Its time to chew on the Defense and see where we need help as we move forward in the off-season. As I hinted at last week, this is where you'll see me have a lot more question marks. Our defense is in good shape, but there are a few areas I think we can improve in.
In case you missed the first part of this series, you can find it here: http://www.milehighreport.com/2013/3/28/3993404/the-no-bull-2013-pre-draft-outlook-part-1-offense
Base-line for this review:
I'm just an arm-chair GM in this. I will try to keep my fan perspective out of my thought process as much as possible...it's not personal, it's just business. The end goal to me is our team getting a championship. Secondary to that is keeping the organization in sound position to do the same the next 5 years (meaning I won't ransom the 2014 season to get a bunch of big names for 2013).
Please note that my subject matter will not consist of all of our depth...I'm interested mainly in starting jobs and direct back-ups and will only touch on notable depth guys I see as taking a step up.
In contrast to the Offense, I see our Defense taking a step back this year. I certainly hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. My biggest concern is our pass rush as it was most heavily affected so far this off-season. Losing Elvis Dumervil is a big deal. Replacing his production is very difficult to do, and I think the hope is that some of our young guys up their game in a big way this year.
Don't get me wrong here. If things play out true to form, our offense will put up a lot of points. Our defense will just need to not suck for us to win. This is strangely reminiscent to our 98-99 teams, by the way. Back then our offense was dominating and our defense was aggressive and opportunistic, but not overpowering.
Defensive Ends (Derek Wolfe, Robert Ayers): I like both these cats a lot, to be honest. The problem is that I like them both strong-side in our scheme. It seems to me that we either expect big growth from Ayers (could happen, but not super likely), or the coaches see something in Malik Jackson that we haven't yet. Scheme changes aside, I don't see how we can be a dominant defense next year with Ayers manning the weak-side (though I'd love it if he'd prove me wrong). I don't think a draft pick will contribute at the level we need, but I think if a good DE lands in our laps, we'd be crazy not to take one.
Defensive Tackles (Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, Terrance Knighton): I love these guys. They aren't flashy, but they do a damn good job in the middle. If you go back and look at last year you'll notice that no one ran on us well up the middle. NO ONE. Bannon, Unrein, and Vickerson rotated last year to make that work. So far, Bannon isn't coming back (and at this point I'm thinking he probably won't be back now that we have Knighton). I see Knighton as an upgrade to Bannon honestly...he's younger, quicker, and better. I see his signing as one of our smartest moves in the off-season not naming Wes Welker. DT at this point isn't a need, but I'd still love to see us get a young guy in this draft to start grooming.
NEEDS: I truly think we have a need for a young DE talent to start learning the ropes on a rotational basis now that Elvis has left the building. I want a DT badly, but I honestly don't consider it a need at this point.
Starters (Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Stewart Bradley?): You can take the MLB out of the equation and this LB group is still phenomenal. Von Miller is one of the most talented LBs in the game today. Wesley Woodyard would be the talk of the LBs if Von wasn't on the team. I'll keep playing that record because Wes doesn't get enough credit for all the work he's done with the team and how well he's playing. I have decent hopes for Stewart Bradley. He was really not suited to play the 3-4 defense they had him in in Arizona. I think this year is a great opportunity for him to get back into a groove. If not, at least he didn't cost us much.
Backups (Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving, Steven Johnson): I have to say, these guys look like pretty solid depth. Trevathan really looked good to me last pre-season and even in regular season duty. Irving was more hit-and-miss to me. We didn't really get to see a lot from Johnson last year, but I think the coaches really like him. That's not an empty statement when you have JDR and Coach Fox saying it. We'll get a good idea in TC what Steven has...he's had a year in the NFL to learn and you'd expect to see him fighting for a job this year.
NEEDS: We NEED a talented MLB that can cover. It is the missing piece and has been for a few years. The downside is that from everything I hear there isn't an answer in the draft (and no, T'eo isn't an answer...he's a problem). We are set at Sam and Will with starters and depth from what I see.
Starters (Champ Bailey, Chris Harris, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie): This is the shining star position of our defense to me. Champ old is still better than all but a handful of CBs in the game today. Chris Harris is the prototypical star Nickel CB that you will see coaches covet more and more over the next few years, barring some major rule changes. I like the pick-up of DRC a lot and see him as an upgrade over Tony Carter. I'm not as crazy as some about Omar Boldin. He looked like he needs some seasoning, but that is what the off-season is for. I am pretty comfortable with our depth here, though. We can be okay with Carter and Boldin in a pinch here or there.
NEEDS: None. I can see us drafting a future replacement for Champ if one falls in our lap, but it isn't a need.
Starters (Mike Adams, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter): Here is the ugly underbelly of the defensive backfield. People can talk up the two starters from last year all they want, but my current opinion of both of these guys is that they are strong run defenders and weak in coverage. In my mind, they are the liability of our defense from a coverage standpoint. I'm tired of seeing Mike Adams get owned by TEs and causing guys to take poor coverage because he's not there. I really REALLY like Quentin Carter's game if he can get healthy on stay on the field (?). I will temper my criticism by saying this: Moore is young and hasn't hit his ceiling yet from what I've seen. Like I said last year, he really has to take strides in the coverage game this year. If he doesn't, he won't have much of a future with us. I'm not giving up on him, but if I'm GM, I'm looking for an improvement from any avenue (for what it is worth, I see our pursuit of Antoine Winfield as a way to improve us at safety instead of CB). I'm not going to rehash it, but Bailey at safety is a great move whenever he feels ready for it...he'd be superb at FS. Bruton is a solid back-up and a superb special teamer. I'm glad we kept him this year. It isn't depth I'm worried about; I'm just not crazy about our starters.
NEEDS: I'd love to see us grab a safety if there is one out there to be had. I think we'll see either a draft pick or a FA before we start the season to address our situation at safety. A big chunk of my concern here goes away if Quinton can get healthy and take one of the positions.
As you can tell, I think we have work to do on this side of the ball. In order of importance, we need a MLB, Safety, DE, DT, and a 2nd Safety. I'm not too worried about losing DJ Williams or Justin Bannon for different reasons. Bannon was upgraded to Knighton. DJ was way overpaid and overrated from everything I've seen. He may do well at Chicago, but I doubt he lights up the stat sheet. Porter won't be missed in the least. Dumervil will be missed badly. My hope is that we put the majority of our draft picks into our defense, but who knows. The draft never turns out exactly as we might like.
Comment below on your differing opinions, ideas for addressing the issues, or anything else about the defense you want to discuss.