Everyone knew that when Peyton Freaking Manning decided to spend his last seasons in Denver, the blocking scheme was going to be a big priority. Manning’s lightning assessments of the defense and his quick release makes that job easier for the O-line, but the Broncos also took a step towards improving his safety and his target environment by luring to the team former two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection from Colorado State University, tight end Joel Dreessen.
Pro Football Focus has made positive mentions of Dreessen a few times since the end of the season. Since some of the information is in their premium section, I thought I’d cover it for you. In short, Dreessen was the #10 TE in the league in terms of pass blocking snaps for the three seasons prior to joining Denver (2009-2011). On 260 pass protection snaps over those three years, he gave up only eight total pressures for a 97.31 Pass Blocking Efficiency, good for fifth among all TEs.
1. It’s not everyday that you see an offensive lineman run a 4.71 official 40. Very impressive, Terron Armstead! It’s not just the speed, either. This kid knows how to play the game. Lane Johnson also had an excellent time - 4.76.
While the size of the average American has leveled off, for the most part (although a lot are still growing sideways), the size, weight, and speed of offensive linemen continue to increase. The number of reps on the 225 bench didn’t go up, but their overall power was impressive. There were six sub-4.9 forty times, with 10-yard splits to match. I haven’t looked up each year, but I don’t recall that offhand in combine history.
2. Watching one of the drills: the player lies on his back, arms spread, has to leap to his feet, turn, and the coach holds a football that shows him the direction he should take, changing it several times with no pattern.
Braxston Cave did it, and not badly. Emmett Cleary followed - better - and then Jonathan Cooper took his turn. His feet were wide, his steps short and choppy, and his hips dropped properly - it was like watching a video of how to do the drill. No offense is meant to Cleary or Cave, but Cooper was letter-perfect. If you wondered why he’s one of the top two guards this year, check the film of that drill. That’s a big part of why - and he’s not just athletic, he’s also knowledgeable and talented.
A recent re-reading of Football’s Eagle and Stack Defenses, written by longtime Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, turned up some information on the attacking 4-3 single gap and its versatility, as far as rolling the responsibilities of the players to match up with different downs, distances and probable plays.
It had me thinking about Jack Del Rio and his approach, which has some overlaps with my earlier musings. Vanderlinden’s discussion of the use of linebackers and reads was a perfect next step to reading Complete Linebacking, a book I also recommend highly, and which was written by Lou Tepper, under whom Vanderlinden coached with the CU Buffs in the 1980s.
I’ll get into eagle and stack defenses at another time, but there are some specifics here that can be adapted into many formations and schemes.
As free agency lurks, we’re already seeing some big names linked to the Broncos. There will be more, but here are a few somewhat lesser names that have stood out for me:
The player who I like best so far in free agency is 26-year-old offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, formerly of the Panthers and Vikings. I’ll be talking more about him in a two-part series on the middle of the Denver roster, but he has a history with John Fox in Carolina and has played both right guard and right tackle successfully.
He’s likely to be more of a cap-friendly acquisition and potentially fills a need that’s literally bigger than safety, wideout, or situational pass rusher. He’s a mauler who uses his 6-6, 334-lb body to his best advantage. I’d love to see him after another year or two under line coach Dave Magazu. He may not an be elite talent, but he’s very good. I see him as a potential upgrade over Manny Ramirez or Chris Kuper who would allow Denver to leave Orlando Franklin at right tackle.
As Doug pointed out, plenty of big players are going to be linked to the Broncos. With the team coming off a 13-3 record, and their limited time frame with Peyton Manning at QB, Denver is again a highly desirable place to come play.
Woodson will turn 37 in October, but he’s been one of the top players at safety in the league. Is he worth a look?
Collie is 27 and has been released after a year of only 12 catches due to a series of concussions. He’s been a good target for Manning in the past, and Brandon Stokley is probably looking at his final season, so he’s interesting on that basis.
Last but not least, Freeney might be reduced to being a situational pass rusher, but he bagged five sacks last year in only 768 snaps (including playoffs). Is he worth bringing on board for that role?
Going into draft season, it’s worth considering that Denver’s interior line remains one quality guard away from their starting five being a seriously dangerous group. Although Manny Ramirez developed some over the last season, he's just average when he’s playing his best, while Chris Kuper has become a big question mark.
I believe Denver needs more than that at right guard. I like Ramirez, but right now he doesn’t scare anyone. If Denver thinks he can become better than he was last year, they might want to take a chance on him.
However, what I’m looking for is the ability to add ferocity to the line, and I love the players who do that. Orlando Franklin was drafted on both his skill and his mean streak. The whole line responded to that toughness. That’s the power of a serious lineman - when he makes the players he’s with better, it changes the entire dynamic of the OL (or DL). That’s what I envision for Denver.
With the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl in the bag, I thought this might be a good time to review what’s been happening with the players who stood out for one reason or another. There’s still a long way to go before the draft, and anything can happen with these players between now and then, but these are the things that registered with me from the Senior Bowl.
For starters, the Broncos reportedly met with the following prospects. I just chose whichever site seemed to offer the best information on the player to link to them - most sites don’t have all their info together yet. I also noted whether they got attention from the Shrine (EW) game or the Senior Bowl (SR):
Very few doctors, fans or players deny that the risks associated with cumulative head injuries are a primary concern in the NFL today. The league itself has paid lip service to its commitment to reducing the effects of multiple brain traumas and their frequent outcome, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
The heat was turned up on the league when in December of 2011, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was sent back into a game shortly after he had clearly been concussed. Given the general acceptance of the potential severity of this concern, it might suprise you that the league is now claiming that having a neurologist available on sidelines (who would have checked McCoy before he was sent back in) would be a detriment to player safety.
The NFL claims that they are doing everything possible in the fight against the outcomes of years of impacts to the brain and spine. This contradictory quote came from Richard Ellenbogen, current co-chair of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, and was reported two weeks ago by Doug Farrar:
You have to give this 2012 Broncos team credit - or blame, if you want - for one thing. They’ve become very predictable in certain particulars. And in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a team so completely balanced and well-forged that it averaged over 30 points per game (30.1) yet gave up less than 20 points per game (18.1) in a season. A tight match was a seven-point victory.
Was it reminiscent of the 1998 Super Bowl run? Without question. Most of the time you have teams that have some strengths on both sides of the ball but one predominates, often heavily on one side of the line or the other. This team really doesn’t have any overpowering weaknesses, and none at all that can’t be accounted for with simple adjustments. That’s true for two reasons:
After Ronnie Hillman coughed up the ball during the first quarter of the regular season finale against Kansas City, the Broncos played a series in relative chaos. Peyton Manning took a rare delay of game penalty; three snaps later, Ryan Clady jumped to a false start.
The result? A three-and-out, the first of just two on the day for Denver.
As has usually been the case this season, their struggles didn’t endure. The Broncos marched down the field like the champion team they want to be, pausing only briefly between possessions during the Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas highlight show.
It was also time to stop the Chiefs before they could gain any momentum. What happens here is part of that; great plays often come from great fundamentals applied with great effort.