Trench warfare is one of the most important elements in the NFL, and the Denver Broncos must re-establish themselves on the defensive interior in order for the team to sustain any success this season. How does the defensive line room shake out during training camp?

Will Zach Allen make his presence felt early on?

After Dre’Mont Jones departed the Denver Broncos in NFL Free Agency, the team wasted no time pursuing his replacement from the NFC West. Zach Allen signed a three-year deal with the Broncos and has emerged as their top defensive end on paper heading into the season.

With Jones going to the Seattle Seahawks and DeShawn Williams departing for the Carolina Panthers, the Broncos need to clearly understand who their starting defensive ends will be going into the season. Allen is one of those players.

Coming over from the Arizona Cardinals, Allen played his first four seasons with Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph which bodes well for him, considering his familiarity with his scheme. Last season, Allen played in 13 games for the Cardinals and missed four games due to injury.

In those 13 games, he finished the season with 5.5 sacks, 47 tackles, 20 quarterback hits, and an even more impressive 25 quarterback pressures. While sacks are an important finish metric on defense, pressures are extremely valuable for pass rushers. Pressure makes things hectic for opposing quarterbacks and makes it more likely that they force passes into tight coverage or lob it up, where it becomes easier to make a play on the football.

Allen’s motor is relentless on tape and should provide the Broncos instant value. While observing him during minicamp and organized team activities, Allen’s size without pads is impressive, but how quickly he moves stood out even more. His status doesn’t provide any questions to the Broncos’ defensive line.

Who emerges opposite of him at defensive end for the Denver Broncos?

The defensive end spot on the starting roster opposite of Allen is arguably the biggest question mark for the Denver Broncos heading into training camp defensively. Players in the mix for the job include newly acquired Frank Clark, Broncos head coach Sean Payton listed as an outside linebacker, Matt Henningsen, Jonathan Harris, Elijah Garcia, and Jordan Jackson.

Henningsen saw more overall volume last season on defense. With the departure of Jones and Williams, Henningsen has a great opportunity to compete and secure a starting job.

Last season, Henningsen appeared in all 17 games for the Broncos and tallied 21 total tackles and one sack. He can play a five-technique (outside shoulder of the offensive tackle), a 4i (inside shade of the offensive tackle), or a three-technique (outside shoulder of the offensive guard), which allows him to be used differently in various personnel packages. With Marcus Dixon returning as the defensive line coach, Henningsen and other players’ development could see a fast track this upcoming season.

Eyioma Uwazurike was a player who was going to be in the mix for an elevated role, but after the NFL handed down an indefinite suspension — the overall optics surrounding his future appear uncertain in the future. He’ll miss all of next year’s off-season program before becoming able to apply to be reinstated.

Harris returns as a veteran option on the roster for training camp, having appeared in eight games for the Broncos last season. Garcia ended up on the Broncos’ practice squad and looked solid without pads during minicamp.

D.J. Jones returns this season and could play defensive end as well, despite being listed as a defensive tackle. If that were the case, Jones at defensive end would likely project Mike Purcell to start at defensive tackle or vice versa if Purcell started at defensive end.

With Purcell starting training camp on the non-football injury list, when he returns will provide further insight into the team’s rotation. During OTAs and minicamp, he was in attendance but was not able to physically participate after having an offseason procedure.

One noticeable thing about the Broncos’ approach at organized team activities was that the defensive line group, in particular, seemed to work with players at defensive end and defensive tackle being able to play both positions on the field.

This provides Denver with some personnel flexibility. After the defensive line struggled with injuries last season, having quality depth will be paramount for them this upcoming season. One name to watch during the preseason and training camp is undrafted rookie PJ Mustipher who signed with the Broncos after the NFL Draft concluded. He was one player who stood out during OTAs but will have to carry that momentum over into training camp once the pads come on.

He’ll compete with veteran nose tackle Tyler Lancaster who the Broncos signed shortly before the start of OTAs. Lancaster’s advantage heading into camp is his prior experience as a starter for the Green Bay Packers, but that’s why competition for camp is so important.

Perhaps one of the biggest wildcards to keep an eye on the defensive line will be watching how Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi performs during training camp. Ndubuisi was invited to the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program from Nigeria and was signed by the Broncos this offseason. He does not currently count against the team’s 90-man roster for training camp or preseason and will have every opportunity to make the roster.

He’s 6’7, 323 lbs as a rookie at 22 years old and could be the perfect player to break out and develop during training camp under Dixon. One of the biggest tests he’ll face with his size is anchoring down consistently in the A and B gaps without losing his leverage. Staying low and engaging violently with his hands will be crucial for him. If he can dominate some of the matchups he’ll face in the preseason and prove to be a run-stopper, he’ll have a strong chance of making the roster, whether on the active roster or practice squad.

Denver Broncos defensive line overview

Zach Allen, Matt Henningsen, Jonathan Harris, Jordan Jackson, Elijah Garcia, Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, D.J. Jones, Mike Purcell, Tyler Lancaster, and PJ Mustipher make up the Denver Broncos depth on the defensive line for training camp.

Storylines to watch

  • Who starts at defensive end opposite of Zach Allen?
  • Can Zach Allen impact even more as a pass rusher this season?
  • What will Matt Henningsen showcase with his development in his second season?
  • Will Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi emerge as a key development piece on the defensive line?
  • Can PJ Mustipher emerge as one of the Broncos’ next undrafted active roster talents?
  • Is this going to be Mike Purcell’s final season in Denver?

What’s next?
The Denver Broncos are on the practice field for a ramp up period on Wednesday at the Centura Health Training Center.