ENGLEWOOD, Colo.— Kenny Anunike is feeling good today. Less than 24 hours removed from a preseason game wherein he was the best defensive player on the field, he should be on cloud nine. Last night, the Denver Broncos defeated the Seattle Seahawks 22-20 at CenturyLink Field in the Emerald City and Anunike was a big reason why.
“I’ve been chomping at the bit," Anunike said. "I had a lot of fun, just getting out there, making my presence known and just being a menace in the backfield."
He was physical. He was intense and explosive. And he dominated the point of attack, leading the team to the tune of eight total tackles (six solo), a sack and two quarterback hits. This performance earned Anunike a team-high +4.5 cumulative grade via Pro Football Focus and the love and respect of Broncos fans.
Watch Anunike (#91) toss his assignment like a rag doll to make the tackle on third-and-3 last night (via NFL Game Pass).
Today, Anunike talked about what it's like to play in Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' aggressive scheme and how he and his defensive line-mates have benefited from the team's dominant outside linebacker group.
“When you have those guys like Von and Shaq[uil Barrett], and all those guys coming off the edge—and D. Ware—the quarterback sees that," Anunike said. "He feels that pressure, so naturally he doesn't want to get hit by that. He's going to step up. When he steps up, who's going to be right there for him? Me, Vance, Kilgo, all of us [are] going to be right there. He's going to fall right in our lap.”
Last night, the Broncos sacked the Seattle quarterbacks a whopping seven times. The outside linebackers accounted for three of them, while the D-line took three. Whether it was the starting unit, or the second and third team, the Seahawks had no answer for Phillips' onslaught.
“I think they really found out that they had some problems to answer," Anunike said. "Who are we going to block? Are we going to block 91, [are] we going to block 48 [Barrett], [are] we going to block… because you can't block us all. That's a testament to Coach Wade's defense in the 3-4. It gives you the ability to disguise, so you can disguise the pressure. You never know who's coming. If it's going to be the Will coming and with the Sam dropping or the Sam coming and the Will dropping, or even one of us dropping—I dropped once last game. It's a great defense. [He] made a great defensive scheme.”
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Anunike put on weight this past offseason in order to play defensive end in Phillips' scheme. Edge players putting on weight isn't always a good thing, as we saw with Von Miller back in 2013. But Anunike is confident his weight gain has been beneficial and hasn't prevented him from being explosive.
“I gained 15 pounds in this offseason," Anunike said. "I went from about 260 to 275. I can definitely feel it, being a little bit heavier, but it's good weight. It was lean muscle mass.....Coach Wade, Coach Kollar said if I was going to play in this 3-4 scheme, I needed to gain a little bit of weight to be able to hold down the three technique and with those double teams. Definitely getting that extra weight helped me, but also I get to keep my speed, my agility, because I was working with [Strength and Conditioning Coach] Luke [Richesson] and all those guys."
The talented group of Broncos defenders are loving Phillips' system. It's allowing them to get out on the field and use their instinct and just play, as opposed to thinking too much. Phillips' philosophy is to keep it simple and allow the players' talent to do get it done on the grid-iron. We saw the early fruits of his approach last night.
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“It's a pretty simple scheme," Anunike said. "Schematically, Coach Wade teaches us and Coach Kollar teaches us, as long as you play within the scheme that we give you, which is just simple rule, if you have to rush the B gap, stay in the B gap. Then as the play develops, you can come under late and go into the A gap, things like that. As long we play within the scheme, he just lets us cut loose. Coach Wade doesn't want us out there thinking, like you said. Coach Kollar doesn't want us thinking out there. Coach Kubiak doesn't want us thinking. [He] just wants us to do the thinking out here on the practice field and then when we get to the game, just cut loose and playmakers are going to make plays.”
The Broncos are young and they're deep across the board. As much as NFL coaches wish they could keep everybody, when the final roster cuts come, only 53 guys will be left standing. The Broncos will have to waive many players who could be viable contributors on other NFL rosters. Anunike feels like the Broncos defense put the league on notice last night.
“I think people now see that we have a lot of weapons," he said. "We’re really deep all the way from down to the ones, to the twos, to the threes—our backups. The guys that are just sitting on the bench or even our rookies and all that are even super talented. I think we did kind of show the world that we have a super deep bench. You hope you can keep them all but we all know that you can’t. Every day is an audition out there and you’re not only auditioning for this team, you’re auditioning for all 32 teams."
If Anunike can keep this intensity up and prove to Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Kollar that he can handle all the responsibilities of his position, he will have a job here in Denver. He was on the brink of a roster spot last August, before he suffered an elbow injury in the Broncos last preseason game of the summer that ended his season. Now, Kenny Anunike is looking to make up for lost time.
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