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MHR Primer Looks At: Denver Broncos Defensive Tackles Against Dallas

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 11:  Stephen McGee #7 of the Dallas Cowboys throws against the Denver Broncos during a preseason game at Cowboys Stadium on August 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 11: Stephen McGee #7 of the Dallas Cowboys throws against the Denver Broncos during a preseason game at Cowboys Stadium on August 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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     There was a great deal of weeping, crying, angry shouting, pitchforks and burning torches in Bronco Country when the Denver Broncos failed to draft a defensive tackle in the 2011 Draft and then followed that atrocity up by not immediately snatching each and every available defensive tackle during the lamentably short Free Agency period.

     Okay, okay, so I'm exaggerating just a tad . . . a bit . . . a whole lot? There was, however, a great deal of justifiable concern over the apparent oversight in the Broncos' approach to improving the team during the lockout marred off season.

     Whether it was a case that targeted players were not available when it came their turn to choose, or targeted free agents were demanding too much money, or some other factor of which we -- as fans -- are totally unaware, the reality is that we did not see any apparent movement to address what many people perceived to be the Broncos most glaring weakness -- Defensive Tackle.

After the jump, MHR Primer will look at the topic of Defensive Tackles on the Denver Broncos.

     In this article, we will look at some basic definitions and characteristics as they pertain to the position of defensive tackle (DT), we will look closely at Denver's current roster and depth chart at the DT position, and we will review the performance of these players in the first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. This might just give us something different to watch for in tonight's game.

     While I realize a single game is hardly definitive for projecting future performance, it might give us a preliminary glimpse into what we can expect from this group of players. In the Dallas game, the defensive unit was on the field for nine drives which had a combined total of sixty-three plays.

     A quick note about the coverage on the Dallas game: the NFL Preseason package coverage of the game was not the best in terms of camera angles and quality. Further, the local "color" of the coverage by the Dallas announcers meant that you often missed the start of a play. There five such plays -- in which poor image quality and bad camera angles made it impossible to tell who the DTs were on the play.

     A second note, on several plays, Denver appeared to use a single DT set in a 4-down lineman formation.
Basic Definition & Job Responsibilities

     DTs are usually the largest and strongest of the defensive players. They typically line up opposite one of the offensive guards. Their job is to rush the passer and to stop any running plays that come up the middle.

     A DT's job responsibilities may include (but not be limited to): holding the point of attack by refusing to be moved, filling a specified gap to shut down a running lane, penetrate into the opposing team's backfield, on passing plays - pursue the QB and knock down the pass if possible, on running plays - close down the running lanes in the middle and make the tackle if possible, drop into coverage when specified, pursue the ball carrier on screen pass plays.

DTs on the Roster
(as of 4:15pm, 8/26/11, on the website)

     Denver currently has eight players listed as DT on their roster: Ronnell Brown, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Jarmon, Ryan McBean, DeMario Pressley, Marcus Thomas, Mitch Unrein and Kevin Vickerson.

Current Depth Chart

(as of 4:15pm, 8/26/11, on the website)

First Second Third Other
NT Bunkley (77) Warren (94Inj) McBean (98)
DT Vickerson (99) Thomas (79) Unrein (96 Brown (62)
Pressley (76)

Interesting Side Note: Jeremy Jarmon is listed on the roster as a DT, but on the depth chart as a DE; for this reason he was not included in this look at the DTs.


1. DTs are typically is the largest -- and often strongest -- of the defensive linemen.
Denver current roster of defensive ends (DE) is composed of seven players. They range in height from 5-11 to 6-5, with an average height of 6-3. Their weight ranges from 260 to 300 pounds, with an average of 277 pounds.

Denver's eight DTs show the following characteristics:

Player Ht Wt Player Ht Wt
Brown 6-2 270 Pressley 6-3 301
Bunkley 6-2 306 Thomas 6-3 316
Jarmon 6-3 286 Unrein 6-4 291
McBean 6-5 305 Vickerson 6-5 290

     We can see that two of the DTs are below the average height of the DEs, three are at the average and three are above the average. When it comes to weight, only one DT is lighter than the average weight of the DEs while the other seven are all above the average weight of the DEs. It would appear that, on the average, the DTs meet the first requirement -- being the largest players on the defensive line.

     A brief aside about the number of plays each DT participated in: Thomas (9), Bunkley (5), McBean (27), Pressley (13), Vickerson (29), Brown (16). Warren and Unrein did not play.

2. DTs must have Explosiveness.
     A DT typically lines up in a 3-point stance. Explosiveness refers to how quickly the DT comes up out of that stance to engage, or better yet evade, the blocker. Is he able to react quickly to the snap and move in the direction he needs to go? Is he able to avoid being stood up by the blockers?

Thomas was generally quick to react to the snap, as were McBean and Vickerson. Pressley was almost always quick off the ball while Bunkley and Brown were slow to react as often as not.

3. DTs must be mentally tough and durable.  
     A DT will make contact with one or more offensive players on almost every defense play. He needs to have a warrior mentality - be one who welcomes the chance to go one-on-one in battle each play.

I did not a single DT shy away from contact with the Dallas blockers. In many cases, the DTs initiated the contact with the blockers.

4. The DT must hold the line.
     On many plays, it is the responsibility of the DT to keep from getting pushed backwards off the line of scrimmage (LOS) and/or pushed to the side to open up a running lane.

     Thomas was able to hold his ground and deny a running lane about half the time. He had one tackle and one assist. Bunkley struggled to maintain the LOS when a run play was called. Pressley was able to hold his position along the LOS, even when double teamed; only once was he pushed out of the play. Vickerson did a good job of holding the line; multiple times he drove his blocker into the backfield, allowing other defenders to close on the ball carrier. He made two tackles. McBean seemed to alternate between looking very good and very poor. On one play he'd hold the line, on the next he'd get pancaked by the blocker. He was credited with one tackle. Brown really struggled to hold his spot along the LOS, he was often forced out of position by a blocker.

5. DTs must be able to penetrate the backfield.
     Keeping the running lanes closed and the offensive line tied up at the LOS is good. For a DT, shedding a block to make a stop on a RB or put pressure on the quarterback (QB) in the offensive backfield is even better.

     Thomas was able to penetrate into the backfield about half the time. He was not, however, able to reach the QB with any degree of effectiveness. Bunkley was also able to penetrate and collapse the pocket but was also unable to reach the QB. McBean was regularly able to get into the backfield after the inital block. Once he caused the blocking for a RB to break down and he pressured the QB once. Twice his penetration allowed other defenders to pressure the QB. For the most part, though, once he was in the backfield, he was a non-factor in the play.

     Vickerson was the most consistent at creating penetration into the backfield and causing a disruption to the blocking scheme. Even when double teamed, he was often able to collapse the pocket. He had multiple times where he was close enough to pressure the QB. His weakness was that he was so quick to penetrate that he was sometimes caught in traffic when the QB scrambled to the outside. Pressley was likewise able to force blockers into the backfield and collapse the pocket. He was also likewise the victim of his own success, getting trapped by blockers after the QB took off on a scramble.

Brown was inconsistent in his ability to penetrate into the backfield.

6. DTs are called upon to get their arms up and attempt to knock down pass, if it is within arm's reach.

Bunkley, Vickerson and McBean all narrowly missed batting down passes. On one play, Thomas started to raise his hands at a screen pass, but pulled them down before the pass got near him, choosing instead to try to turn to pursue the play.

7. DTs, as mentioned above, are tasked with stopping runs up the middle.
     They must make the tackle when a RB tries to break past them.

     Thomas forced blocker to ground in hole in front of RB. For the most part, the DTs were all more involved in closing down running lanes than with tackling the RBs. In general, this strategy worked. Dallas had very little success running up the middle. In fact, only eight out of twenty-five rushes were for longer than five yards. Of those, three were QB scrambles to the outside and three came in the fourth quarter against Denver's reserves. Dallas' longest run of the night (18 yards in the 1st quarter) included a would-be tackler who had ahold of the RB's legs being himself tackled from behind and forced off the RB by a Cowboys offensive lineman.

8. DTs are called to pursue screen passes.
     Is the DT able to break away from a block to pursue the play on a screen pass?

     Thomas tried to pursue screen but had taken a bad line. Bunkley was in strong pursuit but was blocked out of the play by an offensive lineman he didn't see.

9. DTs may be called upon to drop back into coverage on a zone blitz.
     I did not see any examples of this during the Dallas game.

As a side note: It was interesting to me to notice the number of times that our DTs drew double teams and were still able to push the blockers into the backfield. I can see two potential benefits to this: (1)By drawing a double team, the DTs might be opening up lanes for other rushers to get into the backfield -- this did happen on more than one occasion in the Dallas game. (2)The fact that they were able to push the blockers into the backfield despite the double team means that they were collapsing the pocket, even though they did not themselves reach the QB.

Dallas Game Narrative:

1Q (9:05, Dallas trailing 0-3)
1-10-DAL20    Run Left Guard - 1 yard
Thomas (79) & Bunkley (77) slid along the line of scrimmage with the blockers, not allowing a hole to open up
2-9-DAL21    Pass Short Right - 11 yards
Thomas drove LG backwards 4 yds, Bunkley was stood up by C, slid off that block to his left was picked up by RG; C then slid over to Thomas & helped LG put Thomas on the ground, Bunkley escaped block of RG as Romo threw ball, leapt up & just missed batting the pass
1-10-DAL32    Pass Short Right - 6 yds
Line consisted of Dumervil, Ayers, McBean & Thomas. Thomas doubled by C & RG & stood up 2 yds behind LOS, After the throw Thomas escaped the block and reached the receiver just after he'd been tackled.
2-4-DAL38    Run Middle - 18 yds
Line: Ayers, Bunkley, Thomas, Dumervil; C gets his hands inside Bunkley's arms & freezes him in place, LG turns Thomas to his left and forces him into C/Bunkley. LG looks like he's holding onto back of Thomas' jersey keeping him from turning back to the play; three other Broncos fill the hole, two of them miss entirely, one gets ahold of runner's leg but is blocked off the tackle by a Cowboy (in fact, the Dallas player had both hands under the defender's armpits from behind and simply tackled him to the ground breaking his hold on the runner)
1-10-DEN44    Run Right Tackle - 4 yds (M Thomas A)
Ayers, Bunkley, Thomas, Dumervil; Bunkley gets doubled by C & RG & driven to his knees; Thomas tries to escape block from LG by sliding down the line but is driven onto the pile on the ground that is composed of Bunkley, C & RG. runner scrapes along right edge of that pile
2-6-DEN40    Pass Short Left - 16 yds
Same line; Thomas & Bunkley stunt & switch places; Bunkley breaks through line despite being doubled, Thomas swings wide & into the backfield as o-linemen release both players to set up screen pass; Thomas starts to raise hand as ball is thrown then pulls it back down to turn and pursue. When ball is caught both players are within a yard of the RB; Thomas is not able to change direction quickly enough to get into pursuit; Bunkley - who had a better line on the RB gets blocked out of the play
1-10-DEN24    Run Left Tackle - No Gain
Pressley & Thomas in at DT, both players stand their blockers up and are able to stay on the LOS and slide along with the O-line. Thomas forced his blocker onto the ground in the middle of the hole
2-10-DEN24    Pass Short Right - Incomplete
Line is Miller, Ayers, Thomas, Dumervil; Thomas is slow getting off the snap & is stood up by blocker & becomes a non-factor in the play
3-10-DEN24    Pass Short Left - Incomplete
Same line; this time Thomas is quick off the ball and able to drive blocker backwards, shortening the room Romo has to step up for making his throw
4-10-DEN24    FIELD GOAL

2Q (14:36, scored tied 3-3)
1-10-DAL17    Pass Short Right - 14 yds

Unable to discern DT #s due to poor camera quality. DTs & RDE tied up all 5 o-linemen with their rush allowing LDE and LB to rush unblocked. They came within a step of a sack.
1-10-DAL31    Run Right Tackle - 1 yd
Unable to discern DT #s due to broadcast putting the game in a smaller window in order to show pregame interview with Romo. DTs stood their ground at the LOS and followed the play along the LOS
2-9-DAL32    Defensive Penalty (Vickerson) Encroachment
2-4-DAL37    Pass Short Right - Incomplete
Vickerson & Pressley - both relatively quick off the ball; Pressley forced his blocker into the backfield, ending up next to QB on a 5-yard drop, Vickerson stood his blocker up and pushed him 3 yards into the backfield; as ball was thrown Vickerson jumped & raised an arm to try to swat it, he didn't miss by much
3-4-DAL37    Defensive Penalty Neutral Zone Infraction
1-10-DAL42    Pass Short Right - 9 yds
Vickerson & Pressly; both players crashed the A gap, Vickerson forced C into backfield, Pressley stood his blocker up at the LOS. Both players forced their blockers back to the QB. Vickerson was close enough to try to swat the QB's arm as he threw
2-1-DEN49    Run Left Tackle - -1 yd (Vickerson)
Vickerson & Pressley; both took on OG & made 1st contact behind the LOS; Pressley knocked his blocker to the ground and leapt over him as the QB was handing the ball off to the RB. Vickerson drew a double team directly in front of the QB/RB handoff; Pressley ended up tripping over leg of OG on ground; Vickerson split the double team to tackle the RB by grabbing the back of his jersey and dragging him to the ground as the blockers forced Vickerson to the ground.
3-2-MIDF    Pass Short Left - No gain
Vickerson only DT; Vickerson drew double team again & was able to push both blockers about 3 yards into the backfield but ended up being a nonfactor in the play
4-2-MIDF    PUNT

2Q (6:59, Dallas trailing 3-6)
1-10-DAL20    Run Right End - 7 yds + 15 yd Defensive Penalty (Vaughn) Unsportsmanlike

Vickerson & Pressley; great penetration into the backfield as the o-line slide to their left and the QB took off on a run around the right end, unfortunately, the penetration put them behind the QB on his run.
1-10-DAL42    Run Left Tackle - 1 yd
Vickerson & Pressley; Pressley drew a double team, neither player was moved off the LOS by the blockers
2-9-DAL43    Run Right End - 5 yds
Vickerson & Pressley, both held their positions on the LOS clogging the middle
3-4-DAL48    QB sacked - 8 yards
Vickerson for sure, picture quality/angles bad couldn't see if there was another DT. Vickerson drew blocks from two different o-line & held his position at the LOS
4-12-DAL40    PUNT

2Q (1:19, Dallas trailing 3-6)
1-10-DAL21    Pass Short Right - 7 yds

Camera angle & picture quality so bad couldn't see who was in; both DT came up off ball fast, LDT forced his blocker all the way back to the QB, getting there just after the QB threw the ball. RDT was stood up at first, then was able to power his blocker backwards; after the play looked like Vickerson may have been one of the DTs on the field
2-3-DAL28    Pass - Incomplete - tipped by Vickerson at LOS
Vickerson; up off ball quickly, forced RG back, C moved to help when QB threw the ball Vickerson stopped, threw both hands in air as he leapt up and batted the ball away
3-3-DAL28    Pass Short Left - Intercepted
Vickerson; o-line did a good job of forcing the d-line into a small clump and keeping them away from the QB


3Q (14:53, Dallas trailing 3-9)
1-10-DAL10    Run Right Guard - 1 yd (Vickerson A)

Vickerson & Pressley; slow off snap; Vickerson was stopped at LOS & pushed backwards, Pressley initially stopped at LOS but powers past his blocker and made sure runner stayed inside; Vickerson recovered and forced his blocker back to the LOS and onto the ground directly in the path of RB; Vickerson & Harvey made the tackle
2-9-DAL11    Pass Short Right - Incomplete
Vickerson; quick off ball but stopped by RG, bounced away from RG and ran to the left side of the offense; was picked up by LT as another defender forced QB to run into the end zone and then out to the sideline where he threw the ball away. Vickerson pursued the play until the whistle blew
3-9-DAL11    Pass Short Right - 11 yds
Vickerson; stunt to right picked up by C; slid away from C & penetrated on right side of offense; got to QB just after the ball was thrown
1-10-DAL22    Pass Short Right - Incomplete
Vickerson; quick penetration into the backfield but stumbled and fell in the middle of the pocket as the QB rolled out to his right.
2-10-DAL22    Run Right Guard - 1 yd
Vickerson; stood up the center and pushed him back into the backfield, causing him to become tangled with the RG, as RB bounced to the right of the RG, Vickerson escaped his blocker and moved back to the LOS then along the LOS to prevent RB from breaking past LOS
3-9-DAL23    Offensive Penalty
3-14-DAL18    Scramble Middle 8 yds + 5 yd Defensive Penalty Illegal Contact
Vickerson, doubled by C & LG, forces both 4 yds into backfield, LG leaves to block another defender as QB starts to scramble up middle, C tries to force Vickerson to outside; Vickerson breaks free of block and dives, hitting QB's ankles but is unable to bring him down; slowed him up enough to be brought down by other defenders short of the first.
1-10-DAL31    Run Right Tackle - 2 yds
Vickerson & Pressley; both stand their blockers up at the LOS & don't let them move in any direction, forcing run to the right; Vickerson kept at least 2 blockers in place, Pressley escaped his block and added his weight to the pile at the end of the play
2-8-DAL33    Pass Short Left - 11 yds
Vickerson & Pressley; the two were blocked by 3 o-line who kept them from penetrating more than 3 yds into the backfield
1-10-DAL44    Pass Incomplete (Vickerson) Pass thrown too high
Vickerson & Pressley; Pressley triple teamed after Vickerson bounced off a block, moved to his left and found an open lane to the QB; jumped up in front of the QB forcing QB to leap up and throw the ball high & out of bounds, then put the QB on the ground
2-10-DAL44    Run Middle - 6 yds
Pressley; doubled teamed & pushed away from LOS, then to his right & out of the play
3-4-MIDF    Pass Incomplete
Pressley; fought through block to get  into backfield; along with blitzing LB forced QB to throw ball high and out of bounds
4-4-MIDF    PUNT

3Q (8:22, Dallas trailing 3-9)
1-10-DAL36    Scramble Right End - 11 yd

McBean & Vickerson; both penetrated quickly then got caught up in traffic in middle as QB scrambled outside
1-10-DAL47    Run Right End - 1 yd
McBean & Vickerson; both slid along LOS and held position and did not let running lanes open up
2-9-DAL48    Pass Short Right - Incomplete
McBean & Vickerson; helped push center of pocket quickly into QB's face; QB ended up throwing ball high & OB
3-9-DAL48    Pass Short Middle - 9 yds
McBean quick off ball, pushed LG straight back, but was unable to escape block or get to QB
1-10-DEN43    Pass Deep Left - 26 yds
Vickerson & McBean; both pushed blockers steadily back but couldn't get to QB, McBean jumped up to try to swat ball down when thrown
1-10-DEN17    Run Right Tackle - 1 yd
Vickerson & McBean; McBean strong initial push past LOS, but then pancaked by the LG, Vickerson held RG in place at LOS allowing LB to fill hole and stop FB's lead block, which let another LB & DL hit the RB as he tried to get past the LOS
2-9-DEN16    Pass Short Middle - 10 yds
Vickerson & McBean; as rush started Vickerson took brunt of block, McBean spun around to other side; McBean became a non-factor on play; Vickerson stepped away from double team block and tried to swat ball as it went by on his left
1-6-DEN6    Pass Short RIght - TOUCHDOWN
McBean; McBean split the C/LG but was brought up short by a shoulder to the chest from the RB; QB rolled to his right, McBean tried to run down LOS, but quickly became a nonfactor in the play

3Q (1:32, Dallas leading 10-9)
1-10-DAL13    Run Left Guard - 11 yds

McBean & Brown; both stood up at LOS by single blocker; McBean was pushed to his left & away from the play, Brown was pushed to his right & away from the play. RB ran in the gap created between the two
1-10-DAL24    Run Right Tackle - 1 yd
McBean & Brown; LG pushed Brown back from LOS, McBean exploded past the C & into the backfield, forcing C into a pulling LT, both men fell over pile created by DE putting RT on the ground, destroying blocking for RB
2-9-DAL25    Pass Short Left - Incomplete
McBean & Brown; McBean drew double team, both players pushed their blockers quickly into the backfield, McBean's engagement of two blockers also screened an olineman from pursuing a DE who was trying to circle from the right side of the the D to the left; these two collapsed the right side of the pocket
3-9-DAL25    QB Sacked - 6 yds
McBean; drew double team from C & LG, pushed both men 5 yds into backfield & allowed a LB to come untouched on a blitz
4-15-DAL19    PUNT

4Q (14:14, Dallas trailing 10-16)
1-10-DAL20    Pass Short Left - 4 yds

McBean & Brown; McBean after intial contact at LOS sprinted out to his right & circled the LOS while Brown attempted to penetrate up the middle; McBean was picked up and blocked away from QB - he became a nonfactor in the play; Brown after being stood up 2 yards behind the LOS, broke free and bumped the QB just after the ball was released, then turned to pursue the play
2-6-DAL24    Run Left End - no gain
McBean & Brown; At snap both moved down LOS of direction of play; Brown escaped his blocker and moved about 2 yards to the defensive side of the LOS & paralleled it watching for the RB in case he broke free; McBean not only escaped a double team, but his refusal to engage the block caused both offensive linemen to fall on the ground then 98 filled the running lane, causing the RB to slow so other defenders could tackle him
3-6-DAL24    Pass Short Middle - 76 yards - TOUCHDOWN
McBean & Brown; Both were stood up 2 yards into the backfield, after the pass was thrown both pursued the play until it was whistled dead

Drive #9:
4Q (5:44, Dallas trailing 16-23)
1-10-DAL35    Pass Short Right - 4 yds

McBean & Brown; Both pushed blockers into backfield but were unable to reach QB
2-6-DAL39    Run Right Guard - 12 yds
McBean & Brown; Both were blocked away from the play opening a gap for the RB, McBean was pancaked, Brown stood up
1-10-DEN49    Pass Deep Left - Incomplete
McBean & Brown; Brown double teamed & stood up 2 yards into backfield; McBean, after initial block circled to his right and ran right past a blocker; QB had to step up & hurry throw as McBean was grabbing for his non-throwing arm, McBean got ahold of non-throwing arm & throwing just after QB let go of ball
2-10-DEN49    Run Left Tackle - 11 yds
McBean & Brown; both were stopped at LOS, McBean was driven to his knees but got back up to pursue play
1-10-DEN38    Run Left Tackle - 2 yds (McBean)
McBean & Brown; both were initially stood up & pushed off LOS but slid along the LOS in the direction of the play then both cleared their blocks and made the tackle
2-8-DEN36    Pass Short Left - Incomplete
McBean & Brown; both pushed the blockers back into the backfield but were unable to penetrate to the QB
3-8-DEN36    Pass Short Left - 2 yds
McBean & Brown; both pushed the blockers back into the backfield but were unable to penetrate to the QB
4-6-DEN34    Pass Deep Middle - 28 yds
McBean & Brown; both pushed the blockers back into the backfield but were unable to penetrate to the QB. McBean was doubled
1-6-DEN6    Run Middle - no gain (Brown)
McBean & Brown; McBean quick off ball & pushed blocker into the backfield - this actually created a lane between him & Brown, but Brown was able to move off his blocker as the RB reached the LOS, Brown bent down & wrapped one arm around RB's hip the other around his knee & dropped him to the ground
2-6-DEN6    Pass Short Right - 1 yd
McBean & Brown; both pushed the blockers back into the backfield but were unable to penetrate to the QB
3-5-DEN5    QB Sacked - 8 yds
picture quality horrible & the feed kept starting and stopping on its own.
4-13-DEN13    Pass Short Middle - 13 yds - TOUCHDOWN
picture quality horrible & the feed kept starting and stopping on its own.