Posted Sun Sep 5th by Ian Henson
Defensive Ends: Ryan McBean, Justin Bannan and Le Kevin Smith
Analysis: McBean played so well in training camp and preseason he made Jarvis Green (and the $3 million plus the Broncos will pay him this season) worthless. If McBean is the bar to which the coaches in Denver want to set for what the team is looking for in a defensive end then Bannan is his equal. Bannan is one year removed from his personal best season and both players function ideally how any team would want their defensive ends to function in a 3-4 defense. Smith likely provided fans a few peaks at the teams line up this preseason, all wondering who number 99 was. He alone had five tackles against the Detroit Lions in week three. You won’t see these guys appearing on the stat line a whole lot as this defense requires the nose tackle and the two defensive ends to primarily occupy the opposing team’s center and guards. You will likely see career years from all of them this season though as most are getting their first opportunity to be featured in a defense. Marcus Thomas also serves as the Broncos fourth defensive end. GRADE: C+
Nose Tackles: Jamal Williams, Ronald Fields and Marcus Thomas
Analysis: Joe Collier (architect of the Orange Crush) said, “The nose tackle and the inside linebackers, those are three guys that are very important. But when you go through it, the nose tackle is probably the single-most important guy.” The nose tackle is considered the most physically demanding position in all of football. Now, as far as nose tackles go, currently in the NFL you don’t get much better than Jamal Williams and he’s the type of player that Broncos fans have been screaming for, for at least five years. Williams is coming off the second major injury of his career and is three seasons removed from his last pro bowl. Though the Broncos are definitely good at helping players get their swagger back (Brian Dawkins) and I’d expect them to do the same with Williams at 34 years old. Fields started every game for Denver last season at nose tackle last season and seemed to have his best games when the team was losing, he’s an apt backup and does well in a relief role. Thomas has been largely a disappointment in his career and was on the bubble as the Broncos made their final cuts. Thomas was told that he’ll have to step up and could likely be the next one out if the Broncos are to sign someone else this week. GRADE: C+
Outside Linebackers: Robert Ayers, Jarvis Moss, Baraka Atkins and Jason Hunter
Analysis: The loss of Elvis Dumervil to this unit is detrimental. There are two ways to look at it, those being that Dumervil was a good player made awesome by an incredible system or that Dumervil is an incredible player and made a good system look awesome. The unit is full of question marks with the only bright point being potential. Ayers is in his second season and gets a lot of print time with talk of his need to step up, his preseason was filled with near sacks and plays that were almost great. Moss does look better this season than last, but still looks like he hasn’t improved much beyond his rookie season. Moss has stepped up in special teams, but that’s not what’s being evaluated here. There are gigantic shoes to fill here and my concern is that together Ayers and Moss may not have it in them to do it. I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see Hunter start games for a reason other than an injury. Hunter is playing out of position as is Moss arguably, but that doesn’t mean much as talent is talent. Atkins hasn’t notched a statistic since 2008. Though in the scheme of things the inside linebackers are much more important, it’s impossible to force a team between the tackles unless there’s brutal force on the outside and I worry that it’s just not there with this unit. Hopefully they have/can continue to benefit from having had two years under two of the better linebacker coaches in the NFL in Mike Nolan and Wink Martindale. GRADE: D
UPDATE (9/5/10 7:05 PM EST)– Baraka Atkins has been cut to make room for offensive tackle Chris Clark.
Inside Linebackers: D.J. Williams, Mario Haggan, Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays
Analysis: I think this is the year Williams makes the pro bowl, I’ve been saying it since early August. With what the outside linebackers lack, hopefully the inside linebackers can make up for in strength. Williams is and has been one of the top linebackers in the NFL for years, but does not get the national attention he deserves; partially because he’s had his position switched five times since his rookie season. Haggan, who played outside last season is switching inside and that could mean that McDaniels sees something in Ayers and Moss that we have yet to. Haggan has never been a tackle machine, but last season after starting every game at left outside linebacker did very decently. Woodyard has his moments and has shown improvement since switching over last season (when he made a few mistakes likely due to switching over from the 4-3). Denver made an excellent move in obtaining Mays for J.J. Arrington from the Philadelphia Eagles during training camp, as Mays proved his value in preseason. Mays and Woodyard will mostly be seen on special teams, but both are capable of replacing those ahead of them on the depth chart. GRADE: B+
Cornerbacks: Champ Bailey, Andre Goodman, Nate Jones, Perrish Cox, Syd’Quan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn
Analysis: I’d put Bailey and Goodman toe-to-toe against any cornerback tandem in the NFL, they are the best. The notion that Bailey has lost a step is ridiculous and anyone that saw him against the Cincinnati Bengals’ Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens in week one of the preseason should agree. Nonetheless teams will target Bailey more this season (under the impression that he has lost a step) and this could mean a drop off in production for Goodman, but another pro bowl season for Bailey. Jones a good free agent pickup looked to be a great free agent pickup prior to the Broncos drafting Cox, Thompson and Vaughn and the rookies playing so well in the preseason. Jones will likely get the nod 90% of the time as the Broncos nickel cornerback, he’s a major threat as a rusher as well and look for him to pick up a couple of sacks this season. The rookies Cox, Thompson and Vaughn will make their impact predominantly on special teams, but if given the opportunity to play corner (especially where Cox and Thompson are concerned) will make retaining some of the older vets in this squad something to contemplate for 2011. GRADE: A+
Safeties: Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill, Darcel McBath and David Bruton
Analysis: Dawkins still hasn’t hit his wall and offers so much more than a talented safety as fans are well aware. Hill statistically fell off with his switch from free safety to strong safety, but that’s not a big concern for Denver. Dawkins and Hill coupled with Bailey and Goodman are the best secondary in the NFL and with the incredible young depth behind him this shouldn’t change anytime in the near future. McBath many will remember from jumping a Peyton Manning pass last season and then exiting shortly after for the remainder of the season. McBath serves as Dawkins only backup and may see a lot more time this season when it comes to the defense. Bruton and McBath will also be seen mostly on special teams, but proved very good depth at this position. GRADE: A-
OVERALL DEFENSE– Though the strength of the Broncos defense lies in the teams secondary a newly formatted defensive line and a middle linebacking corps that should be amongst the top in the NFL; the teams weakness is glaring. A duct tape job won’t be able to keep opposing offenses from running rampant on the outsides of this unit. McDaniels seems confident in Ayers and Moss, so we’ll see what they can do, for now I am fearful. That being said, the Broncos defense is nowhere near as bad as some think that they will be. The team will be tested early and often in their schedule facing Jacksonville, Tennessee and Baltimore all in the first five weeks. The other and more plausible opinion I have is that we haven’t seen anything yet, McDaniels and Martindale kept most if not all scheme under wraps throughout the entire preseason. The Broncos (and their defense) could very easily do the same thing in 2010 that they did in 2009 and blow the best offenses in the NFL out of the water. Hopefully this season they have a better plan for the second half of the season, once teams start adjusting. GRADE: C
This is part two of a two part article, part one is located here.