One DeMarcus is gone, but could there be another on the Broncos’ defense this season?
Pot Roast has been off the menu for two years, but will Broncos add Meat Loaf?
Peko & Peko at nose tackle?
Two Nebraska inside linebackers?
There’s safety in numbers and numbers at safety.
The Broncos have a No-Fly Zone, but what about a No-Run Region?
For a team considered to possess one of the best three defenses in the National Football League, the unit will undergo a refurbish, but not a renovation, at the training camp starting this week at Dove Valley.
In my last column for thedenverchannel.com, I addressed the position competition on offense and which players most likely will make the roster.
In this column, it’s the defense’s turn to be counted.
Broncos fanaticos might pause and say: "But the Broncos already have a veteran defense, and why make changes?"
Well, a few players have departed, and a few others will be displaced.
No fewer than 40 returning Broncos, two draft picks, rookie free agents and new veterans (plus several longshots) will vie for 24-25 spots on the 53-man active list, and another four or five young players could end up on the team’s 10-man practice squad.
The Broncos have a lot to choose from, but they will add a couple more players, or more, before the regular season in September. They always do.
And the defense is somewhat shallow in a pair of areas.
There are a dozen — count ‘em — 12 linebackers who seem to be viable candidates. How do you fit 10 defensive linemen who are pro-worthy into six or seven slots? Who can become a new Flyer in a secondary stocked with four Pro Bowlers and a fifth "starter" in Bradley Roby?
Let’s take a look:
Defensive line: The Broncos let former No. 1 draft pick Sylvester Williams leave without a fight in free agency; Vance Walker, who was injured in camp in 2016 and didn’t play the entire season, wasn’t resigned; and Darius Kilgo, a backup, is not back.
Derek Wolfe is the mainstay at defensive end. And the Broncos have to figure out who else will start and/or play in the defensive line rotation. Begin with DeMarcus Walker, the Broncos’ second-round pick who, as Troy Renck of KMGH says, believes he should have been drafted in the first round. So DeMarcus II has motivation to prove people wrong. He will play inside and outside and all around.
Veteran free agent nose tackle Domata Peko has joined his cousin Kyle, a second-year nose tackle. They could be a one-two power punch in the middle, although Kyle, who was put on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) Monday because of a broken foot suffered in OTAs, will be hard-pressed to hold off rookie free agent Tyrique Jarrett — 357 pounds of meat loaf — reminiscent of Terrance "Pot Roast Knighton," who was with the Broncos in 2013-2014. Jarrett was quite impressive in the rookie and minicamps.
Zach Kerr, a journeyman defensive end, agreed to join the Broncos, and Adam Gotsis, a raw, injured mess of an Australia rugby player as a rookie, will be vastly improved. Jared Crick was brought in as a third-down specialist, but he was forced to play first and second downs, too.
I think the Broncos go with Wolfe and Kerr early at defensive ends, and work in Walker as much as possible, with Crick in the role he was supposed to have in ‘16, and the elder Peko and Jarrett are in the middle, unless the Broncos can sneak Jarett onto the practice squad, and they would keep the younger Peko. Billy Winn is the other veteran who might hang on.
Linebacker: Von Miller. Enough said. Shane Ray, who was the starter for most of last year on the other side because of DeMarcus Ware’s back pain, is preparing for a LARGE season. Ware is retired. Shaquil Barrett is supposed to be the third rushing outside linebacker, but an off-season workout hip injury probably will keep him sidelined through camp and possibly for two-three games of the season.
The Broncos have to uncover a third and a fourth outside linebacker. Dora Vontarrius, who had some moments in camp a year ago, is expected to be one, and veteran free agent Kasim Edeball the other. Rookie Ken Ekanam is a practice squad possibility.
And the Broncos could be adding a veteran here before September.
On the inside, Brandon Marshall is healthy again, and he will be paired again with fourth-year linebacker Todd Davis, who finished with 97 combined tackles last season. Corey Nelson is the main reserve. Zaire Anderson showed much a year ago as an undrafted free agent, and Josh Banderas, another undrafted free agent, also will make the roster or the practice group. Anderson and Banderas played for Nebraska.
Secondary: The Broncos once had Three Amigos. Now they have Four Horsemen in the defensive backfield with All-Pros Christ Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib and Pro Bowlers T.J. Ward and Damian Stewart. Roby could start everywhere else, and always will play when the Broncos utilize a nickel package with three corners. Draft pick Brandan Langley definitely will make the team (to follow Kayvon Webster, who bolted in free agency).
Will Parks also did an acceptable job as a backup safety-special teams player in his first season, but two issues haunt him — a domestic abuse charge by a girlfriend and his stupidity in putting out on social media a short tape of Paxton Lynch play mistakes. Parks been disciplined internally, but the external police and NFL office investigations continue.
Parks is a bubble guy, so his future in Denver depends on the quick development of undrafted free agent safeties Jamal Carter, Orion Stewart, Dymonte Thomas and Dante Barnett. I lean toward Carter and Barnett getting opportunities on the roster or the practice squad, and Parks out.
The Broncos certainly could try to sign another veteran cornerback and safety.
Overall, though, the Broncos should have the returning starters everywhere except nose tackle and defensive end.
But they could have as many as nine new players on defense.