Defensive tackle could be target at No. 2

Many mock drafts have Denver taking a defensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick - most likely either Nick Fairley (in photo) of Auburn or Marcell Dareus of Alabama. The need is there, and those two players are head and shoulders above a deep class on the defensive line

The plight of the interior defensive line can be best summed up by the $1 million signing bonus recently given to Kevin Vickerson.

A workmanlike player plucked off waivers last September, Vickerson went on to be a big part of Denver's line rotation, mostly at 3-4 end.

But after the team cut tackles Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams for financial reasons in February, Vickerson may as well have been of Pro-Bowl caliber, such was the need to retain him.

Denver also planned to cut ties with nose tackle Ronald Fields, while tackle Marcus Thomas opted for free agency, leaving the cupboard nearly bare in the middle of the front four.

So Denver made sure it kept Vickerson by throwing money at him right before the lockout, cash he'll get paid regardless of the labor strife.

The Broncos have some holes to fill at defensive end, as well, as the club tries to erase memories of an overall No. 32 ranking in total defense while yielding 2,473 rushing yards - the second highest total in team history.

But with 2009 sack leader Elvis Dumervil returning and 2009 No. 1 pick Robert Ayers set to play strong-side end, the outside spots along the front four at least have viable starters.

Coach John Fox has repeatedly said the "cupboard isn't bare," but it creates visions of a spare plate, plastic bowl and old water bottle inside that faux cabinet.

Thus, it's no coincidence so many mocks have Denver taking a defensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick - most likely either Nick Fairley of Auburn or Marcell Dareus of Alabama. The need is there, and those two players are head and shoulders above a deep class on the defensive line in the 2011 draft as interior players.

It's a matter of style between Fairley and Dareus. Fairley is a slashing, play-maker and a prototypical three-technique tackle that can disrupt the middle of the pocket. Those are hard to find. But Dareus is even bigger and can anchor against the run as a nose tackle, with enough athleticism to wiggle into the backfield himself.

"They are different types of players," general manager Brian Xanders said recently. "Dareus has played in a 3-4 and played left end, right end and nose tackle. Fairley is a true three-technique and he is a disruptive guy, non-stop throughout the game."

One reason the Broncos are in this conundrum is through the final 12 years of Mike Shanahan's reign, through Josh McDaniels' two seasons overseeing the draft, the franchise almost stubbornly stuck to a model of signing retreads in free agency or taking its chances on the second and third day in April in order to build the line.

Since Ayers came in as an outside linebacker, playing there his first season, and Jarvis Moss was a defensive end in name only and more of a hybrid type, it means Trevor Pryce in 1997 is the last true first-round pick expended on a defensive lineman.

That's no way to win in the trenches. The Broncos haven't.

And it finally appears that John Fox, John Elway and Xanders realize that deficiency.


--Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox appeared in court March 10 in the latest legal machinations relating to sexual-assault allegations.

Cox's lawyer waived the right to a preliminary hearing for fear of information damaging to the second-year player going public and potentially muddying the eventual jury selection process.

Cox was arrested Dec. 9. Documents detailing the incident that resulted in charges of sexual assault while a victim was physically helpless and incapable of determining the nature of the conduct have been sealed.

The preliminary hearing would have included testimony from investigators regarding the nature of those two counts.

Cox's trial likely won't occur until next fall. He could face repercussions from the league, regardless, under its personal conduct policy.

--Denver skipped LSU's Pro Day but given Peterson's eye-popping combine performance and Broncos' management's in-person roundtable with the player in Florida, it was largely unnecessary.

Peterson is a real option with the Broncos' first-round pick, should Carolina pass on him with the No. 1 overall pick, though it could involve a trade-down scenario since cornerback hasn't been a top-five trend in recent seasons.

There is a potential need, outside of Peterson's talent. Not only is Cox facing legal hurdles, but Denver starting right cornerback Andre Goodman endured a hip/quad injury that lingered last season and he's crossed the age-30 plateau.

The fact that Denver holds two second-round picks in a draft exceptionally deep on the defensive line could create a scenario where defensive tackle, particularly, is addressed later rather than sooner.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is a guy that can do a lot of different things for you. Athletically he is as good as anybody in the draft. He can run and he has good size for a corner ... and is a guy that can make some big plays. I think especially at the cornerback position, you like those guys that can make those plays, because those are game-changers." - John Elway, at the scouting combine, sizing up LSU's Patrick Peterson.



Inside linebacker: Denver used to plug Al Wilson into the middle and everything would revolve around his aggressive play. But the Broncos since have been trying to push square pegs into round holes at middle linebacker, with D.J. Williams - best suited as a weak-side linebacker roving in space - as one of the 3-4 inside linebackers last season. Coach John Fox said that Texas A&M's Von Miller - a potential pick at No. 2 -- could play all three spots but would be a SAM in Denver's system. That could mean middle linebacker duties for Mario Haggan, Joe Mays or Williams, should that scenario unfold.

Defensive end: Dumveril's return should provide a huge boost for the Broncos coming off the weak side. But don't forget that in a 4-3 front to which Denver is converting, Dumervil isn't particularly strong as a run stopper. On the other side, the team will try to see if Ayers can shake injuries and become a steady force on the strong side, though he's shown no hints that he can become a top pass rusher. A solution could be to draft Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. He's powerful enough to spell Dumervil on some run downs and aligned opposite Dumervil vs. the pass would give Denver two premier pass rushers from the outside.

Tight end: The Broncos released longtime starter Daniel Graham in a move mainly driven by monetary considerations. The group behind him provides some elements of a top tight end but individual strengths of Richard Quinn, Dan Gronkowski and Daniel Coats don't add up to one stud. The draft is thin at tight end, so Denver may have to go the free-agent route unless plucking someone like Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph. More likely, Denver will try to find a diamond in the rough, given Fox's background with personnel at the position in Carolina.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.



--CB Champ Bailey: Potential UFA; $43M/4 yrs, $22.5M guaranteed.
--DT Kevin Vickerson: Potential RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

--OG Manny Ramirez: FA; terms unknown.

--DL Justin Bannan (released).
--TE Daniel Graham (released).
--NT Jamal Williams (released).

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