There always is a rookie or two who force people to stop and watch them early in training camp.
At this point for the Denver Broncos, there’s four. We’ve touched on three of them in various stories — Garett Bolles, De’Angelo Henderson and Isiah McKenzie. The fourth is defensive end Demarcus Walker. Though with his versatility and injuries to outside linebacker, the rookie from Florida State has seen time there too. And continued to turn heads.
Regardless of where Walker has played the last two practices for the Broncos defense, he’s shined. That was the case again on Sunday for the first practice in pads. After taking the first two practices to get comfortable, Walker has taken advantage of his time on the field.
“No, not at all,” Walker replied after practice on Sunday when he was asked if he feels overwhelmed. “You just have to mature. Just think about what’s in the moment. I’m picking up those type of skills from Von (Miller). I’m actually just having fun with it. That’s the best thing about it. Having fun and taking it one day at a time.”
It’s not just the fans and media who have noticed Walker the last two practices. When I asked Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods about Walker, he pepped up a skosh. He and the organization were excited about Walker’s prospects but to see it come to life this early in camp is good news for Denver’s defense. If Walker can maintain this early purge, it only makes the defense better.
“He has to get a feel in terms of how to play the game in the NFL,” Woods said. “It's always a transition for young guys coming in. The thing we like about DeMarcus is that he has a lot of versatility. Right now, everything's fluid but we're trying to move him around a little bit just in terms of playing the d-line and playing a little bit of outside linebacker. He's a unique player just in terms of what he's able to do.”
Added cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on his assessment of rookies so far: “No. 57 Walker definitely has a lot of talent as a pass rusher. I can definitely see him making an impact on third downs and some situational plays this season.”
The fact Walker is so versatile makes him a challenge to block and scheme for. Whether he has his hand in the ground as a defensive end or standing up as an outside linebacker, he makes an impact. He also does it in the passing or running game. You can see why the Broncos are so excited about Walker.
“It’s something I did in high school and in college as well,” Walker said about playing outside linebacker. “I’m just trying to help. Whatever I can do to contribute to this team and win a Super Bowl, and whatever a coach asks me to do, I do it. Not tough because I’m used to it. It’s pretty good. I just have to learn a few more things. That’s about it.”
When it comes to outside linebacker, it helps to have the best in the NFL to lean on. Oh, and one of the best ever reached out to him on Sunday as well.
“It’s a blessing to be honest with you,” Walker said. “(Miller’s) the best for a reason. Whenever he talks, I always ask him a question on that stuff. He always gives me input. And the better thing today, (former Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware) D-Ware text me today, too. I can’t tell you (what Ware told him). It’s private.”
The goal now for Walker is to remain consistent. At some point, he will see a drop off in production at camp. It happens to every rookie. It’s how they respond to that inevitable moment. Early in camp, Walker struggled with the altitude, anxiety and heat, given he upchucked a few times. But that hasn’t been an issue the last few days. And for all the good he’s done, at this point Walker is still a rotational player. If he becomes more than that, great. But as it stands, that’s where he is on the depth chart.
Fred Pagac paying extra attention to DeMarcus Walker today.— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) July 30, 2017
Von Miller also spent a good while talking to him. pic.twitter.com/qCxKXeV7fg
When I asked Woods what he would like to see from Walker over the next few practices and what he needs to improve upon, he was clear.
“It's a process,” Woods said. “You can't rush the process. They're going to learn each day and get a little better each day. So what we're looking for him to do is execute his responsibilities. Obviously we put pads on to be physical to show that he can d-style inside and to see his versatility and move him outside to backer.”
There always is a rookie or two who force people to stop and watch them early in camp. It’s a great sign one of those rookies is Walker. If he remains consistent and continues to improve, he could be the next weapon on the Broncos defense.