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Player types for '08, Part two (defense)

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With the offense out of the way, it is now time to take a look at the defense.  Remember, we aren't looking at which players we want, but the type of player we might want.  Not knowing what kind of scheme we will run on defense makes this a difficult proposition.  But I have been studying defensive coordiantor Slowik, and I think his system is starting to fall together in my mind.

This is what I think we need in terms of player types, and it is a subjective call.  There is plenty of room for disagreement.  I will again list player types we need even if the position doesn't need to be filled.  The article is a combination what we might seek in the offseason, as well as simply what type of player we should expect to play in Slowik's scheme.

DT

Slowik has a lot of wiggle room to go in whatever direction he wants to go.  We have Thomas ready to go, and McKinley.  The big question is, "are they true starters, or good rotational guys?"

I think Thomas has the potential to develop into a solid DT, and I think McKinley helps in rotation.

Given the depth and speed at DE, I imagine Slowik will want big DT types to tie up the OL so that the DEs can do their thing.  I also think Slowik will go after large DT types because of the run defense issues Denver had in '07.

It is pretty much a lock that Denver picks up at least one, and perhaps two DTs this offseason.

DE

Denver looks set at DE for next year.  Doom is a big name in Denver already, and 1st round pick Jarvis Moss will return in '08 after being out this year with an injury.  Crowder is developing steadily, Engelberger looks ok (more so in run support), and fans have high hopes for Mallard.  There is youth, depth, and speed at this position, and it is reasonable to assume that the pass rush will continue to be the focus of the DEs.

One might think that Denver should shift gears and bring in DEs better suited to stopping the run, but with so much talent already in place a turnover of personnel would be hard to imagine.  Look for speed and the ability to shake pass blocks as the core skills Denver prefers for this position.

MLB

Denver has flexibility for MLB.  Traditionaly, Denver likes to put three speed demons at the LB positions.  But with limited talent and depth across the board, Denver is freed up to go in either direction (speed or size).

The chief concern is whether Williams stays at MLB or moves to OLB.  Either move is a no-lose proposition.  I suggest that Williams will stay at MLB for several reasons.

  1. By being the second most proficient tackler in the NFL (first in the AFC), you've got to wonder why Denver would mess with something that isn't broken.
  2. By leaving Williams at MLB, Denver (in the offseason) can focus on players that have a history at OLB, instead of dividing their research and targets between MLB and OLB.
  3. Moving Williams will mean he has been moved around almost every year he has played for Denver (he has played every LB position already).  He should get the chance to focus on one position instead of playing musical chairs.
  4. Denver has been grooming Williams to be the MLB replacement for Wilson since he (Williams) came to Denver.  It is unlikely that there would be a change in plans.
There are solid reasons to move Williams too.
  1. With his speed, Williams is a great blitz threat at the WLB position.
  2. With his great speed, Williams is the best bet to "man on" with most TEs in the league.
If Williams were to move I would advocate the same speed oriented LBs Denver has always depended on.  Denver likes fast MLBs because they can cover the field side to side, have a dual threat (pass coverage in a middle zone), and add a dimension in blitz packages (Slowik looks to be an agressive blitzing coordinator).

Denver may well pick up one or two LBs, but I don't see Williams being replaced at MLB.

OLB

Let's take a quick look at what we have in depth.

  • Gold - Once a speed demon and a solid tackler, he underachieved this year.  Badly.
  • Webster - Went from terrible to below average.
  • Winborn - Showed enough skill to get a two year extension, and looked good on special teams.  Does Denver think he can start in '08, or was he just a temporary bandaid at the end of the season?
  • Holdman - Considered competitive to start in '07, he was out for the season on IR.  He will be 32 in '08.
  • Beck - a very young, but unknown quality.
  • Green - a 28 year old back-up.  Despite the poor play of players in front of him, the coaching staff must have thought he wasn't immpressive enough to move into a starting role.
What kind of players do we need at OLB?  Let's take a quick look at the differences between the strong side LB and the weak side LB.

The WLB has two main responsibilities in most defensive schemes.  He blitzes the blind side of right handed QBs, and covers a zone on the weak side to prevent runs to that side of the field.  If the FB is a threat, he may cover him in man.

The SLB might cover the TE (a role sometimes filled by the strong safety).  He also has responsibilty for wide runs towards the sideline, HB screens, and inside runs towards the srong side.  Runs up the middle are the most common runs, and runs to the strong side are second.  He is involved in more plays than the WLB.

For either position I see Denver again going with speed.  The AFC west features teams that thrive on elite TEs, and defenses in the AFC West should use fast SLBs for coverage.  Denver may very well go after speed for both OLB spots to allow themselves the flexibility to put a player on either side, as opposed to taking risks on two types of players that can't fill the other position if one of the players is a bust.

Going for a big, run stopping OLB would diverge from traditional Denver philosphy, and wouldn't fit Slowik's probable schemes.

Denver will likely pick up one or two OLBs in the offseason.

CB

Denver has two of the best in place (Bailey / Bly), and two decent nickle backs (Paymah / Foxworth).  There may be a need for a development player for down the road, but I doubt Denver goes this route.  However, Denver may go this route if either Paymah or Foxworth leaves due to being FAs.  They both have trade value as well.

Clearly, being a man instead of zone coverage team, Denver would want fast, coverage kind of guys instead of hard hitting, zone kind of guys.

SAF

Hamza has shown he can play the position well, and with his youth he has time to develop nicely.  

Lynch is the big question mark (see the excellent four part series by MHR contributer Styg50).  He may retire, but seems to lean towards returning.  He is excellent in run defense, a heavy hitter, and has elite instincts to read plays.  He also has two neck injuries in recent history, and gets slower every year.

Ferguson is likely done after being being placed on IR on not playing very well.

Cargile and Rogers are young and unknown qualities.

Denver needs a coverage SAF for this position.  A speed SAF gives the team the option of playing a SS in either pass or rush, something Lynch is moving further from with age.  Two coverage SAFs gives the CBs the ability to make INTs, someting they can't go for if they don't have speedy SAFs behind them.

Denver may very well go for a SAF this offseason.  Phillips is the elite SAF on the draft boards, and many draft predictions have Phillips going to Denver (see Guru's excellent diary updates on the draft database).  Many great minds at MHR advocate SAF, DT, LB, OL, or WR.  I estimate about half of the opinions lean towards Phillips, and he fits the SAF type Denver wants.

He would compete with Hamza for the FS position, with the "lesser" SAF being a perfect fit for SS.

Conclusion

MHR newcomer Calvin (the prodigy at MHR) has a terrific diary up on the need to bolster our offense before we fix the defense.  He favors building the OL, where other members (like Villyn) prefer building at the WR spot.

Amongst members wanting a defense first approach for this year, divisions fall along members wanting SAF, while most others want DT followed by OLB.

We all have opinions, and no, they don't stink.  Everyone has made solid points for their cases.  I feel we have the following needs on defense:

SAF / DT (tied for critical need)
LB (need)
a second DT (need)
a second LB (need)

That's five needs on defense.  Let's review the list I suggested for offense.

OL (Need)
OL (Strong want)
WR (want)
OL (extra) [added since last article]
TE (extra)
HB (extra)

And now let's combine them (in my opinion).  Bear in mind that this is with all things being equal.  There are considerations (who is available in the draft, trades, etc) that I'm not taking into account.

DT or SAF (critical need)
DT or SAF, the other one (critical need)
LB (need)
OL (need)
a second DT (need)
a second LB (need)
OL (Strong want)
WR (want)
OL (extra) [added since last article]
TE (extra)
HB (extra)

Ok gang, jump in with your thoughts, differences, questions, compliments, or jeers!  Enjoy the playoffs on Sunday, and stay warm!  Have a terrific weekend!!!