While many players on Denver’s current roster are probably feeling more uncertain heading into the free agency period and eventually the draft, one player is probably massively relieved.
In one short sentence, Broncos’ coach Vance Joseph essentially admitted coaches screwed up last year (without, of course, any accountability for such) by noting where Walker will play this season.
“He is going to be a defensive end for us in our 3-4 defense with the flexibility of being an inside rusher and also being an outside rusher on sub-downs,” Joseph said in his NFL Combine presser Wednesday morning.
Walker probably started making up more sack dances the minute he heard that.
The second-round pick out of Florida State last year was touted for his inside pass-rush prowess and seemed to be a beast of a pick-up.
But then in all their genius, the coaches moved him to outside linebacker, hoping to reincarnate the next Von Miller.
That was obviously a mistake as Walker spent most of the season on the bench or not even dressing for games. The main excuse for not making him active was his poor special teams play - which Joseph hinted at again Wednesday.
“He started of really slow, but towards the end of the season he did make some plays. That was good to see,” Joseph said. “Hopefully he comes back in the spring in great shape and kind of pushes forward from there.”
Given how much Walker had struggled at his new placement, it’s hard not to think coaches just made a mistake trying to fit a square peg in a round hole for most of the season.
When they moved him back to his natural position, Walker instantly lit it up on the field with a big-time sack to Chiefs’ future QB1, Patrick Mahomes.
A few other 2017 rookies could be looking to play larger roles this season, Joseph indicated, adding that he’s “not down on” the draft class from last year.
“Some guys take more time to develop and some guys need more time,” he said. “We drafted those kids last year and there was some positive and some negative also….Obviously every year it’s go back to the drawing board and kind of figure out where you can do better.”
And the coach is certainly looking forward to plugging in a few guys from last year’s group a little more - namely tight end Jake Butt.
“I think he is going to be full-go this spring. He came back about Week 8 or 9. He wasn’t quite ready yet,” Joseph noted. “He’s got a bright future. He’s a worker, he’s a pro and he’s there every day. I’m excited to see him this spring moving forward.”
John Elway added later in the day during his press conference that the Broncos had big plans for both Butt and rookie wide receiver Carlos Henderson last year.
“It would be nice to have them back”, Elway said. “We’ll see what they can do. We had big plans for them last year. We didn’t know when Jake was going to be back, obviously. He couldn’t get back, so he’ll be back healthy and ready to go. Carlos unfortunately broke the hand or the wrist and was not able to go. We drafted him the third round last year. We’re excited about him too.”
As the running backs room looks less and less crowded - with the Broncos moving on from Jamaal Charles and possibly trading or cutting C.J. Anderson - De’Angelo Henderson should have more of a chance to show his skill.
And that’s what Joseph is hoping for.
“It was hard for De’Angelo to even dress during the season,” the coach said. “Obviously in preseason he had some good times where he showed what he can do, but it’s hard to dress four halfbacks. We had three guys dressing at that position and one fullback dressing. Moving forward, Henderson is a young player that has shown some life as a guy that can make big plays. We’re excited about him.”
Looking ahead to the next crop of college draftees, Joseph has a list of requirements:
“I want to find Broncos,” he said. “I want to find guys that are smart, tough and who are team-first guys.”