Last Thursday, the Denver Broncos agreed to terms on a two-year contract with defensive lineman Vance Walker. As we mentioned when we reported on the signing, Walker spent 2014 with divisional foe, the Kansas City Chiefs. Although the Chiefs run a 3-4 defense, it is a different creation than new Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ version.
Walker brings to the Broncos jack-of-all trades versatility and a high motor. Walker projects as a rotational defensive end in Phillips’ defense. But he can also play the nose tackle. As of today, all signs point to the Broncos rolling with 2013 first round pick Sylvester Williams as the starting NT, and although I’m optimistic that the former North Carolina Tarheel can blossom under the tutelage of new defensive line coach Bill Kollar, fans (and the team) should brace themselves for the possibility that Williams won’t pan out.
I’m of the opinion that Williams will thrive under Kollar but if he doesn’t, the team can not only turn to Marvin Austin, but Walker as well. As it stands today, Walker will likely backup the Broncos 3-4 defensive ends, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. The Walker signing is flying under the radar and as such, reminds me of the Terrance Knighton signing back in 2013.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, the team who drafted him, had parted ways with Knighton, due to weight issues and questions surrounding his football priorities. Knighton came to Denver and experienced a career renaissance. To expect the same from Walker might be setting the bar a little too high, but the similarities between the two unheralded players strikes me.
Since the Broncos announced the signing of Walker, I’ve taken some time to go back over his 2014 film to get a feel for how this investment might pay off. What I discovered is that Walker is a very solid player. Although he lacks elite attributes, he has sound technique and a great motor. He also seems to have a keen understanding of football and D-Line concepts.
I’ve identified three plays that I believe best exemplifies Walker’s skill-set and attributes.
All images via NFL Rewind.
Play No. 1
The first play comes from Week 15 vs. the Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs were at home and defending a small lead in the second half. At the 14:55 mark of the third quarter, the Raiders face a second-and-10, down by a touchdown. The Raiders are in 11-personnel (1 TE, 1 RB) from the pistol formation. Derek Carr and company attempt some trickery, bringing the WR in a reverse motion. The Chiefs are in a nickel sub-package. Walker (No. 99) is lined up directly over the LG, but shades to a 3-technique right before the snap. The handoff goes to Latavius Murray off the right side of the line.
The play goes away from Walker and at the snap, the LG engages him, before slipping off to block the second level, at which point the LT engages. Walker controls his man, keeping a low pad level initially, before shedding the block and making the tackle on the other side of the line of scrimmage. This play shows Walker’s power and technique and is particularly impressive because he makes the tackle on the opposite side of where he lined up.
Play No 2
The second play comes at the 13:14 mark of the third quarter. The Raiders face a first-and-10 and are trying to get something cooking. The Raiders are in 12-personnel, with TE Mychal Rivera split out in the slot and FB/H-back Marcel Reece goes in motion, with Carr in the shotgun. The Chiefs are in their base defense, with Walker lined up in 4i-technique, just inside the LT’s right shoulder. The play is a designed pass.
The Chiefs cover the play well, but Rivera is open down the left seam. Carr misses the window and the pocket collapses. Walker shows great power, pushing the LG back into the pocket and into Carr’s face. Again, Walker’s power and motor are on full display here. Although he splits the sack with Jaye Howard on the stat sheet, it's a nice case study.
Play No. 3
The third play comes earlier in the season in Week 8 vs. the St. Louis Rams. Again we’re in the third quarter, which is where Chiefs DC Bob Sutton liked rotating Walker in. The Chiefs are up big, 34-7. The Rams are trying to get something going. QB Austin Davis is in the shotgun, with the offense in an 11-personnel set, with the TE initially in the backfield. The TE motions out to the slot. This is a designed screen to RB Zac Stacy. The Chiefs are again in a nickel sub-package, with two tackles inside. Walker is lined up in the 2i-technique, with the inside shade on the RG.
Walker begins to penetrate in a pass rushing effort, but stops when he senses the C and RG begin to release to screen block for Stacy. The big 6-foot-2, 305 pound Walker pursues Stacy, closing in and wrapping up his legs from behind. Although the play went for an eight-yard gain, it shows Walker’s play awareness and again showcases his motor. You don’t often see a big DT or 3-4 DE chase down a speedy RB from behind.
None of Walker’s tape blew me away, but I was impressed nonetheless. He’s a smart, disciplined player with a great motor. Working in Phillips’ defense and under the wing of Bill Kollar could trigger some great performances from Walker. This was a smart signing. And it was done on a team-friendly deal (two-years, $4M). He’s a superior alternative to bringing a guy like Kevin Vickerson back, because he’s smarter and more disciplined and won’t cost the team in penalties. For a rotational player with upside, the Broncos scored with Walker.
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