Denver Broncos Fight For 53 -- Defensive End Battle

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 01: Runningback Beanie Wells #26 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football against defensive end Derrick Harvey #95 of the Denver Broncos during the preseason NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Defensive End is a unique position for Denver. On the one hand, it is the most heavily invested defensive position ($19.442M in 2011 against a next best of $13M at CB), yet in 2010 we saw that if a Cornerback or two missed reps, the backups could still get it done. Not so at DE where the lack of DOOM, and then eventually Ayers led to a production total so low it causes a triple take.

Is the outlook any better in 2011?  We know that Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers have two of the slots locked up, and we know that injury upheaval at DT could squeeze the roster numbers across the DL more than we might like.  And we know that behind the starters we have four guys battling.  Hard.

Projected number of  Defensive End slots up for grabs:  2
  • Jason Hunter:  I had him listed with the group of bubble players before the game, based on his the Broncos' depth chart estimation of him (3rd string LDE) but after watching the game, there is simply no way that Hunter is not a lock.  He was clearly on a different level from the players around him.  I had him at 9 attaboys in a row to start the game, both run and pass, and had to continue his list of good deeds onto a second page.  He is a snap anticipator, and as a result looks very quick off the line.  He was relentless pushing into the pocket, was driving back TEs and OTs both, broke a couple double teams and was flying around the LOS. Projection:  No brainer to take one of the final two DE roster spots.
  • Jeremy Jarmon:  Jarmon had a solid game, to go with a very solid preseason. He plays the 3 tech a lot and looks to be a good sub for Ayers role on defense. He was often the first guy to get the offensive read and reposition himself presnap. He didn't win too many one on ones at the line, but he got good push and clogged up his lanes. Projection:  A solid effort with no serious mistakes should cement him as the final DE slot.
  • Derrick Harvey:  I haven't followed Harvey's career much, and I know the knock on him was a lack of effort to improve and I think we got to see a little of that firsthand this preseason. He has a noticeable lack of urgency when he plays, and it is hard to overlook that even when you catch him hustling. His final game of the preseason was a good effort despite all of this and he got great push on the edge. He couldn't quite create pressure the way we expect it from the starters, but his overall effort was good on Thursday.  Projection:  A good last second effort showcased what he can do, but probably isn't enough. Released on cutdown day.
  • Jeremy Beal:  Beal showed the motor and effort he is famous for, but it is becoming clear where he needs to develop his game for the Pro level. His one on one work leaves a lot to be desired. After watching this game I pulled out my draft notes on Beal to reacquaint myself with his (stunning) production levels at Oklahoma, and immediately it jumped out to me how much of his production came on twists and stunts. His 58.5 TFL were truly a team effort, but there is no doubt that Beal's athleticism made it possible.  Denver's challenge will be to develop his one on one strength and recognition to the point where they can insert him into a lineup that wins a lot of one on one battles between DOOM and Von.  It would require a slightly different breed of line play, but I think it would be worth it to create a lot of sophisticated stunts that could open up Ayers and Beal's games. A plan for the future, perhaps. Projection: Try to sneak Beal to the PS, using Harvey as a decoy if necessary. Waived on cutdown day.
  • But these are just my projections.  In a group with some real talent, both raw and developed, tough choices will need to be made.  What would you change?  Is this a better grouping than 2010?

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