Posted Sun Jul 31st by Jon Heath
Since former Denver Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels was fired last December, a lot of changes have gone down in Dove Valley. The team started by bringing in John Elway as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations and hiring former Carolina Panthers Head Coach John Fox. (And yes, this all will relate to the defensive tackle position, just keep reading.)
There’s a rumor that Elway knows something about the quarterback position and front office affairs (he was the owner of an indoor football team for a few years) and Fox knows a thing or two about defense and productive rushing attacks. That’s good news because at the end of last season the Broncos had one of the worst defenses in the NFL and a gruesome running game.
We’re now a few months down the road and both areas appear to have vastly improved. In the draft, the team drafted massive Miami offensive lineman Orlando Franklin to help pave running lanes and after the draft the team signed UDFA Auburn running back Mario Fannin. The team also acquired free agent running back Willis McGahee, a player that will bring a physicality that Denver’s backfield has been missing for quite some time.
The team also brought in several tight ends, including former St. Louis Rams‘ Daniel Fells, who is also a fullback prospect. More blocking tight ends will result in an improved rushing attack. Add in the fact that this is a make-or-break year for running back Knowshon Moreno, who will getting heavy competition from McGahee, and the Broncos running game has all the potential to make leaps and bounds towards dominance.
The defensive side of the ball has seen similar improvements — starting with the addition of former Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. The pass rushing skills that Miller brings to the team are possibly only matched by those of defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who will be returning this year after missing all of the 2010 campaign due to injury. The return of Dumervil alone will tremendously improve Denver’s defense.
Joining Dumervil on the line will be Robert Ayers, who will be moving back to his natural defensive end position that he thrived in throughout his collegiate career at Tennessee. Former outside linebacker Jason Hunter will also be moving to defensive end where he will join rookie Jeremy Beal as rotational ends.
Behind rush specailists Doom and Ayers are the linebackers, where there is remarkable depth. Returning linebacker Joe Mays and rookie Nate Irving will battle it out in training camp for the rights to anchor the interior, with Wesley Woodyard competing for it as well. On the outside, returning linebacker D.J. Williams will line up across from Miller. The next level is the secondary, where the Broncos have a talent level equal to that of the linebackers’.
The team made two great moves by locking up Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey earlier in the year and restructuring fellow veteran safety Brian Dawkins‘ contract, keeping both leaders in Denver. Dawkins will be joined by rookie Rahim Moore as the two safeties and Bailey will probably be joined by Andre Goodman.
Behind Dawkins and Moore is rookie Quinton Carter, and youngsters David Bruton and Darcel McBath. The cornerbacks that will be pushing Goodman for playing time will be Cassius Vaughn and Syd’Quan Thompson (cornerback Perrish Cox is facing suspension and legal troubles).
Let’s review: the running game looks to improve and every defensive position had been upgraded — excluding the defensive tackle position, right? Perhaps not. One thing Denver hasn’t done is sign a big-time defensive tackle for big bucks that may not fit the system properly and be a cause for a lot of dead money down the road. And fans are upset about that?
Listen up, Fox knows defense and he knows what he is doing. The Broncos have a plan for this defense and a plan at the defensive tackle position. Did it ever occur to Bronco fans that perhaps the reason Denver has not been heavily pursuing defensive tackles first in the draft and then in free agency may be because they have plans for the players already on the roster?
“We’re excited about the scheme that John Fox is running, it will give Marcus Thomas a chance to reach his potential and do what he does best which is penetrating to get up field to cause chaos in the backfield.” Those were the words of Thomas’ agent, Richard Burnoski shortly after his client re-signed with Denver (quote per Josina Anderson). There’s a chance that Burnoski is on to something.
Holdovers Kevin Vickerson, Ryan McBean and Marcus Thomas will be returning, and rotating with Louis Leonard as the main defensive tackles, as it stands now. Add in Jeremy Jarmon, who was acquired in a trade that sent receiver Jabar Gaffney to Washington, and Denver has five experienced defensive tackles on the roster.
That’s five players to fill two positions on the depth chart. Where’s that huge need for a defensive tackle? The Broncos may not have big, All Star defensive tackles, but John Fox never really has. Carolina’s depth chart has featured “undersized” interior linemen throughout much of Fox’s career, but that didn’t stop the Panthers’ defense from ranking in the top ten nearly every season under Fox.
There’s also a possibility that Denver will still sign another defense tackle — adding more depth to the position. Reportedly, the Broncos have made an offer to former New England Patriots defensive tackle Ty Warren. Now Warren is exploring his options. If he were to sign with Denver, Warren would solidify depth at the position and give the Broncos 300 pounder.
Even if Warren doesn’t sign with the team, Denver already has five players that will see playing time at defensive tackle this year, as was mentioned above. Fox will utilize what he has to work with and place players in the best situations suited for them — resulting in a smooth rotation at defensive tackle.
Be not dismayed, there is a plan at defensive tackle and Denver’s coaches have confidence with the players on the team. Wait until you see them play live, together, in Fox’s system before you cast judgment. You may just be surprised.