Broncos camp notes through Day 5: Defense

Brian Dawkins visited Dove Valley on Sunday to talk with Rahim Moore, among others. He told him:

Rahim, you’re not a scary guy. You like to hit, but sometimes, you've got to know when to make the big hit.

It’s sage advice. If there’s anyone who knows about creating intimidation, it was ‘Wolverine’. With Quinton Carter’s hamstring injury holding him out, Moore has an excellent opportunity to up his game and nail down one of the safety slots. It’s nice to see Rahim coming back into his own. He was tossed into the fire too quickly last year, and it shook his confidence. The team did a nice job of helping him rebuild it in the offseason.

Mitch Unrein was characterized by Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus as getting more and more snaps and moving up in the rotation by the quality of his play. Unrein has apparently been putting an ‘Eaton beatin’ on the players they put in front of him. I love seeing a guy come from a humble start in the league and develop the way Mitch seems to be doing. Unrein’s another lunchpail, bluecollar guy who can improve your DT rotation.

A couple of names that I’ve been surprised to see and hear this often have been Jeremy Beal and Malik Jackson. Beal spent last year on the practice squad and in the weight and film rooms, learning the NFL game. I recall a reader upbraiding me when I wrote a bio shortly after he joined Denver as a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma, because he’d ‘never’ play in the NFL. Maybe not, but Beal hasn’t been listening to the naysayers. He and Jackson took snaps side by side against the second unit as defensive tackles.

Cecil Lammey chimed in on Sunday, saying that Beal showed ‘violent hands’ when shedding blockers. The competition thickens at DE and DT - there are so many good players. It’s something new for Denver; the defensive line has changed hugely.

Derek Wolfe took some snaps at DT on Monday and did well, although double teams continue to elude him. That’s not a big deal - if he’s double teamed, Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and/or the other DT are going to be single teamed, which is a mismatch. Vroom and Doom would happily take that.

Wolfe also struggled with double teams in college, so it’s no shock that he does now. He’ll have to learn the right technique for defeating them.  He already has quality swim, rip, bullrush, and spin moves in his single gap pass rushing repertoire, which you don’t commonly see in DL players right out of college.

Look just sixteen seconds into this video at Wolfe (#63), hammering the bag as he moves past it (his right hand is stronger than his left on that drill). This should help explain why he was drafted with the Broncos' first pick - that’s real power. I watched similar drills at Combine and no one hit harder. For those who might sneer at a practice drill - to misquote Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, bags...don’t hit back. That initial slap clears the lineman’s hands away, allowing the defender to knife inside. The skill is basic to pass rushing and the better a player is at it, the more likely they are to get to the QB or RB. I’ve watched a lot of players who couldn’t hit that hard, drill or not. 

According to Andrew Mason, Wolfe also shone in the pit drill.  He was very effective one-on-one, preferring to slash past blockers more often than to bull rush them, although he has that skill as well. He has an explosive first step which gives him a good chance of getting off the snap. He already sets up the linemen he’s against, varying his technique from down to down. Most pass rushers just out of college don’t have that level of understanding, but Wolfe understands that technique is more than half the battle.

Jason Hunter has been turning heads with his play over the first five days of TC. From all reports, he’s showing speed, power, focus, technique, and skill, and has also begun to mentor the younger guys. Classy move from a classy guy. I wouldn’t count him out.

I’ve mentioned Danny Trevathan several times, mostly because it’s impossible to list the players having good camps without talking about him. He’s seeing time with the first and second units: both on base and first string nickel. There was a comment yesterday that he’d been ‘removed’ from special teams. That could mean that Denver feels he’s going to do enough without them (which would be rare for a rookie) or just that they had someone else they wanted to evaluate. We’ll know later in camp.

Interesting sidenote - Cecil Lammey has suggested that with five or ten pounds more muscle, Trevathan would make a top-flight Mike LB. That might lead to Joe Mays, Nate Irving or Wesley Woodyard moving to Will, and it’s not a bad idea if it works out over time. They’re likely to get Trevathan on the field for a while first, and it’s hard to keep on more weight during the season. This coming offseason, though, if Mays struggles with play diagnosis or bites on fakes, Trevathan at Mike is an interesting idea. After all, Jon Beason made three Pro Bowls and had one All-Pro year under John Fox, and he’s an inch shorter and the same weight as Danny. There’s no reason it can’t be done. Time will tell.

Von Miller has been reported as having a more powerful upper body this camp, but without him having lost any of his nitro-injected speed. The extra upper body strength permits him to get blockers more off-balance with the use of his hands and improves his technique in press coverage, one of his goals for improvement this year. My stat of the week is that Von racked up 70 total pressures without a single missed tackle in 1,016 snaps, according to PFF. He played with a club cast for the later part of the season, and still didn’t miss a tackle. That’s amazing.

In an impressive display, right tackle Ryan Harris - currently filling in for Orlando Franklin - kept Von Miller out of the backfield in consecutive one-on-one drills, and the crowd howled their approval. Malik Jackson got into the backfield on three successive plays on that same drill, although who he was up against wasn’t listed. Harris’s level of play, especially in pass protection, is giving the Broncos yet another reason to consider moving Franklin to left guard.

Wesley Woodyard is currently working with the first nickel unit next to Trevathan, where Joe Mays was playing. Woodyard has also taken the majority of snaps with the first team at the Will position and may stay there as D.J. Williams's situation gets worked out, but Trevathan got some there as well.

Nate Irving has surfaced, but has yet to really do much worthy of mention. He’s taking snaps as the second unit Sam, while Mike Mohamed was taking the second team snaps at Mike. Woodyard, Mays, Miller, and Trevathan look to be the key players at linebacker right now, albeit subject to change. Steve Johnson has garnered some good comments as well.

Squid Sighting

Syd’quan Thompson was all over the place Monday, batting down balls, breaking up passes, knocking them out of the wide receivers’ hands, and reminding people how much potential he showed two seasons ago. He was also working a lot on returns. It’s nice to see Syd coming back and making some waves.

An Achilles tear is often a painful injury to recover from, but he’s giving the Broncos more reasons to give him a second glance with his effort and his return work. Losing Eddie Royal and then Eric Page in short order has left some questions in the return game, and like many here, I’d rather not see any of the starting wideouts also handling returns. History hasn’t shown that to be a helpful role - most players get weaker in one function or the other if asked to play both. The combination is also prone to injury.

The cornerbacks are being pushed daily by going up against Peyton Manning and it’s worth noticing that they’ve been winning their share of those battles, too. Tracy Porter has gotten several favorable comments for his coverage skills, as has Drayton Florence. Florence and Chris Harris may be fighting for the starting nickel position, with the loser still coming in on the dime package. Omar Bolden has also gotten some comments, mostly on his speed and quickness. The group is coming together. 

Rafael Bush, the defensive back who played pretty well in the playoffs last season, is showing the team that he wasn’t just a two-game wonder. Andrew Mason described him as a ‘thumper’, and claimed that when a big hit resonated across the field, it was usually Bush. He and Syd could make the tough choices Denver is facing at defensive back even harder.

Conclusion

It’s far too early to conclude much, but it’s good to see so many healthy starters and lower or undrafted players who are making waves with the quality of their play. One thing is clear - it’s going to be rough to see some of these guys leave. Whether it’s WR Gerell Robinson or RB Mario Fannin on offense or Rafael Bush vs. Duke Ihenacho at safety on defense, there are battles at every level of this team, and whoever wins, the team will be better for it. 

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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