The curious case of the missing coverage

Denver has been struggling with a single problem for over a year now. We’ve moved to the 3-4 defense, and often run the 5-2 version of it, while increasingly getting the personnel out there to run a 4-3 when the Winkster finds it appropriate. There’s not much question that the team has developed a substantial change in almost every area. We’ve increased the size of the DL (and now they have to get enough time to work as a unit, a factor that is too often ignored by the less informed fan), and we’ve got larger LBs. And although he’s currently injured for this season, we also have last year’s NFL sack leader in Elvis Dumervil, along with 2nd-year player Robert Ayers, who may give Doom a run for his money when the former returns.

It’s no small thing, remaking a team. Every position needs to be recalibrated, thought through carefully, and the best player that we can put into that slot, the one that gives the team the best chance to win, has to be right where he belongs. And that’s where Denver is struggling right now - because when you look over the team, here’s what I see:

Offense

QB - Kyle Orton, as long as he can walk. Neither Brady Quinn or TT are close to ready, and there’s not enough evidence that either will be a better QB than Orton is developing into.

RB - OK, this is a sticky one. Knowshon Moreno needs to shake off the rust and stay healthy. I’m uncertain as to where they are going with Correll Buckhalter, who is older, even more prone to injury, and might be starting to fade. The acquisition of Laurence Maroney tends to push me toward the idea that Buck may not be the #2 back in a few weeks, but I don’t want to jump too soon. Certainly, there’s room for both players, since having a third-down RB is very useful indeed. And, I loved seeing Spencer Larsen make his first NFL receptions as a fullback - may there be many more!

WR - A plethora of riches - veteran, still learning, and rookie alike. Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Matt Willis…looking at this list is both calming and exciting at the same time.

TE - Daniel Graham can still play, Richard Quinn may or may not be able to learn the playbook, but Dan Gronkowski excites me more than pick #255 should, until you see some of the things that he can do. More on that soon - Tales from the SunnySide have now become Broncographies, and Dan will be one of the early ones. He’s already made some excellent plays and looks surprisingly natural out there.

OL - Oy vey. It’s not that there’s a lack of skill - it’s that there are too many rookies, young players with little real-game experience and too many injuries. The inexperience will change with time - the future’s so bright, and all that. But we need them now to win now, and it’s not quite there. It certainly could be by the end of the year, though, and that’s when the division games are played this time.

Defense

DL - Lots of options, many possible formations - 3-4, 4-3. 5-2 - this is a group that is as versatile as you can get. There’s some age at NT, and Chris Baker didn’t work out (dang - still would have preferred Dan Williams to Tim Tebow, but that might change over time). We have Ronald Fields as a backup NT, Justin Bannan as a backup NT and Marcus Thomas as a backup everything - other than that, there’s no one…..wink - just Ryan McBean, who won’t be face-making anyone anytime soon. They brought Kevin Vickerson in for a reason, and I saw his number on film enough versus Seattle to promise at least that he’s making some plays.  Again - we’ve got some very good players. Now they have to learn to play as a unit, and that just takes time, hard as that is on the fans.

LB - Robert Ayers is starting to look like he’ll be the first-rate player the Broncos were betting on when they drafted him. Jason Hunter is versatile, tough, and stared making plays within what, 10 days of reaching town? Less? He picks up the playbook quickly, hits hard, tackles well and can step in as a 4-3 DE, can even handle the 5-technique (as can Ayers) and has a knack for getting behind the LOS. Hunter reminds me of Mike Vrabel, whom Bill Belichick told, “You make your own role on this team”. The role ended up being Vrabel being on the field for nearly every defensive play. DJ Williams had 10 tackles last week - too many for 5- to 8-yard gains, but good tackling form. The DL is responsible for keeping their linebackers ‘clean’ and they need to do better in order for our LBs to do their best. Ayers sets a nice edge most of the time, as does Hunter. Jarvis Moss has, he claims, done reps as a coverage LB and done them well. Finally, after most teams would give up on him, Jarvis is showing signs of skiill and effective play at OLB, and more power to him for that. Mario Haggan didn’t have a great first game, but in fairness, it’s tough to change positions that quickly, and he missed a little TC time.  He looked better against Seattle. They all did.

CB - Finally, Denver looks good. Champ is working with the FO on a new contract, Andre’ Goodman still can’t tackle well, but he’s a heck of a coverage guy, Nate Jones is a rare talent at the CB blitz, and a lot of that is a very explosive first step and good tackling technique. He can also play safety if we need him to - he’s one of those versatile guys that every team needs. I thought that Cox would be good, but this - this is Xmas come early, just as with D-Thom.

S - This will be interesting. Darcel McBath’s arm injury (and I have no idea exactly what it is - an upper extremity problem, more likely than not grin. David Bruton is a beast, and may end up in the Dawkins mode, although there will always only be one Dawk. Dawkins says that he’s still playing well - anyone want to get into a ring and go three rounds, winner chooses? Me either….ouch.

The biggest problem that I continue to see is the issue of coverage by the ILBs. Joe Mays is a heck of a hitter and a run stuffer, but he has no coverage skills to speak of. DJ’s coverage skills are minimal, Wesley Woodyard’s are only fair at best and Haggan’s are better than Andra Davis’ but that’s about all. Like most fans at one point in their life or another, I have an option for this problem, and it might just work. I’d love to know your opinions.

I’d like to see if Jarvis Moss can actually cover as well as he has said that he can - and can tackle enough to play LILB. Granted, Denver would want to switch hiim out as a pass rusher at times, but Hunter has an obvious skill there, and he can’t cover either, so our options, it would seem, are limited. It’s just a thought right now, but if he’s telling the truth, he may be the only real option that we have in coverage. It’s an option in a situation that confounds and baffles me - what do you think?

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

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