John Fox and his three coordinators sat down just after the draft to talk with reporters about the team so far, and to no one's surprise, the subject of the newer-look defense came up.
Jack Del Rio noted that the Broncos are looking to get an edge rush from Von Miller, while 2013 first-rounder Sylvester Williams and Derek Wolfe crash up the middle to keep the quarterback from stepping up into the pocket. There is an assumption that the edge opposite Miller will also be attacking the QB, but it wasn’t stated.
The idea of Miller on the edge with Wolfe and Williams up the middle has taken on wings with the almost instant connection between Wolfe and Williams. Del Rio updated his thoughts on the two last week:
Both of these young men, you've watched them come in the building — they both have approached it very similarly. Come in kind of determined, serious, mature in their approach. I think you’re going to see Sylvester be able to come in and impact us in a similar way (to that we saw from Wolfe in 2012).
When the Broncos recently added Quentin Jammer to their already crowded defensive backfield, one issue that arose - although hardly one that can’t be overcome - is how to handle that positional glut. Some folks have suggested that David Bruton should be one player to get the axe.
One reader wondered if Bruton was worth keeping...
Wait one second. Bolden and Irving were ST tackle leaders?! I thought L Ball and D Bruton were the ST aces? It shall be interesting come TC cut time.
...while another was succinct in pleading his case...
You can't let Bruton go. He is our best ST player.
From reader Isaac H:
[DC Jack] Del Rio talked about the "installation" of the defense being pretty much complete over these OTA's. I've heard the term "installation" of either the offense or defense a lot over the years and have often wondered what exactly that means?
It's a very good question, Issac, so thanks for asking it. We always appreciate having the chance to learn exactly what our readers want to know about.
So, what's in an installation? In brief, its main function is to give the players a chance to learn precisely how they - the offense, defense or special teams - are going to handle all the game situations by walking through them in a slow, thorough manner. It lets them see how the group functions as a whole and how the chosen scheme applies to game situations.
It’s become a local mantra - the move from older base formations to using a nickel package as a team’s base package is a natural response towards slowing the pass-centric tendencies of the modern NFL.
I’ve been on that bus for a few years now. Last season, the Broncos used their nickel defense 65% of the time. Nickel is the new base.
But along with that recognition, there’s been an increasing suggestion that you don’t need three-down linebackers as much. The starting Mike, in particular, often leaves the field for nickel downs. That’s particularly the case if the Mike has better skills downhill than in outracing running backs, wideouts, or tight ends in a coverage role.
Does a team have to change their linebackers out when they move to nickel?
Most of us has been impressed with the level of innovation under John Elway, but the installation of Luke Richesson along with his equipment and staff may turn out to be one of the best of them all.
From Eric Decker on Wednesday:
We worked out at Duke in March or April and I definitely felt like he had more zip on the ball. I think he's come back stronger, he's come back with the program that we've got — it's unbelievable the amount of muscle mass and endurance that guys have and the cut-down of injuries that we had last year. I think that's a compliment to the strength and conditioning staff here and I think Peyton is one of those that took advantage of it and really got himself in good shape and is stronger and healthier this year.
The nickel formation is usually dated back to the early 1960s, when Jerry Williams of the Eagles used it to try and defend Chicago Bears tight end Mike Ditka. The Dolphins made it popular in the 1970s with creative coordinator Bill Arnsparger running the defense for Don Shula (Arnsparger also employed an early form of the zone blitz).
Every team has some version of the nickel now and it’s constantly getting more common to deal with the pass-happy and increasingly tight end-centric offenses.
According to John Elway, the Broncos played nickel in 65% of their defensive snaps. Since the nickel has become the new base defensive formation, I thought we should take a quick look at Denver’s ‘new’ approach to defense.
Two years earlier, the Sport Science team put Von Miller through their testing gauntlet. I enjoy their work - they bring some solid technology to measure the things that make a certain player effective, and it highlights aspects of that player’s skill set. Even if it's a bit late, I thought I'd discuss Von's Sport Science segment here.
Watching Miller’s work is like seeing the Mikhail Baryshnikov of the NFL. Baryshnikov himself used to seem to leap up into the air and just pause there for a long moment; it was astonishing to watch. Miller reminds me of that quality - he often looks as if he’s playing at a different speed than the rest of the people on the field. He dashes through what are pauses between moments to the rest of us.
Last week's column about controversial Chargers team doctor David Chao and the NFL's continuing campaign to discredit CTE pioneer Bennet Omalu prompted a comment that I’ve heard often in the discussions of making professional sports safer.
It’s a point worth considering - do the players really want a safer working environment?
Indeed, injuries are part of the cost of making a living for many players, and that brings up another point: there are times when people in a certain situation aren’t qualified to judge things like the costs of long term care, or the realities of dealing with CTE. A 22-year old rookie in the NFL - and even many of the ‘older’ players, relatively few of whom are over 35 or are well educated in the realities of health-related issues.
I'd like to take a moment to address some comments from my piece two weeks ago on Denver first-rounder Sylvester Williams.
Broncos777 talked about what had struck him while considering Sylvester Williams (emphasis mine):
Sylvester has a great story. Elway's emphasis on chemistry in the locker room is going to pay off for a long time. Sylvester's experience reminds me of a story a friend from San Diego whose parents had immigrated from Mexico once told me. He said that his parents took him once to the village where they were from and he came back with straight A's!
I was somewhere between thrilled and ecstatic with the announcement that premier offensive line coach Alex Gibbs will be added to Denver’s already extensive coaching firepower. Denver has been using both outside and inside zone running plays over the last two years. Why not also add the modern version of the original stretch zone play?
The offensive line players Johns Elway and Fox have put together have good feet as well as greater size. There's no reason they can't run this.
The old idea that you need smaller players for this scheme, or that defensive coordinators have learned to defend it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Like a lot of Peyon Manning's plays, it's one thing to know what they might do and something entirely different to stop them from doing it. What the zone scheme needs is offensive linemen with excellent footwork - and the Broncos have them. What’s unusual is that Denver's gotten both size and power to go with their skill in footwork. That's not the common approach to the ZB scheme, but it's one that I've been interested in seeing for a long time.