Monday Musings: Derek Wolfe’s mentorship of Sly Williams

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).

Wolfe is big for a 4-3 player who’s agile enough to often handle the DE role - he's 6-5 and weighs over 300 lb, with little body fat. Williams is heavier but shorter - a 6-3 and 313-lb human cinder block who's been listed with between 12% and 20% body fat. That's very low for his position. He may want to put on some weight for his first season, but I think that it's likely that he'll follow Wolfe's example and just increase his body size over time with muscle.

Williams will often clog and push up the middle as JDR hopes, but his best use may end up being as a 3-technique - the DT playing over the outside shoulder of a guard, rather than the one tasked with attacking the center. 3-techniques have become well known as pass rushers since before Warren Sapp made the position famous for that skill. Wolfe has advantages there as well, which will be helpful when Del Rio uses his variation on the 5-2 front with a nose tackle - perhaps Kevin Vickerson - and two penetrating undertackles in Williams and Wolfe.

One area where Williams will benefit from shadowing Wolfe is in Derek’s fanatical preparation each week. He lives and breathes his craft, spending endless hours in the film and weight rooms. That's a big reason that Derek was able to play every 4-3 D-line position over the course of his rookie season, which is a true rarity in the NFL. He's come back with the intent to become a more vocal leader on the team: Sylvester saw that intensity when he arrived in camp and immediately took to it.

He and Wolfe stand together on the sidelines, talking assignments and technique. They watch film together, with Wolfe explaining the details of what they are seeing and hoping to find (such as finding tells on 'X' player when there’s a strongside run) and they work together in the weight room, urging each other on. Given the nature of Sylvester's arrival at Dove Valley - where he commented that he was watching the defensive leaders because he knew that he was going to become one of them - this connection isn't a surprise:

I’m the kind of guy that’s going to do everything right. I’m not going to come to this program and bring any harm to it all. I mean from off the field to loafing in practice, anything, I’m going to do everything I can to help this team win. I’m going to be a great guy on the team a great guy in the locker room and I’m going to follow the veterans lead with the intent to become a leader myself.

He’s proving it. Williams has one major challenge in his technique - he wasn't trained properly in the use of his hands, and it affects his play. Kevin Vickerson noted that and Williams, as is his pattern, listened. Writes Gray Caldwell, quoting Big Vick:

The rookie has taken that advice to heart, "watching as much film as (he) can" to pick up on offensive keys so that he can simply react instead of hesitating to read the play before he gets his hands on the offensive linemen in front of him.

Wolfe struggled with that issue at times early last year when he let offensive linemen get their hands into him, so he understands what it takes to overcome the problem. Sylvester also was in a 'read and react' defensive system at North Carolina, but Jack Del Rio's approach relies more on immediate attacking. The OTAs give players like Williams a chance to see the bigger picture and it gives guys like Wolfe a chance to go through the details of the scheme carefully and thoroughly so that he can react without thinking. Wolfe missed last year's OTAs due to graduation requirements, so this year's camps are also giving him an opportunity that he's lacked.

As Wolfe noted last week, OTAs teach you that you're better off using technique rather than power. Explosive first step, hand-fighting technique, and leverage (along with stance, alignment, and assignment) remain the keys to playing the defensive line. Having a chance to work through those things without pads or hitting is an opportunity to develop the habits that you'll depend on when you're down by three points in the fourth quarter of a key game.

Knowing how and when to use those tools is still down the road for Williams. He has about as good a mentor as he could in Derek Wolfe, and it's a fine thing to see a second-year player showing this level of leadership to a rookie. Elvis Dumervil’s departure had some downsides, but as they've tended to over the past couple of years, the Broncos are turning them into new advantages.

Since Von Miller isn’t a vocal leader and Wolfe himself isn’t that vocal yet, a reporter asked (in the above video link to Wolfe) who on the Broncos defense is that vocal presence, Wolfe looked at the reporter cooly and said,

Our defense doesn’t have to talk.

It was the best quote of the week.

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

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