Broncos Update Insider - 5/17

One of new coach John Fox's favorite expressions is "the best pass defense is a pass rush."

Denver Broncos fans wouldn't know.

It's almost as if opposing quarterbacks have been wearing red scout-team jerseys on game days, the way the franchise has generally avoided quarterbacks in recent years.

There's an exception: Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in that individual category in 2009 as the team finished with 39 total, its highest output since 2002 (40).

But the addition of Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, arguably the draft's top edge rusher, makes sense when put into a prism in which the team finished last in the league last season and 13th or lower in eight of the past 10 seasons.

Denver's 23 sacks last season, in fact, represented at best tied for the 45th lowest total in the franchise's 50 years.

Now, the Broncos not only get Miller - who had 27.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss the last two seasons - but a healthy Dumervil coming back off a torn pectoral muscle.

Dumervil was so excited that he immediately tweeted a personal message to Miller, telling him, "Von, we out here. Let's get it."

What Denver didn't get was the defensive tackle it so desperately needs as the cost of doing business and picking Miller at No. 2 - making him the highest-drafted Denver player in history.

The buzz for the last month has been that Alabama's Marcell Dareus would be the pick. But John Elway and Co. were enamored with Miller, first off. Elway said leading up to the draft that a person doesn't even need to know what number Miller wore in college to know him since he stands out so much on tape. But from a more practical perspective, the dropoff between Miller and the rest of the outside linebackers is considered much steeper than the gap between the high-ranking defensive tackles. And with the Broncos owning two second-round picks, the franchise figures it will fill that gaping hole with either one or both those selections, with a trade for extra picks a distinct possibility, too.

Miller will immediately be slotted in as Denver's starting strong-side linebacker. That allows D.J. Williams to play his natural weak-side slot, with middle linebacker wide open, possibly to be filled in free agency or 2010 strong-side starter Mario Haggan.

The question for Miller from the get-go doesn't appear his ability to "get from Point A to Point B" as quick as possible, as the Texas A&M standout said Thursday. The skepticism will stem from Miller's ability to play first and second down and hold up vs. the run, as well as drop back in coverage.

"I've always covered running backs and tight ends and I've always dropped back into coverage. It was just my role on the Texas A&M team to get after the quarterback, where they needed me most. So on third downs I was always in a rush. If you put on the film, I think I was playing quite a bit, and I can drop back in coverage and cover a slot receiver, cover the No. 1 receiver and get on those running backs."

Champ Bailey will handle those No. 1 receivers, kid. But Denver would be pleased if Miller can stick with the tight ends in the AFC West who stretch the field, such as Zach Miller and especially Antonio Gates.

As a college senior, Texas A&M created a "joker" position outside the right or left tackle for Miller that was a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker spot, helping prepare him for his pass-rushing duties in the NFL.

Miller could find himself in a similar spot with the Broncos. Denver will align Dumervil at right defensive end and 2009 first-rounder Robert Ayers at left end. Putting Miller on the same side as Dumervil would create defensive headaches for opposing coordinators. Miller also could help take some of the pressure off Ayers, who played outside linebacker last year and to date hasn't flashed much of a pass rush.

Physically, Miller is NFL ready. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at his pro day. He has a 37-inch vertical at 6-2 1/2, 246 pounds. He gained nine pounds prior to the scouting combine after dropping to 237 to end his senior season.

"There's no doubt that his versatility is going to make us a better football team," Fox said.

But the Broncos still have that gaping interior hole on the front four by bypassing Dareus, who went to the Bills at No. 3 overall. The team has two second-round picks at 36 and 46 and one of them assuredly will be a defensive tackle, perhaps Oregon State's Steven Paea, North Carolina's Marvin Austin or Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins.

With no fourth- or fifth-round pick in the hopper, Denver could use either of those No. 2 selections to stockpile more draft ammunition.

But the first big blast was the Miller pick. Pre-draft, he had lunch and dinner with Denver, worked out for the team and also met at the club's Dove Valley facility.

"He'll be a big part of us bringing back the Orange Crush defense," Elway gushed.

That's happy talk, of course.

Let's get to a serviceable defense first, with Miller a big piece to that puzzle with much work left to do in the draft and free agency.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Two of the Broncos' last three first-round picks attended a John Lynch Foundation Salute the Stars scholarship luncheon Tuesday at Inveso Field at Mile High.

So it was that linebacker Von Miller and quarterback Tim Tebow were having photos taken when Tebow said to Miller, "You want to work out?"

Miller said his only clothes was the suit he was wearing. Tebow offered to provide workout gear, and Miller obliged.

He said, "I've heard all the stories about Tim Tebow, about how he's a team guy, how he's a leader, how he works hard, and that's what I like to think I am, too. To pair up with a team guy like that, I think the sky's the limit for us. Hopefully I can make it through (the workout) with him and make it back to Dallas."

Tebow said he has been working on taking snaps during some workouts with teammates.

Tebow said, "I haven't had one rep in the shotgun, just to make being under center the most comfortable it can be for me, and get it more comfortable than being in the shotgun. And then just timing, checking off from one receiver to another, whether that's throwing to receivers who are really running, or to my brother who is just standing there. I've been putting in the work."

--John Fox spent part of each draft press conference explaining how a team that is so thin at defensive tackle went in a different direction, several times.

"We will have at some point another clump of players to choose from in free agency. Who that is even hard to predict, but there will be some quality players when we get to that phase. At the end of the draft, it's not the end," Fox said. "We still have some other options. As far as the draft goes, we're going to take the best available player. We won't take a guy we have graded in the fifth round in the second just because he's a defensive tackle."

Oregon State's Steven Paea and North Carolina's Marvin Austin each were bypassed in Round 2, despite a trade down that would have still allowed for their selections.

"I think we have guys on our team now that can start," Fox said. "It's not like we have nobody."

Kevin Vickerson projects as one starter but holdover Marcus Thomas is slated to be a free agent. Denver cut Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan.

--The weekend was surreal on various levels across the league, but no more than the lockout being lifted than reinstated.

The short window allowed Denver No. 1 pick Von Miller to visit with coaches and get playbook Friday, something later draftees coming through Dove Valley the rest of the weekend were barred from doing.

A reporter suggested to second-round safety Rahim Moore that he perhaps call Miller and ask him to make a Kinko's run.

"That would be a great idea. The playbook is a very important get," Moore said. "I'm going to try to get (Miller's) number immediately."

--In the early hours of June 28, 2009, Nate Irving had busted his body to pieces after falling asleep at the wheel.

His truck had flipped, and Irving was trapped while awaiting someone to call an ambulance for help.

"I felt God had better plans for me then to sit in that ditch and die," he said.

Irving, with extensive rehabilitation, persevered. His collapsed lung, broken fibula and tibia in his left leg, a separated left shoulder and broken ribs all would heal.

He'd miss the 2009 season. But last year, he was back at middle linebacker at North Carolina State, earning first-team all-conference honors.

"A knew that in a snap of a finger it can all be taken away," he said. "I wanted to play as hard as I could every play, every practice, every workout."

NFL teams poked and prodded Irving, not surprisingly, more than most at the combine. Irving still has a steel rod in his leg.

He's also been hardened by his experiences and appreciates a chance to possibly start for Denver this year more than many who haven't endured the adversity he has.

"It's a day I'll never forget," he said. "It's part of my story."

--Von Miller didn't begin playing football until the fifth grade in the DeSoto (Texas) Football Youth Association.

Neither parent was thrilled with the prospect, but his mother finally relented and let Von and his brother play - without telling her husband.

"My mom had he powers to do that," Miller recalled. "She kept our shoulder pads in the back of her Suburban, and she rode around for a whole season without my dad even knowing. He didn't find out until the championship game."

The kids would change out of their gear in the garage and mom would wash the uniforms for the next practice.

Von started playing as a youth on offense but soon got a taste for hitting QBs.

"My little league coach needed a pass rush from the other side and I was the kind of guy who was going to do whatever it took to get to the quarterback. You say, "Hut,' I' m going to go. My first time getting a quarterback sack I jumped over the line, grabbed the quarterback and held on. It wasn't really a tackle. All my teammates just rallied for the ball."

--Julius Thomas hopes to be the next hoops star to make an impact as an NFL tight end, following in the footsteps of Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham.

Thomas was passionate about football but didn't play the sport until his redshirt senior season, after four years on the basketball team at Portland State.

The transition wasn't simple.

"I was a four-year basketball player, senior captain, so there was really nothing that could come my way that I didn't anticipate. Going and being brand new at something, it's frustrating at times being the freshman out there - or the young guy - have to react to things that I didn't know how to anticipate.

"One of the hardest things was learning to play lower. Football is a game played lower to the ground than basketball is, so working on leverage, especially for somebody at my height was something I had to concentrate on."

Thomas ended up with 29 catches for 453 yards with two TDs in his only year in Division I-AA football.

Thomas made a big impression at the East-West Shrine Game and Denver was hooked. Tight ends coach Clancy Barone came out to Oregon to work him out, and the two talked frequently on the phone.

"I felt that if we happen to get together that it would be a great fit for myself. I think that he's a coach that the way he thinks about the game is exactly the way I think. And I feel like he is going to be great at helping me understand what is expected of me."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

MEDICAL WATCH: RB LenDale White, who spent the 2010 on injured reserve because of a torn Achilles tendon, has been working out with teammates and is running again.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

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

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--OG Manny Ramirez: FA; terms unknown.

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



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