Upgrade at linebacker is what Broncos want

The Broncos' switch from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 alignment will necessitate some position-swapping and filling of holes. One scenario makes Texas A&M's Von Miller a viable pick at No. 2 overall.

The Broncos' switch from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 alignment will necessitate some position-swapping and filling of holes to get the personnel with which head coach John Fox and new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen can feel comfortable.

The wild-card on the roster continues to be D.J. Williams. He's played all three spots in the 4-3 and inside linebacker last year, where his sideline-to-sideline pursuit skills didn't match the playing-in-trash responsibilities of the position. Williams racked up statistics, but often his tackles came downfield after trying to navigate past offensive linemen sent his direction.

Williams would be best suited at weak-side linebacker, which leaves questions in the middle and on the strong side.

That scenario makes Texas A&M's Von Miller a viable pick at No. 2 overall.

Fox was asked at the league meeting how Miller could fit within Denver's scheme and responded that he could play all three spots, though likely would project as a strong-side linebacker in Denver's system. That alignment would allow Denver to put 2009 sacks leader Elvis Dumervil at right outside linebacker, paired with Miller's tremendous pass-rush skills on the opposite side.

Another element that Miller's presence could bring is that not only is he instinctive and quick at the snap racing to the pocket to chase opposing quarterbacks, he has the foot speed, strength and hips to be a match for some of the tougher tight ends in the AFC West.

But should Miller get drafted and stick at strong-side linebacker, a wide-open competition emerges for that middle linebacker spot, between Mario Haggan -- a stout choice at 6-3, 267 pounds, or Joe Mays, an aggressive fireplug who started four games before landing on injured reserve.

Regardless, Denver will be seeking some reinforcements in the linebacking corps, particularly if it can uncover a natural middle linebacker the team hasn't had since the Al Wilson days.

The Broncos not only were the bottom-ranked defense in terms of total yards allowed per game last year, the team yielded 471 points - two shy of the franchise high, 26 rushing touchdowns, tied for worst in franchise annals and the second-most rushing yards ever allowed (2,473).

Thus it would be a shock if three front-seven picks don't emerge out of Denver's first three selections in the draft.

The Broncos' two second-round picks could help in that regard, plucking a player that slipped just out of the first round or a fast-charging prospect.

Washington's Mason Foster could be one option. He is adept at fighting through tackles and strong at the point of attack but may be best suited to a 3-4.

Michigan State's Greg Jones looks the part at 6-1, 240 pounds, having switched to the middle linebacker spot late in his college career. He's quick, plays with great leverage and is a top-notch hitter who also has the speed to operate in pursuit.

Other names to consider are Illinois' Martez Wilson, Georgia's Akeem Dent and North Carolina's Quan Sturdivant.

--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 of 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.


--It is a question being asked frequently, and everyone is wondering about the answer.

The Broncos have quarterback Kyle Orton and selected Tim Tebow in the first round of last year's draft. But that hasn't stopped the team's new hierarchy - football operations chief John Elway and coach John Fox - from looking very closely at the quarterbacks in this year's draft.

Ramping up the discussion is that Denver has the second overall pick in the April 28 draft.

For the record, Fox, Elway and general manager Brian Xanders were at the Pro Days for Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. They both are expected to visit Denver prior to the draft. For Ryan Mallett's Pro Day, offensive coordination Mike McCoy was present. Plans are for quarterbacks coach Adam Gase to have private workouts with Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick.

The Broncos have the fourth pick in the second round.

Elway explained the team's due diligence succinctly. "We're always looking for that guy," said the guy who was that guy with the Broncos. "We may already have the guy who can pull the trigger and win us a championship someday. We may have him. We don't know. We believe in Tim, but he's not there yet.

"Where we are with that second pick, we have to look at everything. Because by no means do we plan on going back there (to No. 2)."

Noting the top quarterback prospects in the draft, Elway added, "It's very rare that you have three guys who are at least 6-4, 230 and run a 4.6."

Elway admitted being enamored with players similar to him.

"I think sometimes your eyes migrate to the style you played," he said. "You don't have to be that way. You look at Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the success they've had. But I think it's getting harder and harder to play that position and not have mobility."

Finally, Fox put everything in perspective. Asked if looking at the quarterbacks is an indictment of Tebow, Fox said, "I don't think it's an indictment on anybody. I just think if there's a Hall of Famer there we ought to look at them.

That prompted the million-dollar question: Is there a Hall of famer there?

He said, "If I knew that I wouldn't be sitting here."

--Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox appeared in court in March 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: "I knew John (Elway) as a player and (general manager) Brian Xanders I knew a little bit from his time in Atlanta, so going in I didn't know them and I don't think they knew me that well. I mean, it just clicked. John, he's not some hood ornament by any stretch, he's in there grinding. He jokes about up until a few months ago he thought there was only one six o'clock and that was p.m. He discovered there was two 6s. No, he's working hard, he's got a great feel for the game. He doesn't know the ins and outs of the National Football League, but spending all the time he did in the huddle, the leader on that side of the ball, I think he recognizes a football player when he sees him." - Coach John Fox on working with John Elway.


The Broncos were awarded a seventh-round compensatory pick in this year's draft. The Broncos didn't lose more free agents than they signed, but the choice was awarded because 11 picks were needed to reach the mandated total of 32 choices. Those picks are awarded at the end of the seventh round to the first 11 teams in the draft order.


Defensive tackle: Denver's bottom-ranked defense has already cut ties with Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams and neither Marcus Thomas or Ronald Fields are expected back. So the team could not only use a couple of young studs to anchor the middle of the line but two. Alabama's Marcell Dareus or Auburn's Nick Fairley would be the most logical choices with the team's No. 2 overall selection. The two are different types of players, but Dareus' girth and ability to anchor against the run may ultimately get the nod in John Fox's revamped front four.

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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