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Denver Broncos Building a Winner, and it Starts in the Trenches

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It is easy to be optimistic for your team after the draft.  For the Denver Broncos and their fans, optimism should be overflowing.

In 2009, the Broncos finished the season below average or worse in running the ball and stopping the run, two factors that made large contributions to their lack of quality play over the final ten games of the season which caused the team's 6-0 start to fizzle into an 8-8 finish.

There's no question how big of factors running the ball and stopping the run were for the Broncos.  In their six game winning streak, Denver ranked in the top five in running the ball offensively, and were in the top five of every major category defensively, including defending the run.

Even though the Broncos lacked flash offensively, Kyle Orton and company managed to get the job done for the first six games, and with a little help from Eddie Royal in game six, the Broncos entered the bye week nearly flawless.  Orton was being talked about as an MVP candidate, as was defensive end/outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.  Josh McDaniels was being crowned coach of the year for his incredible job with the Broncos.

And then the Ravens happened.

The Broncos travelled to Baltimore after their bye week and got a nice taste of their own medicine, or what they'd been serving every week for the first six weeks.  Hard nosed defense, and an offense with the will to win.  The Ravens were simply better than the Broncos, and when Denver realized that, their confidence was shot seemingly for the rest of the season.

Now, that's not to say that Denver didn't find success at all the rest of the year.  The team managed a very quality win on Thanksgiving against the New York Giants, and a blowout over rival Kansas City on the road, but the defense lacked intensity.  The running game went from one of the best in the NFL to an Achille's heel. 

Due to those two factors, the Broncos became increasingly worse passing the ball offensively, and because they struggled to run the ball effectively, it's no surprise that their offensive opportunities became more limited, they became one dimensional, and quite simply, it seemed that the Broncos played not to lose their games rather than play to win.

Whether or not that is true, you can be the judge. 

When the 2010 offseason kicked off in early March, not many expected the Broncos to be big players.  The free agent market was fairly shallow due to the CBA, and quite honestly, any premiere player available would simply have been a poor investment for the Broncos.

That didn't stop Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos brass from going out and making things happen, particularly with "3rd and short" on both sides of the ball in mind.

Justin Bannan, a 30-year old defensive end from the Baltimore Ravens was the first big man to sign with the Broncos.  At 6'3" 314 pounds, Bannan is a versatile player who can help the Broncos as a defensive end or guard, as well as at nose tackle. 

The Broncos continued to bolster their defensive front by adding former Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green, who has been a key reserve much of his career.  Green fits more the mold of a pass rushing defensive guard for Denver's 3-4/5-2 defensive alignment, as he is a slender 285 pounds, and the thinnest of Denver's defensive linemen.

After Denver went out and signed these quality veteran defenders, they made what some believe to be the most underrated moves of the offseason when they signed former San Diego nose tackle Jamal Williams.  Williams, when healthy, is one of the best space eating nose tackles in the NFL, and he's proven that despite his age, he is still a very quality defender.  Despite the fact that Williams is on the back end of his career, he still can be a very productive nose tackle if he is healthy, and the Broncos have qulity depth behind him to keep him in a rotation.

In addition to the new defensive linemen the team has brought in, the Broncos decided to devote three picks in the 2010 NFL Draft to the offensive line, moves they hope will help solve some of their running game woes.

After selecting two offensive playmakers in wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and quarterback Tim Tebow, the Broncos started to think nasty.

In the second round, McDaniels and the rest of the Denver crew made a surprising yet necessary move by selecting Utah lineman Zane Beadles with the 45th overall pick.  I had Beadles projected to the Broncos in the fourth round, where CBS Sports had him ranked, but the Broncos obviously knew something we all didn't and they pulled the trigger on him.

Beadles reportedly will start his career at right tackle, but his future should be on the interior, as he projects much better to the guard position due to his lack of elite level quickness and athleticism.  What Beadles lacks in flash though, he more than makes up for with effort, strength, and intelligence. 

The former Utah lineman is said to be the best offensive lineman to play for the Utes since Jordan Gross, who was a top 10 pick of the Carolina Panthers a few years back. 

One of the things you've got to love about Zane when you read about him is this statistic--he has played in 50-of-51 career games at Utah.  50 starts in college football is impressive enough, but consider this as well--Beadles has played through a knee sprain, a leg laceration, and even a concussion in college career.  This is not meant to promote playing with a serious injury, but the Broncos drafted one tough dude. 

With his tenacity, hard work, strength, and leadership, Beadles will quickly find a role on this team.  Whether or not he is filling in for Ryan Harris remains to be seen, but the first offensive lineman picked by the Broncos has the ability to play all five positions along the offensive line, though his niche will be found at guard or tackle.

With their next selection, the Broncos made a move many thought might happen if they did not pursue Florida center Maurkice Pouncey.  With the 80th pick in the draft, the Broncos took Baylor center and All American J.D. Walton

Walton is in an interesting position.  He could very well be the starting center on opening day for the Broncos.  To take a center in the third round is quite high, and Walton was the first true center selected in the draft, so that just goes to show how highly the Broncos think of him. 

The former Baylor star plays with a mean streak, and I love what CBS Sports said about him:

Walton should use some of his signing bonus to buy an IHOP, as he has truly mastered the art of serving up the "pancake" block while at Baylor.

This kid was a ferocious mauler for the Bears, and is considered to be the ideal intelligent, durable type of player you look for in a center.  He instantly upgrades the Broncos' offense.

To add depth, the Broncos selected former Notre Dame lineman Eric Olsen with their sixth round pick.  Olsen was considered to be a 4th-6th round pick by many draft sites, and I think the Broncos did a nice job of getting good value here. 

Denver was a team who was very, very thin on the interior offensive line, primarily at center.  While Olsen projects as a guard to center in the NFL because of his mauler type of attitude, the Broncos greatly value versatility and this is a guy that can help them at multiple positions.  Charlie Weis called Olsen the "heart and soul" of the Notre Dame offensive line.

Add in the fact that the Broncos have former Iowa guard Seth Olsen waiting in the wings, and it seems this offensive line is ready for a youth infusion. 

The Broncos clearly have placed a premium on upgrading their "beef" this offseason, if you will, and for good reasons.  They obviously struggled with depth toward the end of last season, it was exploited, and Josh McDaniels took advantage. 

The Broncos, on paper at least, are extremely improved in the running games and defending the run.  Now, the hope is that the other areas of the team can follow suit.

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