|08-12-2007, 04:43 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Mass appeals to Broncos
Team is signing linemen in three sizes: big, bigger, biggest
By Mike Klis, Denver Post Staff Writer
Training camp used to be easier on Tom Nalen.
Not that two-a-day practices, late-night meetings and before-dawn wake-up calls were ever a tip-toe across the scrimmage line. But at least Nalen usually got to take on guys close to his own size.
This year, whenever Nalen squats over the ball to center the Broncos' offensive line, he has Sam Adams lined up over one shoulder and Gerard Warren leaning over the other. That's 680 pounds, give or take a late-night snack, of country-strong mass - or nearly 400 pounds more than Nalen otherwise carries between his two broad shoulders.
On the next play, Adams or Warren might lumber out and the fresh trunks of Jimmy Kennedy (320 pounds) will strut in. As often as not, Nalen has taken on a half-ton of defensive tackles by the time the sticks have flipped to third down.
"We've had big guys around here before but never this many," said Nalen, who is preparing for his 14th Broncos season at 286 pounds.
The Broncos never before had coach Jim Bates run the defense.
In recent years, the identity of Denver's D was that of smaller, quicker players who relentlessly pursued. They were on their way to becoming a defense for the ages last season when they became the first team in 71 years to allow just one touchdown through five games.
But as the season wore on, those lighter, athletic Broncos defenders wore down. After a 5-1 start, the Broncos lost four games - to Indianapolis, San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco - in which they allowed an average of six points in the first half and 26 points in the second. All four of those second-half meltdowns occurred at home.
Out went Larry Coyer as defensive boss, in came Bates. Out went smaller, overachieving defensive tackles such as Michael Myers, in came Adams, a three-time Pro Bowler who at 350 pounds is the heaviest player in Broncos history.
The Broncos' current training camp roster has 15 players who weigh at least 300 pounds, the most in team history. And it would have been 17 had defensive tackle Alvin McKinley's proclaimed surge to 300 occurred before the media guide went to press and offensive tackle Doug Nienhuis not been hurt while playing in Europe.
It's as if the Broncos treated their long-held romance with quicker, nimbler players as some 300-pound gorilla.
"It was not reflective of the play we got from Michael Myers or any of the other guys we've had in the past," Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said. "It's just that if you're going to run the wishbone, you better have an option quarterback. If you're going to run Jim Bates' defense, you better have the beef."
"Big guys" redefined
The Broncos never were a team for Clara Peller, bless her heart. Where's the beef? Next to the double whoppers that frequented rosters in Oakland, Dallas and Washington, the Broncos were content with White Castle value packs.
Even with all their added girth this season, the Broncos merely moved into a seven-way tie for 19th in the 300-pound race. They might loom large at Dove Valley, but wait until the Broncos practice this week in Irving, Texas, where the Cowboys have 19 players weighing at least 300 pounds, including 366-pound offensive tackle Leonard Davis.
"When you say, 'big guys,' I'm looking at 330 and over," Adams said. "Dallas has three (offensive) starters that are 330. I'll wear a 300-pounder out. Three-twenty is where the big dogs start."
The theory behind the 300-pound lineman gained weight among NFL executives in the late 1980s to early 1990s. It was a period when all athletes - from baseball hitters to basketball two-guards to hockey goalies - were getting bigger. When John Elway engineered The Drive to highlight the 1986 season, two of his favorite receivers, Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson, each were listed at 174 pounds.
This year, the Broncos don't have a receiver smaller than 190-pound Domenik Hixon.
"People just got bigger everywhere," former Broncos guard Keith Bishop said. "About the only position where they haven't gotten any bigger is at cornerback. It seemed like there were more big cornerbacks back then."
Bypassing the effect anabolic steroids had on the outsizing of the professional athlete, the greatest impact on the proliferation of the 300-pounder might have been the Lawrence Taylor factor.
Offense changes first
Bates said it was the offensive linemen who got huge first. Offensive linemen grew because no matter how quick or athletic, they could no longer reach the outside and beat the increasing number of 250-pound linebackers who could run the 40 in 4.6.
"The Vince Lombardi power sweep is gone now," Adams said. "It's all power offense now. When the speed of the defense picked up, offenses, instead of trying to run away from them - which you couldn't do anymore - you would run at 'em."
Once the larger offensive interior became standard, it was the defense's turn to adjust. The Broncos' idea behind two sumo-sized defensive tackles is for each to neutralize two blockers worth of space, thus allowing the linebackers to pursue unimpeded to the ball carrier.
D.J. Williams, this is your year.
"If you're not strong up the middle, you'll get ripped in this league," Bates said. "We have played with some 290, 285s, but they have to be tremendous technicians. The bigger guy has the advantage because he can play the point, play with power."
Bates admits his defensive philosophy isn't the only blueprint to NFL success. The team with the fewest number of 300-pound linemen? That would be the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.
Then again, the Colts ranked 32nd against the run in the 32-team NFL last year. At his Super Bowl news conference, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning predicted never again would the crown go to the team with the worst run defense.
The Broncos are trying to add 300-pounders to the offensive line in hopes of better protecting the deep pocket. The transition to greater blocking beef, though, is more gradual because the Broncos' three best linemen - Nalen, Matt Lepsis and Ben Hamilton - need to eat a porterhouse or two for breakfast before they tip 290.
"I wish," said Lepsis, who recently weighed in well below his listed 290. "I'll go to Del Frisco's with my wife, and I'll gorge myself till I'm about to get sick. And I'll go home and I'll have lost 2 pounds."
The beef movement at Dove Valley has divided the line of scrimmage workweek in two. There is beef. And there are those who must block the beef.
Staff writer Mike Klis can be reached at 303-954-1055 or email@example.com.
No shortage of beef
Denver Post NFL reporter Mike Klis provides 300-pound NFL players by the numbers:
Number of combined 300-pound players on the Broncos' first three Super Bowl teams of 1977, 1986 and 1987.
Number of 300-pound players the Broncos have in camp this year. The number does not include DT Alvin McKinley, who weighed 300 to open camp, but is listed at 294, and OT Doug Nienhuis, who is 307 but is injured and not in camp.
Number of NFL players weighing at least 300 pounds during the 1988 regular season.
Number of NFL players listed at 300-plus on 2007 training camp rosters.
The official listed weight of DT Sam Adams, making him the largest player in Broncos history. OT George Foster held the previous record at 338 pounds.
Putting the beef in the Broncos
The Broncos have never had more 300-pound linemen in camp than they do this year. A look at the team's 300-pounders:
Team ... Distinction ... 300 club ... The beef
1977 ... Orange Crush ... 0
1987 ... Third Super Bowl ... 0
1997 ... Fifth Super Bowl ... 6 ... Adams, Alex, Brown, Geathers, Traylor, Jones
2005 ... AFC championship ... 13 ... Clabo, Clement, Davis, Elliss, Fatafehi, Foster, Green, M. Myers, Pope, Spikes, Warren, C. Myers, Pears
2007 ... Beef movement ... 15 ... Warren, Gordon, Washburn, Pears, Akah, S. Harris, Holland, McAlmont, Kennedy, R. Harris, Kuper, Thomas, Burton, Adams, Veal