A lot of attention has been paid to the Broncos new coaching staff this offseason. Everyone’s favorite drunk uncle, John Fox, is finally gone. Gary Kubiak, who at the very least knows how to manage a game clock, has replaced Fox. That’s considered an instant upgrade, as the Broncos won’t need to fight against their head coaches’ ineptitude this season.
From the minute Kubiak arrived, many people questioned whether or not he could create an offense that’ll suit Peyton Manning’s skill set. Nonsense. If Kubiak isn’t competent enough to create an offense for one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, he shouldn’t be an NFL head coach. Since no one thinks that’s the case, let’s move on.
Where the attention should be focused is the defensive side of the football.
Gone are the boring schemes, unimaginative blitz packages and prevent defenses. Gone is Jack Del Rio.
What the Broncos have now is a new 3-4 defensive scheme, a commitment to relentless pressure and a no-holds-barred attitude. Wade Phillips is now the leader on the defense and brings a reputation of creating havoc for opposing offenses. There’s one huge problem.
Phillips’ scheme works from the inside out. He relies on difference makers on the interior of the defensive line and Denver just doesn’t have them.
Phillips is going to have to mold marble statues out of Jell-O.
As it stands now Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams comprise Denver’s starting defensive line. That’s not just underwhelming, it’s the Broncos’ weakest positional group, by far. Complicating the matter is that all three are being asked to learn new positions. Positions none of them have ever played.
The two biggest transitions are that of Williams and Wolfe – Williams is facing the tough task of becoming a nose tackle, Wolfe is learning the 3-4 five-technique. For two players that were just fighting to stay on the field a season ago, the task presented to them is daunting.
Earlier this week, all three players took their turn at the podium at Dove Valley to discuss their position changes. Wolfe and Williams understandably gathered most of the attention at their media sessions, as these two represent John Elway’s worst two draft picks, making the pressure on them to perform monumental.
In the NFL, if first-round draft picks don’t make a difference in year one, it’s a disappointment. If they don’t make a difference in year two, they are busts. Williams is starting to look like the latter.
Since being taken 28th overall in 2013, Williams has only recorded 32 tackles and two sacks. He hasn’t been able to rush the passer or stop the run. Wolfe hasn’t been much better; actually he’s regressed. During his rookie season, Wolfe managed an impressive six sacks and was well on his way to matching in his second year until a scary injury cut his season short. Then, last season when Wolfe was handed a starting job, once again he reminded you of Adam Sandler’s career; you used to watch and enjoy, now you just cringe. Basically, Wolfe and Williams have been nothing more than glorified sled dummies.
You can argue until you’re blue in the face which is more important – Manning adapting to Kubiak’s system or Kubiak adjusting his system to Manning – but the truth is one is a Hall of Famer and the other is a very respected offensive mind. They’ll be just fine.
The Broncos have the great pass rushers, a brilliant mind at defensive coordinator and defensive backfield filled with Pro Bowlers. But none of that can make up for the mediocre players that make up their defensive line.
More pressing is the defense. Yes, Del Rio is gone and he’s been replaced by a much more capable coach, but Williams and Wolfe remain. Their development, or lack there of, could be the death of Phillips’ defense.