ENGLEWOOD, Colo—When people think of a 3-4 defense, they think of the traditional two-gapping odd front, where each defensive lineman is responsible for defending two gaps. It requires the player to hesitate, ever so slightly, and read the flow of the play and react to whichever of the two gaps is utilized by the opposing offense.
But in the case of Wade Phillips’ 3-4, his scheme is designed to be more disruptive and penetrating. There is no hesitation. Before the snap, the defensive lineman knows what his gap responsibility is—it’s a single-gap read and it’s all about getting in the backfield and being disruptive.
Thus, Phillips’ scheme demands a different approach and body type from the nose guard. Phillips isn’t looking for 330-pound behemoth space-eaters, he’s looking for “smaller”, more athletic players at the nose guard position.
Although he's anything but small, the Denver Broncos selected 6-foot-3, 319-pound defensive tackle Darius Kilgo out of Maryland in the sixth round of the NFL Draft last weekend. They believe he can grow to be the type of nose guard who excels in a single-gap system, as General Manager John Elway confirmed in his post-draft presser.
“I think when we looked at him, we thought obviously he’s got great size and he’s long and he’s got some athleticism to him and he plays hard,” Elway said. “So, we always have great hopes for these players when they come in and obviously we know that we don’t draft All-Pros, but hopefully they come in here and we help them become All-Pros. But we believe that he’s a guy that with what was left on the board, he was as good as there was on the board and our top-ranked nose at that point in time. So we think he can come in and compete.”
Indeed, the Broncos don’t draft All-Pros, with the exception perhaps of Von Miller, they coach and develop them to that point. The tools are there for Kilgo. He has one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL in Bill Kollar and an experienced group of veterans to take him under their wing and show him the ropes.
Right now, as Kilgo and his fellow rookies wrap up mini-camp this weekend, he’s focused on competing and listening to his coach. Kilgo will begin his pro career behind Sylvester Williams and Marvin Austin on the depth chart.
“Yeah, I’m just coming in, competing every day,” he said. “Whatever the coach has planned for me to do, that’s what I’m going to do to the best of my ability.”
Speaking of Kollar—the coach who once wrestled a bear—it’s no secret that he’s a fiery, intense guy. He pushes his players, but at the end of the day, he has his players’ best interest at heart. He wants the best for them. Kilgo talked about what he’s learned from Kollar thus far.
“Just technique things,” he said. “He really puts the emphasis on being technicians, being really physical defensive linemen up front. He’s taught me a lot in the past day and I’m really taking it all in.”
As for Phillips’ 3-4 defense, Kilgo is already being instructed in the fine art of executing his position as the nose guard. For only being at camp for a couple of days, he seems to have a good bead on his responsibilities.
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“Just being able to read the center and the guard and being able to read the whole offensive line [and] formations,” he said. “Just being able to call out certain offensive schemes and being physical. Just being a physical guy, getting your footwork and your hand placement correct and being physical up front.”
At some point in their rookie season, each player has that defining moment in time that serves as a sometimes harsh reminder that the days of dominating the competition in college are over—a “Welcome to the NFL” moment. Kilgo hasn’t had that epiphany yet, but he might when the veterans show up tomorrow for Phase Two.
“No, not really,” he said. “Once I stepped off the plane and realized I was actually in Denver, it kind of all just hit me. When we pulled up to the facility, it was just like a real life moment, a dream come true. So it’s been a great experience so far and I’m enjoying myself.”