John Elway's history as a general manager is replete with finding under-the-radar free agents who go on to make a much larger impact than was expected when they signed. Elway has consistently mined phenomenal production out of lower-valued contracts and we've seen that play out with guys like Shaun Phillips, Terrance Knighton, Mike Adams, Owen Daniels, Ryan Harris, and most recently, Darian Stewart.
The Broncos made it a point of emphasis to beef up the defensive line this year. Peko brings more than a decade of starting experience at the nose tackle position and checks in at 325 pounds. Projecting what position Peko would play in Denver's defense was never a question. He's a nose tackle.
However, in the case of the 334-pound Kerr, it was harder to pinpoint where exactly the Broncos envisioned him on the D-line. While in Indianapolis, Kerr played all over the D-line, but when I turned on the film to brush up on him, he was predominantly deployed as a 5-tech defensive end in the Colts 3-4 defense.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1762284-film-room-zach-kerr-s-dom... Naturally, I assumed the Broncos would follow suit and put Kerr at defensive end. You know what they say about assuming, though.
It turns out that Kerr has taken most of his reps at nose tackle, behind Peko.
“I have a majority of my snaps at nose, but I get a good amount of snaps outside at the D-End positions as well," Kerr said last week. "Just trying to get comfortable.”
Kerr is a versatile player who can line up anywhere in the trenches, and the Broncos have moved him around quite a bit. But clearly, they see him as a nose tackle. That gives the Broncos two great options in the rotation.
Last year's nose tackle, Sylvester Williams, only played 56.5 percent of the defensive snaps and Denver's rush defense was subsequently porous. The big, 300-plus pounders need their breathers.
You can see why it's important to have multiple options at the nose tackle position. And Kerr gives the Broncos that benefit anywhere on the D-line.
“I guess they brought me here to beef up the run defense and rush the passer and make plays, use my versatility and stuff like that," Kerr said. "I’m here to help. Whatever role they want me to play in the defense, I’m here to play. I’m not a picky guy as far as being a football player. I was blessed with versatility, so whatever they want me to be, nose, three, four-technique, five-technique, I’m here to help.”
In Denver's version of the 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle isn't there to just take up space and consume blocks. The Broncos play an aggressive, one-gap system on the D-line, where penetrating and causing disruption behind the line of scrimmage takes precedent. Kerr fits that mold well but the aggression has to be balanced with an appropriate amount of patience.
“A lot of people think it’s being the big guy in the middle taking up space," Kerr said, "but you can ask any of the guys that have played nose, but are truly ends, [DE Adam] Gotsis, or a guy like Little Peko (NT Kyle Peko). Everything at nose happens so much quicker, but you have to be patient. Your blocks happen quicker but you have to be patient because if you jump gaps too quickly that could be a 60-yard touchdown just because the defense is built around that position.”
A lot more goes into playing on the defensive line than you might think. It's one of the reasons it traditionally takes rookies and young D-linemen a little longer to develop through the learning curve.
On a given snap, these big fellas not only have to mind their technique and matchups, but they have to understand the play-call, their leverage and a whole lot more. As Kerr pointed out, from the macro, all the way down the micro aspects of the game, football is all about strategy and split-second decision making.
"Nose is kind of a thinking man’s game," Kerr said. "Football is in general, but really at the nose. You have to really, really be a quick thinker. You come out and everything is right there in your face.”
At just 26 years old, the formerly undrafted Kerr is just entering his prime. The Broncos signed him to a two-year, $3,250,000 contract. He was on the verge of signing elsewhere before the Broncos called and he made a B-line for the Mile High City.
Kerr could very well be the next unheralded free agent to sign with the Broncos, who out-plays the contract given him. Stepping into a defensive unit as stacked as Denver's is tends to elevate everyone. Kerr recognized that unique opportunity from the drop.
“It was pretty much a no brainer when my team got the call from the Broncos saying they wanted to work a deal out," Kerr said. "As soon as I had been—actually, I was in Detroit when I got the call. I actually really liked Detroit, but as soon as I got the offer from Denver, I said, ‘Yup, let’s go.’ It’s a great defense, it’s been a great defense. You would be a fool not to want to play here.”
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.