|09-04-2007, 02:57 AM||#1|
Draft Defense Early&Often
Join Date: Oct 2004
Denver Broncos Breakdown
VERY IN DEPTH FOR NATIONAL MEDIA.
The Denver Broncos didn't have much to be excited about this preseason.
They were learning a new defensive scheme, and the starting defense struggled in all three games it played. They were beat up by injuries as well, the worst being a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury to defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban. Starting running back Travis Henry suffered a knee injury in the second preseason game.
The Broncos have high hopes for the 2007 season. A bad preseason doesn't change that, but the team has to turn some things around quickly or risk a poor start.
The foremost concern is probably the defense. Denver's starting defense didn't force a punt in its first two games. In the third game, Cleveland's quarterback trio of Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn all had big games. Through three preseason games the Broncos ranked 27th in the NFL in yards allowed.
The Broncos admitted to having some issues in fully grasping new assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates' scheme.
"I think we all believe this is going to be a good unit," safety John Lynch said. "We haven't shown it yet so there is some concern, obviously."
Bates said he thought the Broncos weren't sound yet on their fundamentals. That was compounded in the preseason, when Denver ran a very basic defensive scheme. Denver also has many changes in the defensive lineup. There will be six new starters. In addition, D.J. Williams moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, a position he hasn't played before.
Despite some problems, the Broncos were optimistic they'd be ready for the regular-season opener at Buffalo.
"It wasn't about guys getting beat man-to-man, it's just mental errors," Williams said. "Those are easily fixed."
There were a few bright spots in the preseason. The team was pleased with how quarterback Jay Cutler handled himself. Henry looked good in the preseason opener. Denver showed off its multiple weapons on offense, which they didn't have last year.
The Broncos, who were one of the most active teams in the NFL this offseason, still thinks it will be ready to challenge San Diego in the AFC West.
"We're not that far off," Cutler said. "I don't think we need to get all worried and flustered."
COACHING: Mike Shanahan, 15th year, 13th with Broncos (131-81, 123-69 with Broncos).
REMEMBERING: 2006 record: 9-7; missed playoffs.
PREDICTING: 2007 regular season record 10-6 (2nd in AFC West); lose in AFC wild-card playoff.
—DE Simeon Rice signed a one-year deal to help bolster the Broncos' thin defensive line. Rice's 121 career sacks is second among active players behind Giants DE Michael Strahan. "He's a big-time pass rusher, he's been in the league for a while, he's got a lot of talent," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. A right end, Rice will fit into the mix along with second-year player Elvis Dumervil and rookies Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss.
—Defensive end Elvis Dumervil had 8.5 sacks last year, and the Broncos know he will be an effective pass rusher. They are apparently going to let Dumervil prove he can be an every-down player. Although Dumervil is short and stocky — one of the reasons he slipped in the draft — the Broncos have seen progress from him this preseason.
"Elvis can do some things and help us on first and second down," defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. "He doesn't have to be a specialist. He's a good football player that can do some things."
—Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he cut defensive end Kenard Lang, a starter last year, to give him time to catch on with another team. Shanahan said the Broncos wanted to get younger at end, with rookies Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, but letting Lang go was difficult.
"A true pro, the way he practiced, the way he played, tried to help the young guys," Shanahan said.
—The Broncos played only one preseason game with their preferred top three receivers — Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley. Marshall and Stokley each had injuries that caused them to miss time in training camp and preseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler said he wasn't too worried about the lack of time with those three.
"A lot of them have been in and out," Cutler said. "We did a lot of stuff this summer though. So I have a good feel for them."
BY THE NUMBERS: 52-20 — The composite score of Denver's last two regular-season openers. They lost to Miami in 2005 and St. Louis in 2006.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm pleased with the way he has handled himself, they way he has played." — Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, on QB Jay Cutler.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos released a few more veterans than most teams in its first round of cuts. Defensive linemen Kenard Lang and Demetrin Veal, receiver David Kircus and punter Paul Ernster — all contributors last year — were in the first round of cuts. In each case, the Broncos added at a position this offseason and squeezed a veteran out of the mix for a roster spot.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DT Amon Gordon — Gordon was waived by Cleveland after the 2005 season, then spent last year on the Broncos practice squad and had knee problems. Basically forgotten, he earned a starting job during the preseason. The Broncos promoted him when they decided to trade tackle Gerard Warren, and Gordon played very well with the first-team defense.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Round 1/17, DE Jarvis Moss, Florida — Moss will play right away on passing downs. Because of a season-ending injury to Ebenezer Ekuban, Moss might have to play some on first and second down as well.
Rd. 2/56, DE Tim Crowder, Texas — Crowder was impressive in the first few weeks of camp. He picked up the defense quickly and played like a veteran. An ankle injury slowed his progress some, but he will still be heavily involved in the defensive line rotation this year.
Rd. 3/70, OT Ryan Harris, Notre Dame — Harris had back surgery and will miss the first few weeks of the season. The Broncos weren't heavily relying on Harris as a rookie, but he could provide depth late in the season.
Rd. 4/121, DT Marcus Thomas, Florida — Thomas looked rusty at times but made some plays. He didn't play much last year after being kicked off Florida's team. He could be a part of the defensive line rotation as a rookie.
QUARTERBACK: Starter — Jay Cutler. Backup — Patrick Ramsey.
Cutler had some rough moments in the preseason but generally played well. He should have some big games in his second year, but could also struggle in a few. He has only five NFL games under his belt. However, the Broncos love his talent and demeanor. Ramsey is a solid backup. He picked up the offense quickly and probably would be a capable fill-in if Cutler misses any time.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Travis Henry. Backups — RB Cecil Sapp, RB Mike Bell, RB Selvin Young, FB Paul Smith.
Henry's preseason grade was incomplete because of a knee injury. But he ran hard and well in the preseason opener — just what the Broncos figured they were getting when they signed Henry this offseason. Sapp and Bell were fighting for the backup position behind Henry, and Sapp will probably enter the season in that role. Sapp played well, and Bell missed some time with a hip injury. Young, an undrafted rookie, performed well in the preseason when given the chance. J Smith will be a valuable special-teams player.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Daniel Graham. Backups — Tony Scheffler, Stephen Alexander, Nate Jackson.
Graham will be steady for the Broncos all season. He's a great blocker and will catch a few passes. He could be a red-zone target. Scheffler spent the first few weeks of camp recovering from a broken foot, and Jackson took advantage. He had a great camp, catching everything thrown his way. Jackson could start the season as the No. 2 tight end. Alexander could provide veteran depth and leadership.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall. Backups — Brandon Stokley, Brian Clark, Domenik Hixon, Quincy Morgan, Rod Smith.
Walker is another year removed from an ACL injury he suffered in 2005, and should have a big year. He can catch the short passes on third down or stretch the field with his speed. Marshall has a load of talent. If he keeps maturing on and off the field and stays healthy, he could have a big year very soon. Stokley will be an ideal slot receiver if he can stay healthy. That's a big if. He's coming off a torn Achilles' tendon and missed most of training camp with a quadriceps injury. Clark, Hixon and Morgan each had their moments in training camp and the preseason. Smith is still recovering from offseason hip surgery and will start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Matt Lepsis, LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Montrae Holland, RT Erik Pears. Backups — G Chris Myers, T Adam Meadows, T Ryan Harris, G Chris Kuper.
Lepsis showed in the preseason that he's back from a knee injury that ended his season last year. Hamilton could miss some time in the regular season as he recovers from a concussion, and Myers would likely fill his spot. Holland took over at right guard when Kuper struggled a bit. Meadows appeared to be on the verge of taking Pears' spot when he got hurt before Denver's second preseason game, so Pears keeps the spot for now.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — DE Elvis Dumervil, DT Sam Adams, DT Amon Gordon, DE John Engelberger. Backups — DE Simeon Rice, DE Tim Crowder, DE Jarvis Moss, DT Jimmy Kennedy, DT Alvin McKinley, DT John Browning, DT Marcus Thomas.
The line took a hit when Ebenezer Ekuban was lost for the season. Dumervil could get the first crack at taking his starting spot, but many others will be considered, including Rice, who was signed to a one-year deal Sept. 3. Crowder, a rookie who injured his ankle a couple days before Ekuban went down, could quickly be a big factor at end. He played well before he got hurt. Moss should help Denver's pass rush right away. Engelberger and Gordon are unheralded, but the Broncos like what they've done. Adams can't play every down anymore, but he can clog up the middle. The Broncos think they have good depth.
LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Ian Gold, MLB D.J. Williams, SLB Nate Webster. Backups — D.D. Lewis, Louis Green, Wesley Mallard.
Williams is one of the keys to the defense. He's learning middle linebacker on the fly. He struggled at times in the preseason, but has great athletic ability and will be given the chance to succeed. Webster is energetic and won the competition to start on the strong side. He could also move back to the middle if Williams falters. Gold is consistent, and might have to make some plays for the defense to improve this year. Lewis is probably the top backup.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Champ Bailey, SS Nick Ferguson, FS John Lynch, CB Dre Bly. Backups — CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Jeff Shoate, CB Karl Paymah, S Hamza Abdullah, S Curome Cox.
Bailey and Bly should be fun to watch. Bailey is at the top of his game, a true shutdown corner. Bly could see a big spike in his interception total. He'll get many chances. Lynch and Ferguson are getting older, but still effective. Abdullah could eventually get in the starting lineup. He has caught Lynch's eye, and made some plays in the preseason. He and Cox are Denver's top two backups at safety. Foxworth is a good nickel cornerback. The Broncos will play more dime this year than they have in previous years, but will likely do so with an extra safety instead of four cornerbacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Elam, P Todd Sauerbrun, LS Mike Leach, KOR Quincy Morgan, PR Domenik Hixon.
Elam and Sauerbrun should each be among the best at their position this year. Leach is reliable. The Broncos need to improve on special teams this year, under new coach Scott O'Brien. The Broncos like Morgan and Hixon as their returners. Morgan finished last season strong. Hixon is unproven, but quick.
Last edited by Atlas; 09-04-2007 at 03:03 AM..