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Denver Broncos 2017 No Bull Storylines: Upgrading the front seven to return to dominating defense

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We’re ramping up to start of the Denver Broncos 2017 season as training camp approaches. As we wait for the last couple of excruciating weeks before football returns to life, let’s whet our appetite with what I see as the most interesting storylines for the Broncos this season.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Plugging a Sieve

When you look back at the 2016 season specifically at our defense, you can easily pinpoint one huge problem: our run defense. We’ve pointed out previously on MHR that our pass defense in 2016 was actually better than the pass defense we saw in our 2015 Super Bowl Champion season.

The evidence was plain as day to my eyes on game day and is just as glaring when you look at the stats:

Broncos Defense 2015 v 2016

Team Gms Tot Pts Pts/G RushYds RYds/G PassYds PYds/G TotYds Yds/G
Team Gms Tot Pts Pts/G RushYds RYds/G PassYds PYds/G TotYds Yds/G
2015 Denver Broncos 16 296 18.5 1337 83.6 3193 199.6 4530 283.1
2016 Denver Broncos 16 297 18.6 2085 130.3 2972 185.8 5057 316.1
www.footballdb.com

The team gave up over 700 yards more in 2016 than in 2015. That correlated to them allowing almost 50 yards per game more in 2016 than in 2015 which is absolutely mind boggling on paper.

The front seven plainly weren’t cutting it in 2016 and I can pinpoint for you cats and kittens out there in Broncos Country precisely where the issue was in our personnel: RDE Jared Crick and NT Sylvester Williams. Go back and watch tape of last season for our defensive line and you will see a smorgasbord of fools getting overpowered at both positions fairly consistently.

Solutions for 2017

John Elway and the Broncos have since let Williams find greener pastures (good move...he’s JAG as far as interior NFL players go) and have brought some competition for the line in Domata Peko, Zach Kerr, a hopefully new and improved Adam Gotsis, and new draft pick DeMarcus Walker.

Worth noting is that Jared Crick is still on the team and has yet to be let go. I’m not terribly disappointed by this. He’s got a lot of upside in the pass rush department. If the team can find a way to utilize him only as a pass rusher instead of having him out there on 1st and 2nd downs, he could still be an asset if we have room on the roster. That being said, he’s got to really impress this training camp if he wants to even have a shot...Walker is the same kind of player, is younger, and far cheaper.

The battle up front is going to be a fun one to pay attention to throughout training camp and the preseason. How are Peko and Kerr going to work inside? Is Gotsis ready to claim a spot on the line as a starter? What about Kyle Peko...he looked like a great developmental prospect last year in training camp...is going to keep developing NFL skill and help out his cousin in the middle?

I honestly think you’ll see Peko thrive here in Denver at least for a year as we have an offense that keeps things very simple for him and allows him to rotate out far more often in order to keep fresh.

At RDE, as long as you aren’t starting Jared Crick and expecting him to take more than 80% of the snaps, we should see an improvement there as well. I am buying into the hype we’ve been hearing in Broncos Country on Adam Gotsis. I find it pretty likely that he’s going to be starting week 1. Walker won’t be ready for heavy rotation this year (defensive linemen typically take 2 years to get their bodies into NFL shape and their minds wrapped around the playbook well enough) and if he sees the field much at all will likely see it on passing downs.

Side Note: Don’t forget that the team needs to replace a legend

DeMarcus Ware retired in case you missed it. Keep an eye on the ROLB spot as there will be competition between Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett. I think the draft status of Ray makes him easy to hype, but there are a few areas that Barrett is easily his superior (run defenses, pass coverage) while also being a good pass rusher himself.