You know those things that require your attention, but you just never can seem to get around to in a timely fashion? For you and I they’re probably things like oil changes every 3,000 miles or organizing a closet. For the Denver Broncos, it is getting a solid defensive line.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before…
The Broncos used to be pretty deep on the defensive front. Alfred Williams, Trevor Pryce, Neil Smith, Keith Traylor, and Maa Tanuvasa weren’t ever looked at as the “best” defensive line during the late 90s, but they were better than most. In the decade-plus since them, the Denver defensive front has been at best…average. Mostly though in the past several seasons it’s been a notch or two shy of average.
With this in mind I’ve been keeping an eye on the D-line personnel as training camp progresses. With a little more than a week’s worth of work so far, here are some observations on how the Broncos are planning to bolster the defensive front four:
- Ayers Dropping: On Day 3 of camp (the first day in pads), Robert Ayers joined Justin Banaan, Ty Warren, and Elvis Dumervil on the first team. Within a week Ayers had been replaced by Jason Hunter, who lined up with Warren, Dumervil, and Unrein (replacing an injured Bannan) during the summer scrimmage. Ayers may not be facing the cut list, but if he fails to deliver much beyond replacement duty this season it could likely mean Denver stamps “Miss” on his first-round selection, and moves on. (Need further evidence? Look no further than the recently revealed depth chart.)
- Inside Out: When the Broncos boasted about Derek Wolfe’s ability to play both DE and DT after drafting him early in the second round they made their intentions clear. Wolfe has seen a decent amount of snaps at each position. During the team’s first scrimmage Wolfe was replacing Ty Warren on third down situations. It’s evident Jack Del Rio is hoping Wolfe provides the interior pass rush that made him the team’s first pick of the draft. (For the record, Wolfe is listed as DE on the latest depth chart, but I still fully expect him to get playing time, at least during the preseason, at DT.)
- True Tackles: What’s also evident is that right now, the competition at defensive tackles goes Ty Warren, Justin Bannan, and everybody else. Warren seems motivated after missing two years of football with injury. What will remain unclear for several months is whether he can hold up for a full season. Justin Bannan is an above-average known quantity to the Broncos, and should likely earn a starting spot. Wolfe and Mitch Unrein appear the likely fill-in candidates on the second team, while Kevin Vickerson could now be even more removed from the “startersphere.”
- End Note: There’s only one position truly up for grabs here. Right now that belongs to Jason Hunter, and as previously discussed, Robert Ayers has fallen to the second team. However, the Broncos have brought in competition here. Last year’s seventh-round pick Jeremy Beal remains on the team, and notables Ben Garland and rookie Malik Jackson are also in the mix with several others. As mentioned above, Derek Wolfe is also getting looks at DE.
The massive crowds that have swarmed training camp are likely there primarily to see Peyton Manning make some throws, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there’s plenty of other position battles and performances to watch as the Broncos aim to build a true contender. Keeping an eye on the play of the team’s defensive line candidates could tell us a lot about whether the Broncos can expect a true upgrade, or “average at best.”