due a $4mill bonus if he re-signs (I think). In NY he didn't fit in well in the 3-4 so unless he renegotiates his contract downward I think he's a goner.
Marcus Thomas – I was hoping for a breakout year from Thomas. At times he looked like a star in the making and at other times he looked like a lost rookie. He did seem to play better in a 5-technique and he had his one interception in a zone-blitz situation. I'm not sure if he'll ever be a star, but he could be a solid contributer at DE in a 3-4.
Kenny Peterson – In limited duty, rotating with D-Rob, Peterson logged 24 tackles and 3 sacks. He also seemed to play well in a 2-gap role. He is an UFA so the team will have to make a decision. At 300# he is a bit light for a NT but he could be a valuable backup especially on passing downs. His cap value is only $611,000 so he probably will be retained for depth at either NT or DE .
Nic Clemons – The only thing you can say about Clemons is that he didn't do anything particularly wrong; he just didn't do anything particularly right either. But his cap value is less than $400,000 and there are no deferred bonuses so there's really no reason not to keep him around until camp.
Ebenezer Ekuban – Ek is an interesting player. He lead all defensive linemen in tackles and was tied with Doom for sack at 5. At 275# he is a bit light for the 3-4 but he is a consistent performer. He is an UFA and his cap value is about $1.6 mill. While a productive member of the D-line (that's relative) and not the most expensive player, he has player in a 4-3 his entire 10-year career. He is probably on the bubble in terms of being released.
John Engelburger - Like EK, Engelburger is another one of those consistent but uninspiring players on the D-line. He racked up over 30 tackles and 1 sack this year which is a typical year for him. At only 260# he is probably too light for the 3-4 and his cap value is almost $2mill. I expect Engelburger will be a Spring cut in order to free cap space to sign the draft class.
Elvis Dumervil – Many of us expected a breakout year for Doom but a preseason injury had him playing in a cast the first half of his season and that severely limited his ability to shed blockers and get to the quarterback. Also, an ill advised attempt to make him an every down player seemed to reduce his effectiveness on passing plays. Still he compiled 24 tackles and 5 sacks. At 260# he is probably too light to play DE in a 3-4, but he may have a future either as a pass rush specialist like Robert Mathis, as a conversion to LB/DE like Terrel Suggs. It's hard to say about Doom; he may thrive in the new system or he may struggle. If he struggles in camp and preseason I would expect the Broncos to trade him to a 4-3 team.
Jarvis Moss – Moss has been a puzzle since the Broncos drafted him. Light for an NFL lineman (265#) and supposed not strong enough he has struggle at times. At other times he shows flashes of being a good player. His 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks are nothing to celebrate, but considering he spent half the games on the inactive list they don't look as bad as they do at first glance. Moss is a candidate for conversion to linebacker in the Simon Fletcher mold. However, I only expect the Broncos to give him one or two more seasons to prove himself. His cap value is the same as Ek's with less than a third the production.
Tim Crowder – After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft Crowder has been a non-factor on defense. His size and weight (275#) suit him to the 3-4 better than the other DEs on the team, but he hasn't demonstrated the ability to play at the professional level. If he doesn't show marked improvement this year Crowder will likely be a roster cut this summer.
Carlton Powell – Drafted in the 5th round out of VT Powell was impressing observers in camp when he tore his Achilles tendon. At 300# he is I bit light for NT but many expert feel he can put on 20-30# which wold put him more in the range. A 3-year starter, he has shown the ability at the college level to take on double-teams and outplayed some offensive tackles who have made it to the pros. If Powell can play NT at the pro level he would be one of the draft day steals of 2008.