Warren and Co. need to get in the face of opposing QB's
First, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that I am late with this breakdown. For that I apologize. The is no reason good enough to explain other than to say I needed to take a weekend off. I am back today, refreshed, re-energized, and to steal a bit from Mike and Mike, I am back and better than ever!
Next, a belated Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there. I was able to enjoy 9 holes of golf yesterday so it was a nice day for me.
Ok, now that all that stuff is out of the way, let's take a look at the Broncos, and more specifically the situation at defensive tackle. The Broncos defense has had he same problem the past few years. It has started strong only to wear down as the season went on. Even in 2005, when the Broncos went 13-3 and advanced to the AFC Championship Game the defense struggled down the stretch, specifically the pass rush, and it really showed in the loss to the Steelers. Last season it was a huge problem and went a long way in keeping the Broncos completely out of the playoff picture. By the end of last season, playing in a division with running backs like Larry Johnson and Ladainian Tomlinson and in the AFC with quarterbacks like Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Needless to say the play of the defensive line is critical to the Broncos success and Mike Shanahan's experiment bringing in former Cleveland Browns, for the most part, has been a major disappointment.
Time for a change in strategy and that's exactly what the Broncos did this off-season. As part of the cleansing of the defense Andre Patterson was ousted as Defensive Line Coach, replaced by Bill Johnson. Jim Bates, of course, was brought in to replace Larry Coyer and brought with him a different view and mindset with regards to the D-Line. The Broncos, to be frank, were small up front. Too small. Bates prefers huge, beefy tackles to take up huge amounts of space. That allows the ends and linebacker make more plays. The goal was to beef up the tackle position. I think we can say the Broncos have achieved that goal.
On paper, and we all know what we could do with that "paper", the Broncos D-Line looks not only significantly bigger, but significantly better as well. The Broncos have traditionally kept 5 or 6 DT's on the 55 man roster. This season I am going to go with 5. The Broncos have kept 5 DT's the past 2 seasons and I see no reason to break the trend, especially with the talent they have injected into the position this off-season. In 2006, the Broncos kept 5 DT's, with an average size of 6' 2", 310 pounds. Gerard Warren, at 6-4, 325, was by far the biggest. In 2007, the tackles with be a bit larger to say the least, 6-4, 318. That can be a bit misleading, since last season the Broncos had only 2 players over 300 pounds. Warren and seldom used Antwon Burton were the only players tipping the scales over 3-bills. This year the Broncos should have 4 tackles over 300, and Marcus Thomas, at 296 pounds, isn't far behind. The Broncos have added the size necessary to clog up the middle, collapse the pocket, and most importantly keep their small, athletic linebackers free to do what they do best, make plays.
There are currently 8 defensive tackles on the roster. If I have 5 making the team there are 3 that won't be with us come September. Let's break down the candidates -
Sam Adams(6-3, 350) --
The Broncos wanted to get a big-nasty in the middle this off-season. They flirted with the idea of trading for Kris Jenkins of the Carolina Panthers but wisely balked at Carolina's ridiculous demands. A pre-draft trade involving Dan Wilkinson ended up falling though after `Big Daddy' failed to show-up. The Broncos were left a bit wanting. After addressing the position in the draft and in the early part of free agency (Alvin McKinley) the Broncos had the big-nasty they were hoping for fall right into their laps. When the Cincinnati Bengals released Sam Adams in May the Broncos were quick to act. Sure, there are questions about Adams, who is coming off his worst season as a pro, but from the sounds of it Adams is motivated and determined to become a force again. Adams has admitted he should have had the surgery earlier instead of playing through the pain, but professes to be injury free. If that is truly the case, and the Broncos utilize him correctly(20 plays per game), Adams could be a major force for Denver in the middle.
Gerard Warren(6-4, 325) --
A lot has been made about the "Browncos", all the former Cleveland Browns D-Linemen that have rotated through the Broncos locker room. One bright spot in the entire experiment has been the play of Warren, a former top 3 pick. Warren's play did taper off in 2006 after a solid 2005 season, but to be fair Warren faced a lot of double teams. The Broncos have been undersized on the d-line and Warren was really the only legitimate player at tackle. With the arrival of Adams and former Ram Jimmy Kennedy, Warren has some partners in crime that match his talent and size. That will force other teams to pick their poison and all three players will have the chance to have a huge season. For all the negative talk about Warren over his career he has proven to be durable, playing in 91 out of 96 career games. Look for Warren to step up his play in '07 and play a big role with his new-found friends.
Jimmy Kennedy(6-4 325) --
The latest addition to the roster, Kennedy was acquired from the St.Louis Rams for a late round draft pick. The move could prove to be ingenious, giving the Broncos more depth and a lot of talent. Kennedy never really got comfortable as a Ram after being drafted 12th overall in 2003, with reasons varying depending on who you ask. The team says Kennedy didn't work hard, and never did what they asked him, which was to be a run stuffer. Kennedy says the Rams never utilized him correctly, and injury problems early in his career hampered his growth. Kennedy is a crasher, the type of player that wants to get to the quarterback; his strength isn't playing the run. That makes him a perfect fit in Denver, since the Broncos have run-stuffers in Adams and Warren. If Kennedy can focus solely on disrupting the pocket and getting in the quarterback's face he has a chance to be ultra effective and the Broncos could have a steal. Health issues have been a concern, but Kennedy had his best season in 2006 and should be motivated heading into 2007.
Demetrin Veal(6-2, 288) --
Veal just might be the biggest loser in the off-season. When the off-season started Veal was at the top of the depth chart. Now, there is a real possibility that Vela doesn't make the roster. You can't help but root for guys like Veal, an undrafted free agent, who scratch and claw for everything, but the truth is a guy is undrafted for a reason, and Jim Bates preference for big-uglies in the middle might leave Veal as the odd-man out. He has performed admirably but the Broncos are clearly going in another direction, and Veal may not be part of the journey.
Alvin McKinley(6-2, 294) --
Ok, so the Broncos couldn't completely stop bringing in former Browns to staff the defensive line. McKinley marks the 8th former Cleveland Brown to play defensive line for the Broncos. Many are now questioning his role with the team after the acquisitions of Adams and Kennedy, along with Marcus Thomas and Stephen Harris. McKinley does off the Broncos some flexibility, since he played both Tackle and D-End in Cleveland. He prefers to play inside, but if the Broncos want to go really big could set McKinley outside. It is that flexibility that should keep McKinley on the roster over guys like Veal. McKinley has shown glimpses of being a solid player who plays with a mean streak. He is going to need to show more of that to get on the field with any consistency.
Antwon Burton(6-2, 315) -- Burton has been a project for the Broncos, spending 2005 on the Practice Squad, and 2006 in-active in 15 out of 16 games. The Broncos like his size, but like Veal his time in Denver could be up. There are just too many players ahead of him on the depth chart right now. Burton would have to do something special to make the team.
Marcus Thomas(6-3, 296) -- Drafted in the 4th Round of this year's draft, Thomas' off-field transgressions killed his draft stock. Most think he was the best DT in the draft before getting kicked off the Florida Gators last season. Thomas will have to keep his nose clean, but assuming he is able to do that there will be a place on the roster for him. Thomas will have veteran leadership all around him and with all the depth won't have any pressure to make an impact immediately. That should help Thomas, short term and long term, whose talent seems to be unquestioned. Thomas will make the 55 man roster, though will find it difficult to consistently make the active roster on game-day.
Steven Harris(6-5, 285) -- The Broncos raided the Gators even more after the draft, signing Harris as an undrafted free-agent. Harris is raw and will most-likely be relegated to the practice squad. Harris, at 6-5, does have nice size and could be a factor in the future, but you shouldn't expect to see Harris on the 55 man roster in 2007.
My Proposed Depth Chart --
Once again, I will assume the health of everyone involved....
- Gerard Warren
- Sam Adams
- Jimmy Kennedy
- Alvin McKinley
- Marcus Thomas
Possible Shocker --
Not really a shocker, but if the Broncos should decide to keep 6 DT's on the roster Veal could be saved. Don't be surprised if Marcus Thomas comes in and shocks a few people with his play. There isn't much pressure on Thomas, and a guy with his talent, playing at ease, with former Gators all around him, could play huge during Training Camp.
Once again I invite you to give your take. Next stop - the Offensive Line.