2011 Denver Broncos Preview: Defensive Tackles


After what seems like a never-ending amount of games of watching teams run all over the Denver Broncos, rightfully earning them nicknames like "Swiss Cheese," it was nice to see that the team was serious about upgrading the defensive line this off-season, particularly at the defensive tackle position.

The Broncos didn't upgrade by using a draft pick on a defensive tackle, which made a lot of fans very nervous. Then, they essentially passed on all of the top free agents available to upgrade the beef on the front four. In fact, heading into training camp, there was only one defensive tackle on the roster with actual NFL experience, and it was Kevin Vickerson, a veteran who signed a two year extension before the lockout went into place.

Needless to say, many Broncos fans--including myself--were terrified of the defensive tackle situation. When I first saw this team at training camp, Louis Leonard was running with the first-team, and not to knock on Big Lou, but it wasn't exactly ideal depth that you would look for from the league's worst run defense. 

So, in what seemed like no time, the Broncos acted quickly and made some moves at the defensive tackle position to give the squad some actual depth--depth that we haven't seen in quite some time. It took until August, but the Broncos may finally have a competent defensive tackle rotation, and possibly even more than that.


Ty Warren

Denver Broncos

6-5

300

Feb 06, 1981

Contract: 2 Years, $10 Million($2.5 Million guaranteed)



Warren has not been a Denver Broncos defensive tackle for long (he signed a two year deal on August 2nd), but he immediately becomes the team's most experienced and decorated player at that position. After playing his entire career with the Patriots in a 3-4 scheme, Warren was released in 2011 and joins the Broncos with the hope that he can help bring this team from being the worst run defending team in the league to one of the better ones, but he's going to need some help. 

The former All-Pro and Super Bowl champion has 373 career tackles and 20.5 career sacks, and was really a key part of New England's defense when he was healthy. He is known around the league as a good run stuffer, which is the main reason the Broncos brought him on board. Here is a scouting report on Warren from the folks at SB Nation:

Scouting Report

Assets
  • An excellent run stuffer. Holds the point of attack very well and can get some penetration. Reads and reacts well. Has some vertical and lateral quickness. Knows the system and adapts well.
Flaws
  • Tends to wear down at times and can be pushed around if he's not rested. Not a super athlete or pass rusher though he'll pick up some sacks.
Career Potential
  • Solid starter.
  • AwardsSuper BowlSuper Bowl

 

And from the New England Patriots official team site:

  • In seven NFL seasons, Warren has started 92 of 105 games while recording 496 tackles (292 solo), 20.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, four forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.

  • In his seven seasons in New England, Warren has been a part of six division championships, three
    conference titles and two Super Bowl crowns.

  • Since Warren joined the Patriots in 2003, the team has finished in the top ten in total defense five times: 2003 (7), 2004 (9), 2006 (6), 2007 (4) and 2008 (10).



Kevin Vickerson

#99 / Defensive Tackle / Denver Broncos

6-5

321

Jan 08, 1983

Michigan State

Contract: 3/3/2011: Signed a two-year, $4.75 million contract. The deal included a $1 million signing bonus. 2011: $1 million (+ $375,000 roster bonus), 2012: $2 million (+ $375,000 roster bonus)

 



Vickerson was signed by the Broncos in 2010 after being traded by the Tennessee Titans and released by the Seattle Seahawks in the same offseason. It didn't take long for "Big Vick" to generate interest on the open market, as he signed with the Denver Broncos just one day after being released. 

 


Vickerson showed he was worthy of not only a spot with the Broncos, but he was good enough that he actually became a starter for this team, and a darn good one at that. He had easily his best season as a pro in 2010 with the Broncos, playing in 15 games and starting 12. He had a career high 42 tackles, three sacks, three passes defensed, and an interception.

He was good enough last season that the Broncos were comfortable making him the only defensive tackle to return this season heading into training camp. They signed him to a two year extension before the lockout was put into place, and Vickerson figures to be an integral part of the Broncos' defense again this season. Here is his SB Nation scouting report:

Scouting Report

Assets
  • Possesses good size and adequate athletic ability but his power is his biggest asset. Is capable of punching his way through the offensive line with a nice first step.
Flaws
  • Doesn't have elite speed or quickness. Isn't much of a lateral mover and can be neutralized by big guys who stay in line with him. May have already peaked in terms of improvement. Has had some injury and discipline issues.
Career Potential
  • Good rotational D-lineman.
  • Awards


A bio from the Denver Broncos official team site:

VICKERSON AT A GLANCE:
• A fifth-year defensive lineman who has played in 24 regular season games (2 starts) and two postseason contests (0 starts) during his NFL career.

• Set a career high in 2009 with 28 tackles (20 solo) and three pass breakups in 13 games (2 starts) with Tennessee.

• Spent time in 2007 with the Cologne Centurions, where he was named a first-team All-NFL Europa selection.

• Four-year letterman at Michigan State University, where he played 44 games (19 starts) and totaled 113 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery and two blocked kicks.

• Signed as a free agent by the Broncos Sept. 7, 2010.

• Drafted in the seventh round (216th overall) by the Miami Dolphins in the 2005 NFL Draft.




Marcus Thomas

#79 / Defensive Tackle / Denver Broncos

6-3

316

Sept. 23, 1985

Florida

Contract:  1 Year Deal(2011)




A big round of applause is in order for Marcus Thomas, one of the only players to make it through all three of the Broncos' coaching regimes ranging from Shanahan to John Fox. Thomas has been developing with the Broncos since his rookie year in 2007, when he was considered a top of the line prospect who fell in the draft due to character concerns (he was kicked out of Florida).

But, with all that behind him now, the 25 year old is looking to make a name for himself in the NFL, and he has steadily been making strides on the field to prove that he can be an effective defensive tackle in the NFL, and the Broncos are back in the scheme that best suits his talents. 

Since SB Nation doesn't already have a scouting report for Thomas, I will offer mine having watched every game of his since 2007. Thomas is a great athlete for his size and he has tremendous potential. Whether or not he can tap into that potential remains to be seen. He has not been a high impact player for the Broncos, but he has been durable and reliable for the Broncos, playing or appearing in every game since 2007 (64 straight regular season games). 

If Thomas can channel his inner beast this year, he could be set to make some serious cash when he is again a free agent next offseason. He is still very young, and I maintain that he is still very talented. Here are his career notes from the Broncos' official site:

THOMAS AT A GLANCE:
• A fourth-year player who joins Rubin Carter (1975-77) as one of two interior defensive linemen in Broncos history to play every game during his first three professional seasons.

• Started 21 games during his NFL career, opening all 16 games for the Broncos in 2008 after starting five contests for the club as a rookie in ‘07.

• Appeared in all 16 games for Denver in 2009 and had 15 tackles along with the first blocked extra point by a Bronco in five seasons (vs. San Diego, 11/22/09).

• Registered a career-high 57 tackles (35 solo), which led the defensive line, and had one interception in 2008 as one of two Denver defenders to start all 16 games that year.

• Saw time in all 16 games (5 starts) for the Broncos as a rookie in 2007, totaling 30 tackles (17 solo) and one interception.

• Tied for second in Broncos history among defensive linemen with two career interceptions.

• Started 30 career games during four seasons at the University of Florida and recorded consecutive 12-start campaigns for the Gators from 2004-05.

• Selected by the Broncos in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft.




Brodrick Bunkley

Defensive Tackle / Denver Broncos

6-2

306

Nov 23, 1983

Florida State

Contract: 2011: $635,000, 2012 Free Agent




Brodrick Bunkley could turn out to be one of the steals of the 2011 offseason if he checks out health-wise. Before playing most of last year with an injury, Bunkley was considered one of the better defensive tackles in the game, and specifically against the run. He has not turned out into the pass rusher the Eagles had hoped he would when they drafted him, but he is an aggressive player who works hard, and he will fit in well with the Broncos. 

The former first round pick out of Florida state has played in 76 career games, and has six sacks to go along with 177 tackles. He immediately upgrades the Broncos' toughness up front, and he will be that much needed gap-clogger on the interior. Here is a scouting report from SB Nation:

Scouting Report

Assets
  • Brings an aggressive style to the interior line, mixing spin moves and a quick first step to stuff the run and occasionally break into the backfield. A very intense competitor.
Flaws
  • A little short for a lineman. Prefers to go after the ball rather than drop back in coverage, a sometimes gambling style that might occasionally get him burned.
Career Potential
  • Above-average starter.
  • Awards

Here is a very detailed and in-depth biography on Bunkley from the Philadelphia Eagles' official site.



Jeremy Jarmon

93/Defensive Tackle/ Denver Broncos

6-3

286

Nov 30, 1987

Kentucky

Contract: 7/28/2009: Signed a four-year, $2.505 million contract. The deal included a $755,000 signing bonus. 2011: $480,000, 2012: $565,000, 2013: Free Agent



Jarmon is a hybrid defensive tackle/defensive end prospect who came over to the Broncos from the Washington Redskins in the Jabar Gaffney trade. He is still a very young player at 23 years old, but has been in the league for three years already and was a good low risk, potentially high upside acquisition by the Broncos.

 


He is a powerful player who isn't really a great pass rusher from the outside, but if you put him inside he could possibly make an impact in that regard with his bull rush moves. At this point for the Broncos, Jarmon is a bit of a project, but they are going to call upon him to be part of the defensive tackle and defensive end rotation right away. He excels at stopping the run, and here is a scouting report from SB Nation:

Scouting Report

Assets
  • Good size for the position. Has great strength and reach. Possesses good run-blocking skills and is a solid tackler.
Flaws
  • Needs to improve his vision of the field and learn to read offenses. Doesn't burst out of the line and isn't a pass rusher.
Career Potential
  • Rotational defensive end with solid upside.
  • Awards



Here is his official biography from the Washington Redskins' official site.



Louis Leonard

#94 / Defensive Tackle / Denver Broncos

6-4

325

Jul 16, 1984

Fresno State

Contract: 2011: $555,000, 2012: Free Agent




Now that Kevin Vickerson has lost all this weight, Louis Leonard has replaced him as the team's biggest defensive tackle. Leonard's NFL career started in St. Louis but he didn't see any NFL action until he wound up with the Cleveland Browns, who slow-played him into the lineup. 

In 2008, Leonard had 25 tackles for the Browns and showed some upside, and he was traded to the Carolina Panthers where he kind of flopped. He only played two games for them, and he was then cut and picked up by the New England Patriots. When the Patriots parted ways with him last year, the Broncos snagged him up. He has struggled with durability in his career, but he has the potential to be solid as a rotational run stuffer. Here is his scouting report from SB Nation, followed by his bio from the Denver Broncos official site:

Assets
  • A solid run-stopper. Has the legitimate size to excel on the NFL D-line and can play several positions on it. Possesses some explosiveness & quickness, as well as good in-game intensity.
Flaws
  • Not much of an edge rusher or pocket collapser, and lacks speed after his initial moves. Durability is questionable.
Career Potential
  • Adequate depth defensive lineman.
  • Awards


Leonard (6-foot-4, 325 pounds) is a fourth-year player who has played 25 career games (5 starts) for New England (2010), Carolina (2009-10) and Cleveland (2007-08), totaling 46 tackles (27 solo) and one sack (9 yds.). He originally entered the NFL as a college free agent with San Diego after attending Fresno State University.

He played 43 games (23 starts) for the Bulldogs and recorded 68 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.

A first-team All-CIF selection at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, he was born on July 16, 1984.

 


Ryan McBean

#98 / Defensive Tackle / Denver Broncos

6-5

297

Apr 23, 1984

Oklahoma State

Contract: 2011: $480,000, 2012: Restricted Free Agent



When the Broncos picked up Ryan McBean in 2009, it seemed he was a long shot to even make the roster. After a strong camp and a good pre-season, McBean found himself starting 14 games for Denver in 2009, and then returning the next season to play in all 16 games and start four. 

After falling out of favor with the coaching staff in Pittsburgh, he was let go and subsequently signed by the Broncos. He had 25 tackles in 2009 and 19 this past season, but he is probably most well-known and infamous for his two facemask infractions this past season, which came in one game at a critical juncture. I'm sure McBean felt the weight of the world at that point, but nonetheless, the Broncos have stuck with him and he signed his restricted free agent tender, and will return to practice as soon as the new CBA is finalized. Perhaps a change in scheme can alter McBean's fortunes with the team. Here is a scouting report from SB Nation followed by his bio from the official team site:

Scouting Report

Assets
  • A very athletic, quick and strong lineman who is fast enough to play at end but just big enough to also succeed in the middle of the line.
Flaws
  • Not an explosive player off the line and doesn't have much pass-rushing skills. Plays tentatively at times and could improve his tackling abilites.
Career Potential
  • Adequate starter.
  • Awards

 

McBEAN AT A GLANCE:

• A third-year defensive lineman who emerged as a full-time starter for the first time in his career in 2009, starting 14 games and registering 25 tackles (18 solo) for the Broncos.

• Spent the entire 2008 regular season on Denver’s practice squad after competing in Pittsburgh’s training camp to begin the year.

• Made his NFL debut as a rookie in the Steelers’ 2007 regular-season finale at Baltimore (12/30/07) after spending the majority of the year on their practice squad as a rookie.

• Played two seasons at Oklahoma State University, starting 23-of-24 games played, after beginning his collegiate career at Hinds Community College in Hinds, Miss.

• Joined the Broncos as a practice-squad signee on Sept. 1, 2008.

• Selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round (132nd overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft.


Mitch Unrein

#96 / Defensive Tackle / Denver Broncos

6-4

300

Mar 25, 1987

Wyoming

Contract: Reserve/Futures Contract



Unrein was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Houston Texans last year, and was cut prior to the start of the season. The Broncos signed him to their practice squad last October, and he has yet to see any action in the orange and blue. Perhaps the pre-season will be Unrein's time to shine after a solid career at Wyoming. Here is his bio from the official team site:

Unrein is rookie defensive lineman who spent the 2010 preseason with Houston after being signed by the Texans as a college free agent from the University of Wyoming.

He was a three-time All-Mountain West selection at Wyoming, where he started every game during his final two seasons for the Cowboys.

A first-team all-state selection following his junior and senior at Eaton High School in Eaton, Colo., he was born on March 25, 1987. His last name is pronounced UN-rhine.

62 Ronnell Brown - 6'2" 270

The only rookie at the defensive tackle position for the Broncos, Brown was signed as one of the team's 17 undrafted rookie free agents in 2011 out of James Madison. He is an undersized tackle who will look to make his presence felt in the pre-season. Here is his official bio from the James Madison site, which is slightly dated:

At JMU: Fifth-year Duke and a returning defensive tackle starter… performer with the potential to be among top players in the conference at his position, said defensive line coach J.C. Price.

2009: Defensive tackle starter throughout the season… played in each JMU game and was third-team All-CAA… took part in 26 tackles, including 15 unassisted, 8.5 for loss and 3.5 quarterback sacks… third on the team in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks… vs. Villanova had career bests of seven total tackles, four solo stops, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks… had six stops, including two solo and one for loss at William & Mary… had sacks at Hofstra and Delaware… set up a JMU field goal with an 11-yard interception return vs. Maine… also had two solo stops vs. Maryland, VMI and Hofstra.

2008:  Appeared in each JMU game and was in the team’s playing rotation at defensive tackle throughout the season… took part in 22 tackles, including nine unassisted stops, three tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks… involved in a season-best four tackles, including three solo stops, at Duke… took part in three tackles vs. North Carolina Central and Hofstra and two vs. Appalachian State, at Villanova, and vs. William & Mary… had sacks vs. Massachusetts and William & Mary… returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown vs. Hofstra.

2007:  Played in five games as a reserve defensive lineman after sitting out 2006 as a freshman redshirt… had a shared sack vs. Towson.

High School: Three-time All-District defensive end at Hickory… First-Team All-Tidewater and Second-Team All-Region as a junior and Second-Team All-Tidewater as a senior… Second-Team All-District tight end as a junior… had a school-record 21 sacks as a sophomore.

Personal: Kinesiology major with a sports management concentration… brother of former JMU tight end Marvin Brown and current fullback Donnell Brown… son of former major league baseball player Bobby Brown.

Final Analysis

 

The Broncos' defensive tackle position is a work in progress, but it is significantly upgraded from a year ago. If the Broncos can get good production out of some of the cast-offs they have brought in this offseason, they should be in pretty good shape, and well-equipped to turn around the league's worst run defense. 

 

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