Broncos: Disappointing rookie year in Ayers’ rearview
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Aside from one shining moment, pass rushing linebacker-defensive end Robert Ayers had a forgettable rookie campaign for the Denver Broncos.
A first-round pick out of Tennessee and the 18th overall selection by the Broncos a year ago, Ayers recovered a fumble and returned it a team rookie record 54 yards for a touchdown Nov. 9 against Pittsburgh.
But he heads into his second season still looking for his first career sack. He initially was credited with one Dec. 20 against Oakland but it was taken away by statisticians on further review.
“Last year is last year and I’ve moved on from that,” Ayers said Monday after the team’s final passing camp practice. “All I’m worried about is helping the team win this year.”
He is working at it, said coach Josh McDaniels.
“He’s been one of our finest offseason-program workers, both with his work ethic and the progress that he’s made,” McDaniels said. “I think everything about him right now is going in the right direction.”
Though not an outright flop, Ayers made little impact while starting once, at right defensive end, and playing in 15 games last season. He had 18 tackles and recovered another fumble on special teams. On one occasion, he was listed among the team’s inactives.
With Mario Haggan’s move from outside to inside linebacker, Ayers is in the mix, along with Wesley Woodyard, Baraka Atkins, Akin Ayodele and the rehabbing Darrell Reid for the strong outside linebacker spot opposite Elvis Dumervil, whose 17 sacks last season led the NFL.
The position would afford more play-making opportunities for Ayers, who led Tennessee in tackles for loss in each of his last two seasons at the school.
“I think the competition is real good,” Ayers said. “That’s what Josh wanted to do, elevate the competition. They’re all competing at a high level and that’s going to make everyone better.”
He said he’s in a better position to improve just from having gone through an NFL season and also having had the chance to learn from the mistakes he made.
“You talk to the coaches and you realize what you need to get better at, and that’s what I’ve been working on, my core strength, my lateral movement, just trying to get better as a player and I feel like I’m doing that so far,” Ayers said.
He also spent extra time after Monday’s practice working on pass coverage techniques.
“I definitely feel like I can improve on last year,” he said. “Mentally, I’m stronger. Physically, I’m stronger. I’m a better athlete right now. Everything I’ve done, I can feel the difference out here. I feel like a different player. I have high expectations for myself this year.”
McDaniels is reserving judgment before jumping on the bandwagon.
“His real test is going to come when we get to August and he can be physical and set the edge and rush the passer and do those kinds of things,” McDaniels said. “But he’s embraced his role. He’s embraced trying to improve in every area that he could.”
NOTES: RT Ryan Harris, who missed most of last season with a toe injury, took part in individual drills again Monday and said he expects to be at full strength in time for training camp. … The Broncos reconvene Friday for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp.