NFL Analysis: Broncos Need to Improve Front Four

One of the Broncos biggest faults on the defensive side of the ball last season was over pursuing, and that falls mainly on the shoulders of the defensive linemen and linebackers.

The Broncos have already started to clean house, releasing defensive linemen Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan last week, hoping to upgrade the front seven starters across the board.

There are some players left over from the Josh McDaniels era that will be retained however, for now, we'll touch on the defensive linemen.

Currently, the Broncos have four projected defensive ends on their roster in Robert Ayers, Jason Hunter, David Veikune, and Elvis Dumervil.

Broncos outside linebackers Robert Ayers and Jason Hunter did an excellent job of setting the edge in 2010, there's no better example than when they helped Denver's defense contain the Titans star running back Chris Johnson to 53 yards on 19 carries in week four of last season.

Containing the edge is a vital job at defensive end in a 4-3 defense, as well as being able to help in run support, an area Dumervil has struggled. A dominating pass rusher, Dumervil's weak spot has been against the run. Denver may opt to make Hunter a situational player, having him replace Dumervil short yardage plays.

Last season, Denver's base defense was a 3-4 in which Ayers played outside linebacker. The team did have variations in that formation however, and often played a 5-2 defense in which Ayers played defensive end. When you consider that, and the fact that he played defensive end his entire collegiate career, it's safe to assume Ayers transition to end will be a smooth one.

Hunter is a similar case. Having played the same position as Ayers last season, Hunter was a defensive end with the Lions before joining the Broncos. Another former defensive end, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, played his first three NFL seasons as an end and recorded 26 sacks during that time period.

With three experienced ends, the Broncos won't have to focus on upgrading on the outside of the line (but that's not to say they might), it's more likely however, that their attention will be focused on the middle of the line. Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas isn't expected to return as he has chosen to explore free agency (once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached) and fellow tackle Ryan McBean was not tendered, making it unlikely that he will be returning. That leaves recently re-signed Kevin Vickerson, Louis Leonard, who previously played for coach John Fox in Carolina, and Mitch Unrein as the only other remaining defensive tackles on the roster, with Ronald Fields set to become a free agent.

With little depth behind Vickerson, the Broncos look to upgrade the position through the draft. Denver is in a great position to pick up a top lineman in Auburn's Nick Fairley, Clemson's Da’Quan Bowers or Alabama's Marcel Dareus at the top of the draft, but also could opt to use their second round picks on players such as Marvin Austin or Stephen Paea -- who both impressed at the NFL Combine -- if they choose to pursue LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson or Texas A&M linebacker Vonn Miller in the first round.

Until a new CBA is reached, the team cannot trade for any players or sign any free agents, but there will be a Draft regardless. Expect Denver to address the front four come April.


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