2011 Broncos Update: Defensive Tackle Position Must be Addressed

| by Broncos Zone
Note that until the lockout is lifted, there can be no player transactions or a free agency period. The lockout will be lifted eventually however, and when it is, Denver should target a defensive tackle.

In 2010, the Denver Broncos' defense ranked among the worst in the league; that should change this season. New Head Coach John Fox and Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen are in the process of getting Denver's defense back to championship form. The last time Denver made it to a championship was in 2005 when the team's defense carried it to the AFC Championship game after recording a +20 takeaway/giveaway differential, which ranked second in the NFL that season.

Having reached the Super Bowl before, Fox knows what a defense needs to do to get there. The Broncos defense had it seven years ago, this season, their goal is to get it back: speed and takeaways.

Speed kills, particularly quarterbacks. That is one of the reasons Denver drafted freak pass rusher Von Miller second overall. Additionally, you can't score if you don't have the ball, which makes ball-hawking safety Rahim Moore a must-have on defense.

"I said it before the draft, but I just feel defense in this league is always about taking the ball away," Fox told the Denver Post. "You get turnovers, you keep them from scoring points and give yourself a chance to get some."

The Broncos 2011 NFL Draft class specialized in forcing turnovers during their collegiate careers, Fox and Co. hope that they'll do the same in Denver. Meanwhile, the Broncos, in most analysts and fans' eyes, have a gaping hole on defense.

Denver did not address the defensive tackle position in the draft, a position that remains the biggest issue for the team. While Coach Fox has said the team has plans for defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson to be apart of the 4-3 rotation next season, there is little depth behind him.

Denver Broncos Defensive Tackles On The Active Roster
Name/Age: Kevin Vickerson, 28 years old.
Height/Weight: 6'5, 321 pounds.
Experience: Entering seventh season.
Briefly: Vickerson was by far the most productive tackle on Denver's defense last season. After being signed by the Broncos two weeks into the season, Vickerson went on to start in 12 games recording 42 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 deflected passes and 1 interception. Fox said last March after re-signing Vickerson that the team liked his physical tools, and his play-making mentality was probably another appealing factor. Kevin will be retained and could earn himself a big role on defense next season.

Name/Age: Ronald Fields, 29 years old.
Height/Weight: 6'2, 314 pounds.
Experience: Entering seventh season.
Briefly: After struggling in a rotational role last season, Fields is not expected to be retained by Denver. Prone to having off-the-field issues, Fields did not start in any games last season and recorded only 14 tackles. If the Broncos do not part ways with him, he'll most likely have a very small role on defense next season.

Name/Age: Louis Leonard, 26 years old.
Height/Weight: 6'4, 325 pounds.
Experience: Entering fifth season.
Briefly: Although he has bounced around on five different teams the past four years while getting little playing time, Leonard could be a dark horse among the Broncos defensive linemen. Leonard played under Fox for two years (2009-2010) in Carolina and he'll get a chance to prove himself in Training Camp (whenever camp may be). Leonard may not make the final 53-man roster, but he'll have plenty of opportunities.

Name/Age: Marcus Thomas, 25 years old.
Height/Weight: 6'3, 316 pounds.
Experience: Entering fifth season.
Briefly: Thomas differentiates from the other tackles on the roster because he is the only one that has been with Denver his whole career and he can do a blackflip. With that said, he wants to explore free agency and hasn't been very productive in Denver. Last season, Thomas dressed for all 16 games (starting 2) and recorded 35 tackles, 1.0 sacks and deflected one pass. Thomas would provide depth, but he doesn't want to remain a Bronco. If he stays, Thomas could be looking at a small to moderate role on Denver's defensive line this season.

Other defensive linemen Ryan McBean and Mitch Unrein, who are both technically defensive ends, could also see rotational time at tackle on defense this season. With two players unlikely to return and another that may not even make the final roster, Vickerson appears to be the lone legitimate DT option among his teammates.

Denver will need two starting defensive tackles though and more depth would be ideal, so the team is primed to address the position in free agency. Below is a list of possible options for the Broncos.

(The list excludes players over the age of thirty because, well, historically that hasn't work out so well.)

Name/Age: Brandon Mebane, 26 years old.
Height/Weight: 6'1, 311 pounds.
Experience/Team: Entering fifth season, played for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010.
Briefly: A young prospect, Mebane is about to enter the peak of his career and is set to become a free agent. His second season in the League (2008), Mebane had a career year when he recorded 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 deflected pass and 2 forced fumbles. The Broncos defense would greatly benefit from the acquisition of such a productive player.

Name/Age: Barry Cofield, 27 years old.
Height/Weight: 6'4, 306 pounds.
Experience/Team: Entering seventh season, played for the New York Giants in 2010.
Briefly: Cofield will be a hot commodity when the free agency period begins, as the defensive lineman has had five productive seasons, all of which he started in at least 15 games. Last season, Cofield recorded 54 tackles, 4.0 sacks, deflected 4 passes, and forced 1 fumble. The Broncos would be wise to pursue Cofield.

Name/Age: Mike Patterson, 27 years old.
Weight/Height: 6'1, 300 pounds.
Experience/Team: Entering seventh season, played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010.
Briefly: Not quite as productive as the two players mentioned above, Patterson is still a more qualified defensive tackle prospect than any of the players on Denver's roster. Last season, Patterson started in 14 games and recorded 37 tackles and 2.0 sacks. The Broncos would get a talented player in Patterson.

Other options include Antonio Johnson (Indianapolis), Remi Ayodele (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Arizona), and Anthony Adams (Bears). If the Broncos defense is going to improve against the run next season, address the defensive tackle position should be a top priority in free agency.

Getting that defensive tackle may cost a pretty penny, but Fox understands you can't build a championship defense for free. Denver's defensive line is headed in the right direction, there's just one piece missing in the puzzle -- hopefully they'll find that piece before the start of the season.