This is the second part of my Broncos Offseason review. I divided in two chapter the defense review because it would have been a too long post.
In the next days I'll post the 3rd part regarding the defensive backfield and the 4th one on Special teams.
I like to think at the defense as a unit, so I don't like to divide this unit in two posts, but I should have cut some of my thoughts on Denver FO movements and roster shaping that are actually the reason why I wrote this post and I would like to read your opinion about.
Thanks for the patience, for the braves of you that will read all this poem and let's start the debate!
First: Go Broncos!!!
The Broncos entered Free Agency with again glaring needs at the defensive line due to, again, own free agents. Both Vickerson and Bannan, the “starting” DTs, were scheduled to be free agents leading Denver “lean” at the position. In addition to this the Broncos FO decided just before free agency that Dumervil contract for the 2013 season and beyond was not backed up by his production on the field and therefor decided to ask him a pay cut.
At the linebacker position DJ Williams was cut, after 9 years in orange and blue, because of off the field issues and Woodyard rising to stardom . Also the middle linebacker position saw Brooking leaving the Broncos complex because of free agency.
Sitting on top of this situation the Broncos FO started fast in Free Agency, first re-signing Vickerson, after his really good performance overall in 2012 and then landing Terrance Knighton that was almost a slam dunk given the position he plays (DT) and the coach under whom he became a dominant force: Jack Del Rio.
With these two signing, Denver found two good starting players in the interior of the line and IMO already back then improved the starting rotation.
It happened then that the draft roulette was really favorable to the Denver FO and DT Sylvester Williams was on the board when Denver clock started ticking.
Williams really improves the starting rotation and looks to be that complete young DT that Broncos fans were asking since years. He’s a penetrating DT, well built and with a lots of strength and quickness. Does not have elite lateral movement but was thought to be selected between the 10th and the 24th picks overall.
Hysteric picks let him fall to Denver and I believe the FO when says that they were astonished that Williams was there and that he was one of the 3-4 players they were hoping against odds to fall to them.
“Sly” Williams will play most probably all three downs on Denver rotation and could play both nose and under tackle. His abilities will allow the Broncos defensive line to have three players (Williams, Vickerson and Knighton) that could play both those positions and can create real pressure to the quarterback, being also really good against the run.
The depth under these three players is the same of the 2012 roster, being Mitch Unrein and Saelver Siliga the in-house developments plus Malik Jackson and Derek Wolf the swing defensive linemen on passing downs. To this crew Denver added CFA Romney Fuga from BYU that looks the part of a development nose tackle.
Looking at the talent and the potential of Denver crew at Defensive Tackle I’m really optimist and IMO the Broncos FO did a great job both in FA and in the Draft collecting two players that physically are quite similar, giving that Williams is more of a penetrator and QB rusher and Knighton, if in shape and motivated (but I doubt Del Rio will have any problem with him), more of a run destructor. Vickerson has experience and did a good job in 2012, Unrein was getting better during the whole past season. Siliga didn’t see the field much in 2012 and has to show that he belongs to this Broncos roster meanwhile Fuga could be a good practice squad member in case Siliga or another DT won’t make the roster.
Speaking about pass rushing ability I think the Broncos added some valuable weapons in the middle of the front four and they did the best they can to overcome the loss of Dumervil. I won’t enter in what happened because we, Broncos fan, all know the only thing that matters, Dumervil is not a Bronco anymore, and to me it hurts.
I think that the Broncos asked him a pay-cut for some good reasons, one of which could be still flying under the radar. I think the coaches asked Dumervil to do something more from the wide DE position than rushing the passer and he didn´t perform the way they wanted. He had a really good year in the pass rush but at this point they probably saw him becoming a bit of an edge rusher specialist only.
That was not worthy the salary from a FO point of view and decided that either he´d earn quite less or better to shape the team the exact way the coaches wanted it.
Dumervil skills were not matching perfectly with what planned but he is a too good football player to be left warming the bench.
So what happened is that Denver offered him even more money than what he was credited by them and he refused it. No offense to anybody.
Now the Broncos could go in the direction they wanted. IMO it meant more pass rushing from the inside with more balance on the outside, meaning that they will use a bigger DE as Ayers on the wide DE, until Phillips beat him out in practice.
Ayers will provide better balance in the front four because he’s bigger then Dumervil and plays better against the run. On obvious passing downs he could play, if he provides good pressure and some more sacks, or get out of the field to leave space to a sort of Dline that could perform a lot of variables, from a front 5 (2 standing OLB and 3 disruptive Dlinemen) to a 2 men rush and a lot of players covering the whole field.
With Doom, which played greatly for the Broncos BTW, at least 3 men were rushing the passer.
This approach could be taken because Denver collected, through the years, several versatile Dlinemen, two of them, Wolfe and Jackson could easily play both DT and DE, against the run and the pass rush.
The development of this two second year players will be important IMO, because they could really create problem to an offense even from a 2 men rush formation.
In addition to Ayers, Wolfe and Jackson, Denver will give a long look to 2011 7th rounder Jeremy Beal that last year spent the whole season in the I/R after being a practice squad in 2011.
Denver collected a great potential pick in the 5th round of the 2013 Draft in Quanterus Smith which was, IMO, one of the possible gems in the middle rounds and one of the few pure 4-3 edge pass rushers.Still his size and frame could help him develop into a complete player in a couple of years. Everybody mentioned his 3 sacks performance against Alabama as the prove he’s a good pass rusher but what I loved on his video is willingness to not give up on plays chasing the RB even into the opposite side of the field. He has some quickness and power that have to be developed.
Plus the Broncos went out and signed two CFAs in John Youboty and Gary Mason Jr that will provide competition in training camp and will probably fight with Ben Garland for a spot on the practice squad. The three of them have size and frame to be developed in a RDE and will be tested to see if they could even become swing Dlinemen a la Wolf or Jackson.
The acquisition of Smith was even a bigger bargain because the Broncos added Phillips minutes before or after the selection of the Western Kentucky prospect.
Phillips is another player that could have multiple impacts on the Broncos front 7. He could easily back up Von Miller at the SLB position (“frying” Nate Irving from that duty) or being used as Miller opposite pass rusher in obvious passing situation, or moved around with Miller to create havoc and pressuring the QB in a 2 Joker formation that can also count with a better inside push due to the DT acquisitions.
The need to find a reliable backup plan to Miller had to be one of the imperative goals of the Broncos offseason, since they pursued heavily CFA Lerentee McCray from Florida. This is a player that had a long list of injuries the latest of whom prevented him to work out at the combine and at Florida Pro Day. I don’t care about his draft status, the point is that Denver FO sees him as player that could be developed in a reliable solution in case Miller would get hurt and maybe also as a Phillips clone if injuries won’t slow him down anymore. I see him as a bubble player that will stick with the Broncos (53 men roster or practice squad) or not depending on if he’ll show that he could stay healthy.
The linebackers core is then composed by Woodyard that always played good football when called on the field but last year really took a huge step forward and he’s IMO, one of the most underrated player in the league in this moment. If he’d play again at the same level in 2013, he’ll earn a huge pay check in the 2014 offseason when he’ll be a FA, even with this year FA trend. He’ll go on playing WLB and MLB on nickel situations.
Trevathan is a really good football player and if he continues to improve as he did in 2012 he has the potential to create serious problem to the Broncos FO when deciding how much money is Woodyard worth for the team.
Del Rio likes to mix cards and have linebackers that could cover different roles as Woodyard, Trevathan does. So at the MLB position the only addition has been FA Stewart Bradley.
Fans are expecting Joe Mays to be cut or accept a huge pay cut for staying with the team but as special team player and Denver FO came out several time saying that, a part Bradley, Irving and Johnson will compete for the other starting linebacker position.
Brooking, that played the majority of the snap at MLB in 2012 is a FA and could still be added to the team, again late in training camp, if the coaches will indicate that none of the three players mentioned is playing well enough for becoming the starting MLB.
The MLB situation on the Broncos roster is giving me another opportunity to write a consideration of mine.
I had the feeling that the Broncos went out in the offseason and pick all the kind of players that were required for some “role need” that the team recognized.
Adding Bradley as competitor at the MLB with a 1 year contract worth a little more than 1 M is not really identifying the MLB position as a big position of need.
Even more because what Bradley brings to the table is his size (6’4’’).
Considering that the Broncos used nickel and dime formations a lot during the 2012 season, IMO this is the linebacker position (MLB) where the Broncos coaches put less value.
In the modern NFL there are really few MLB that can play at really high level against the run and cover in the passing game. The Broncos do not have one of them and decided that they want to use multiple different formations where MLB is not the biggest need.
In the Nickel formation Von Miller (SOLB) and Woodyard (WILB) are playing while in the dime Miller became a Dlineman, basically, and one or two linebackers were on the field and that included a mix between Woodyard, Trevathan, DJ Willimas (at the end of the year), Irving and Brooking.
Brooking, aka the classic MLB in 2012, was playing basically the first two downs when the opponent had chances to run the ball, only.
This was my own opinion and I think that the Broncos will go on with this solution again at the MLB position, exchanging formation on the field and using players that could cover more than one role at linebacker (as Woodyard, Trevathan, Irving and Johnson have the abilities to do) and also have the ability to rush the passer on blitzes (that Del Rio likes to use a lot).
Denver also signed a pair of interesting linebackers CFA in Uona Kaveinga from BYU and Doug Rippy from Colorado. I like a lot Kaveinga videos, he’s undersized but plays like a leader, I would love the Broncos to keep him (practice squad?) for a year and develop his athletic abilities, because I think he could become a really good linebacker and a really good defensive leader too. He has the ability to cover different LB positions but has to strongly improve his skills in coverage. Rippy is a tall and well-built linebacker that has some speed but also injuries concerns.
I like the front 7 the Broncos have; I like the versatility of the most of the players and the scheme mix that the Broncos are preparing for the next season. Is the first time in nine years that Denver has the same Defensive Coordinator two years in a row and Del Rio is a hell of a DC.
Thanks for reading.