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Broncos’ quartet must be in harmony

Jeff Legwold
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

In the pursuit of opposing quarterbacks, when digging in against opposing running backs, four of a kind is not, and won’t ever be, a winning hand for the Broncos defense.

“No, you can’t have four guys up front doing the same thing, they can’t be the same guy, doing the same thing, looking for one thing,” Broncos defensive end/ tackle Ebenezer Ekuban said. “It takes four – four – guys doing their jobs to get one of us a sack, to get one of us a tackle. Ask any defensive linemen, if they don’t say ‘yes,’ then they just don’t know yet.”

“One guy can be negated pretty easy,” Broncos defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. “Now four, that’s another story.”



And as the Broncos begin to wind their way through training camp, few positions on the field get a raised eyebrow or two from the teams they are preparing to play more than their defensive line.

The Broncos defense, caught in a scheme shift that didn’t work, finished 30th against the run in 2007, tied for 16th in sacks and 19th overall in yards allowed per game. The team changed defensive signal-callers, with Slowik replacing Jim Bates, and the group has spent the early portion of camp with head coach Mike Shanahan staring hard into its workouts more than the offense’s.



Yet the defense certainly did not exit ’07 and enter ’08 on a wave of change. In fact, of the 13 defensive linemen currently practicing in camp, 11 finished last season with the team, including Jarvis Moss, who was on injured reserve last year.

Defensive tackles Nic Clemons (free agent) and Dewayne Robertson (trade) are the only new additions in that group. Rookie defensive tackle Carlton Powell, a fifth- round pick in April, would have been a third, but he already is on injured reserve after tearing an Achilles’ tendon.

“But we have the talent, we have what we need,” said defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was one of only three players in the league’s top 10 in sacks in ’07 not invited to the Pro Bowl. “Maybe people don’t believe that, but we’ve got talent, we’ve got youth, we’ve got some older guys with experience. Now, it’s just about guys doing the job.”



The Broncos figure to try and do the job in waves this season, substituting liberally up front, but the starting front four thus far in camp has its share of questions to answer.

Top of the line

There is Dumervil, who desperately wants to be an every-down end though, at 5-foot-11, still is considered undersized for the job by many personnel executives in the league, to go with John Engelberger, who is coming off shoulder surgery, at the two end spots.

Inside at the two starting tackle spots at the moment are Robertson, who failed the Broncos physical because of chronic knee troubles, and Kenny Peterson, who the Broncos released in October before he was re-signed in November.

“Really, the depth chart doesn’t mean anything right now, doesn’t matter if I’m one, two or three,” Peterson said. “I just show up to work every day. But no matter who is in there, we’ve got to play as one unit; when guys are out there playing as individuals, that kind of messes things up a little bit.

“You’ve got to have guys willing to play together and be physical. That’s a good defensive line – be physical. Can’t have too many finesse guys, because then you get pushed around.”

The Broncos also are hoping the change back to a simplified defensive scheme – Slowik has players up front responsible for one gap, for the most part – will bring some aggressiveness back into the group and hold down run games, which pounded the Broncos mercilessly in the first half of ’07.

Stop the run first

To start this season, they will play far more eight-man fronts, with a safety down near the line of scrimmage, than they did in ’07, the thinking being if the Broncos can reel in run games, they will face far more favorable down- and-distance situations to rush the passer.

Shanahan has described it as “getting back to the things we’ve done in the past, we got away from it a little bit last year.”

“It’s been better,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “I think those guys can just play, they’re not so worried about all of their responsibilities, they can just play and get to the ball, and that should help everybody, including the people in back.”

“It simplifies it for everybody – one gap, it’s not hard to play one gap,” Peterson said. “Just kind of go forward, keep your head in the gap. I like the scheme, I like what’s going on.”

In the end, though, with an opening seven-game stretch in the regular season that includes four playoff teams, including a trip to New England, as well as three teams (Jacksonville, San Diego and Oakland) that rushed for at least 186 yards in games against the Broncos last season, Denver’s defensive front won’t have to wait long to see where it stands.

“We know it starts with us,” Ekuban said. “Every play, every day, we have to give it all we have and when we think we don’t have any more, we have to give some more, every guy up there. All four, all the time.”

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