I’m still watching film of the preseason opener. Overall, I like what I see. Dallas is a very physical team that Denver had to stand up to, and the starting offense put together a nice early drive and basically took a bow, while the defense played on a bit. It’s a good start to the preseason - I want to see some production, and I liked what I saw early on defense. Since those are mostly the players that will be with the team later on, they were the ones that I tended to focus on.
A lot was made of free agency this year - the unprecedented number of UFAs, the unusual (but effective) signing of UDFAs as well as the inevitable draft, which once more featured the Broncos moving up and down the board effectively. Rookie signings went off without a hitch, and I don’t ever remember that happening before. Denver seems to be moving in a direction that meets both of their needs - they’re bringing in players who are veteran enough to play right now, and they’re getting veterans who are young enough to build on over time. I have to admit - add the way Denver’s moved around the draft board and the way they are handling the most important FA period in 10 years and you have to give credit where it’s due. The team looks a lot deeper, more talented and well-planned than the conglomeration of odds and ends they'd had each of the prior four or five years.
There's one thing that’s caught my eye: it’s the play of Jeremy Jarmon, who had two sacks in practice last Wednesday and has been performing well. He’s young and he seems to be having a good camp; they have an investment in him via the Gaffney trade (it shouldn’t matter, but it often does) and one more young, aggressive, pass-rushing DE/DT who can still handle the run helps make Denver more heavily armed along the DL. Jarmon looks like a find - he’s had two seasons (although his 2010 season was marred by injury) in Washington and he’s still only 23 (born on Nov 30, 1987); you can’t really tell much by them due to scheme and injury. He didn’t fit their version of the 3-4 defense, but he’s obviously a solid 4-3 DE who can gain weight and roll to DT and he’s playing well. It didn’t quite thrill me when Denver traded for him, but after I had time to think it over, if he can mostly stay healthy Jarmon’s a very talented young guy who will be able to help Denver for a long time to come - he’s very young and has an obvious drive to him.
Also on the honorable mention list today is the play of Robert Ayers in the Dallas game. Fans might have noticed that Elvis Dumervil was moved around quite a bit - three times in the first drive he flipped to the left side, and that also led to Ayers taking some snaps at DT/UT during the game. Despite the common belief that Ayers only gets by on a bull rush, he’s got a couple of excellent spin moves and I saw him using a rip move last season that was effective. He used a spin move to break out of a double team his rookie year and still hurried the QB after escaping from the RG and C: he hasn’t lost the move. Ayers is a top DE who doesn’t ‘pass rush’ per se all that much - he collapses the pocket, he drives his man back into the QB and he spins out of the OL’s grasp and gets his hurries. He'll also make it easier for the Von Doom duo to get their sacks and holds up well against the run: those are the kinds of things that you want a player to do and do well. He’s also going to add a few sacks of his own, now that he’s got more help on the DL. Ayers looks to be getting ready for a great year. Doom had his first game back - he didn’t do a lot, but he got back to real football for the first time in 19 months. It may take a couple or three games, but I don’t worry about Doom. He’s a professional’s pro, and always has been. That’s a good feeling. He’ll get back to his old self in time.
The movement on the defense isn’t really news - DC Dennis Allen has been looking at ways to use players other than their normal assignments throughout camp. At times, that meant overloading the left side with Doom, Miller and Ayers in the first half of the Dallas game. Doom said,
I like moving around, to be honest with you...We have a lot of things happening when we line up, I think we're going to make it difficult for offenses to find us sometimes.
Seems likely. You know that Allen isn’t going to show off what he’s got planned for Von Doom in the first preseason game, so their production didn’t seem off. They were attacking, they got in on tackles, created pressure and played well in limited reps. That was about all I was looking for.
I loved the pressure that Allen is getting and I loved how much he moved the players around on his chessboard. He’s got a lot of knowledge of the game and I’m glad to say that read-and-react - which I’ve never liked because it loses you one of your two biggest advantages on defense by not dictating the game to the offense - just caught the midnight train to Nada. It’s going to be overload blitzes and safety blitzes: penetration and hurries. That helps the rushing defense, too - you end up getting your guys into their backfield, and that’s where you want to get your hands on the RB. Allen isn’t showing all of his cards by a long way, but you can already see his willingness to move players and to find mismatches. I have to admit, I like the guy and I like his approach so far - it’s more professional than Denver had last season, and I like what he brings the game. I hope that he works out enough to stay around for several seasons - the Broncos could use the continuity and the skill. I was mildly concerned that Denver gave up runs of 18 and 20 yards, with a pass to the flat and a screen also going for big yards, but it’s still the first preseason game - you’re going to have some glitches.
Jason Hunter hasn’t gotten a ton of press out of training camp, but he had two tackles in Dallas, both for sacks. He’s in a numbers battle with Derrick Harvey, perhaps Jarmon, Elvis and Ayers. It’s a tough battle, and I’d expect it to come down to Ayers, Doom, Hunter and Harvey: Jarmon is a question mark as to how they want to use him. They traded for Jarmon, he’s young and talented, just the kind of player they want to develop. He can play DE or DT/UT, so it’s unlikely that they’ll cut him. Tough decisions.
Lots of versatility in the tackle group - Kevin Vickerson, Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas can all play either of the UT and NT roles, and Jarmon is being used at DT and can handle DE. They’re going to find mismatches to take advantage of, especially with Miller, Doom, Ayers and the sudden reemergence of Mario Haggan at Mike. This is probably the fourth time in his career where Haggan’s role on a team was in jeopardy, and each time he seems to come up and outplay everyone else at some position. Since he was second on the team last year with 75 tackles and 12 assists, you know pretty much what you’re getting. He plays his heart out, he tackles well, he’s not the best in coverage but he doesn’t give up on plays and has good short-area quickness. He’s not a Pro Bowl player, but he’s a baller. Denver could do worse right now, if Haggan holds his lead.
I’d like to see more of Jeremy Beal’s play, even though the numbers are against him - he seemed to handle his work well, overall. I’m very interested to see how he handles his remaining preseason snaps as a developmental candidate: He’s a longshot, and he’s been one since high school, and I like a great everyman story as much as the next fan. He had a nice special teams tackle in Dallas, which is what you want to see. There should be room on the PS for Beal if there isn’t a main roster slot available for him immediately - he’s the kind of guy who has to make his bones on ST and the PS unless there’s an injury. Give him a year of training and it will be fun to see how he develops.
Brodrick Bunkley may start at times (certainly during preseason), and if he does, they’re saving the reps on Ty Warren, which is a good thing to do. Warren’s a solid veteran - he doesn’t need much tuning up and he’ll be as effective in a penetrating role as well as against the run if you can keep him healthy, which may mean limiting his snaps. Marcus Thomas will push Vickerson and might push Bunkley at times, too - the combination of Thomas, Vickerson, Warren and Bunkley (perhaps including Jarmon, who can also be used at DE) is a good, solid DT group that’s flanked with talented weapons at DE. I loved seeing the versatility of Ayers, Thomas and Vickerson in the different personnel packages in Dallas. Thomas was also moved around quite a bit and true to his billing, was able to play both DT and NT with equal skill. Nice job, Marcus.
One big area that the defense deserves credit for, despite the two good pass plays Dallas made, is coverage. As well as Haggan’s solid play, that’s really been Joe Mays covering TEs and doing a fine job of it. Mays has stepped up his game in coverage, pulling in INTs in camp as well as playing the TE effectively in Dallas. He also tackles very well, although he was exposed at Dallas - he only had one solo tackle in Dallas due to biting on fakes, which is a problem. Miller (1 tackle, 1 assist) spent his sophomore year in college as a coverage LB, and his background shows - he’s got some skill there, and he’s only a rookie in his first preseason game. Nate Irving may have a bum ankle (that why he didn’t play), but he’s also got some coverage chops, as does Mike Mohamed (1-1) in a somewhat lesser degree. Overall, it’s a big upgrade over the past few years. Mays has had a few good plays, as well as his big miscues.
As a sidenote, last week Matt Williamson of ESPN was asked about Mays during his chat session, and he questioned the pick of Irving, since Mays had played well last year - which was true, but not at Mike. It’s a new position with different responsibilities and it’s always a transition: Denver was wise in making sure they had options. Haggan has provided a welcome third candidate.
I’m not surprised at all about the Irving pick, though - I think that the acquisition of Irving has frequently been viewed in a way that could be somewhat shortsighted. It’s not just about playing Mike this year. Mays hasn’t played Mike before and Denver has lacked badly for depth across the board. Haggan played best as a SOLB, and that’s going to Miller. They didn’t know that Braxton Kelley was going to come in looking like Superman and even then, they might not care. Picking up Irving gives the Broncos a guy who can start and play Will or Mike, who is cerebral enough for Mike, has the coverage skills for either and is physical enough to play either, too. He’s got decent speed and he plays faster than he times, he has the solid coverage skills that Denver has lacked and he is a physical, punishing tackler who can play multiple positions as a starter or a high-quality backup. Other than that, there was no particular reason to draft him.
The emergence of Haggan makes the competition even more interesting - I don’t see how Denver can lose. By the way, Kelley (4 tackles, 3 assists) was making himself known in Dallas - he didn’t get a lot of credit but if you look at the film, he’s getting to the ball and showing his skills. I’m going to hate the cutdowns at LB. At least two and perhaps three of Lee Robinson (who had a nice play and added 2 solo tackles), Kelley, Mike Mohamed, D.J. Williams and/or Deron Mayo, who also had some very good plays in Dallas, will be gone. I’d look for Mayo to go onto the PS, but they need to protect Mohamed from being snatched, and that creates a big problem for Robinson and/or Kelley. It’s a good problem to have, with too many good players, but a hard one to answer. I’m guessing that Robinson will be cut, although he’s had some good moments. I don’t know if Kelley can be moved to the PS or if they want to protect him (he’d best play some killer ST). Mayo moves to the PS if he clears waivers, and you’ve got me on D.J. My concern is that they’ll keep him - he led the team in tackles last year, but he’s been uneven at times and he’s expensive; Doug occasionally explains to me why his salary makes it hard to trade or cut him.
If they keep D.J., it will be at the expense of Kelley or Mohamed (probably Kelley) and that would be a shame. Kelley’s having a good camp and had a good game and Denver is going to a youth movement. If the Broncos let him go, someone will grab him. Wes Woodyard had two solo tackles of his own. I’ve thought for the last three years that Woodyard outplayed D.J., even though I know they’re like brothers (catch their constant tweets and you get an idea). I’d like to see Wes get the slot because he’s the better player. If I ever doubted it, watching Woodyard play RILB during the last few games of 2010 solved it for me - he changed the nature of the position. He was blitzing, attacking, moving, reading the play and filling gaps in a way that just hadn’t been happening with D.J. It was great to watch, and I hadn’t seen that kind of aggressive, effective play from the Denver LBs of late. I hope that he can carry it into camp this year: it just might be time to clean house.
There’s constantly more going on - you gotta love this time of year. Go Broncos!