Broncos quickly adapting to 3-4 scheme
AP Sports Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – Inheriting a Denver Broncos defense in complete disarray, Josh McDaniels decided to junk it soon after taking over as head coach.
No patches, salvage jobs or quick fixes, just throw the scheme out and start over.
“We just said, ‘All right, we’re going in that direction regardless,'” McDaniels explained Monday.
Now, the Broncos defense is back on the road to respectability. The unit is among the league leaders in points allowed (6.5) and yards per game (253.5).
“We’ve done some good things, but we’ve also made some mistakes we need to fix,” McDaniels said. “There’s a learning curve, certainly.”
But it’s already a far cry from years past. The defense under Mike Shanahan had become a detriment, ultimately costing him his job.
When McDaniels came in, the first thing he did was give that side of the ball a complete makeover. He hired Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and – after studying the players he had on the roster – implemented a new 3-4 formation.
Then they brought in the pieces that could make the scheme work, players like linebacker Andra Davis and stout defensive linemen such as Ronald Fields, Le Kevin Smith and the recently signed Vonnie Holliday.
Davis has been an instant fit, keeping things under control in the middle. He leads the team with 19 tackles, including 10 in a win over his former team, the Cleveland Browns, on Sunday.
“He studies as much or more than anybody else on our team,” McDaniels said. “He does a great job of showing our younger players how to practice, how to prepare.”
Elvis Dumervil is certainly taking note. He’s also starting to adapt to his new responsibilities.
And to think he wasn’t sure if he would.
A defensive lineman all his life, Dumervil initially balked at becoming an outside linebacker in this system.
Something clicked Sunday as Dumervil tied a team record with four sacks.
“I still have a lot to learn,” Dumervil said. “But I feel like I am going in the right direction.”
With his leverage and long arms, Dumervil presents problems for offensive linemen. He blitzed right by the Browns, pressuring Brady Quinn all afternoon. He also stripped the ball from Joshua Cribbs on a short pass.
“He’s just a relentless pass rusher,” Champ Bailey said. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen, and I’ve played with some great ones. He never stops, his motor is always going. Boy, if they held the ball for one second too long, he was there.”
The Broncos’ revamped secondary certainly gave the defensive line plenty of time to pursue Quinn, keeping close tabs on Cleveland’s receivers.
In Nolan’s opinion, that experienced secondary is a big reason the Broncos are off to a 2-0 start.
But that’s why the Broncos brought in the group of grizzled veterans. The thirtysomethings include Brian Dawkins, 35, Andre’ Goodman, 31, and Renaldo Hill, 30, who join Bailey to form quite a defensive backfield.
Just don’t bring up their ages.
“People say we’re old guys,” said Dawkins, who’s in his 14th year. “No, we have talent. We trust one another … One of the greatest things on this defense is accountability. We’re very accountable for not making mistakes to cause a big play.”
The defense also is producing takeaways, something they’ve struggled to do in the past. Through two games, Denver already has recovered two fumbles and intercepted three passes.
“We have done a lot of great things,” Dumervil said. “But to be great, you have got to know what you are doing wrong.”
No worry, Nolan will definitely let them know.
So far, though, he likes what he sees.
“We’ve started to build some confidence,” Nolan said. “When the players have confidence in it, then it starts to breed its own success.”
Last season, the Broncos experimented with the 3-4 formation, flashing the look in several games. But the team never fully converted over from their four-man front.
“The 3-4 they played last year was more of a hybrid, gimmicky type of deal,” McDaniels said. “I don’t really think it created much success when they played it anyway.”
That’s why McDaniels decided to overhaul the defensive structure this season, resisting the temptation to gradually phase in a new look.
“We are far from perfect, but we are playing good enough defense right now to give ourselves a chance,” McDaniels said.