Defensive Questions Still Loom

The defense showed it can be physical in the first day of practices against the Chiefs, but important questions remain on defense. Here they are, with comments from those involved.

There's no question the team has significantly upgraded its personnel on defense. The question will be how long it will take for things to jell. Head coach Mike Tice has said that he thinks the talent on the defensive side is as close or closer to the offensive talent as it's been in some years.

"I think our defensive football team is better now than when we finished at Detroit," Tice said.

1. Will the coverage be improved?
The early returns say yes.

"The coverage is closer," Tice said. "You can just see them just watching out there. The coverage is closer."

Denard Walker and Ken Irvin bring a lot of veteran leadership and experience. Neither are true, pure shutdown corners, but both have been steady, productive players.

"I don't consider myself a shutdown corner, I just consider myself a guy that for the last I would say six years, I've gone out for 16 weeks and played hard," Walker said. "I don't take anything for granted. I'm a guy that just goes out and just try to work each week to get a little bit better."

Irvin is a Corey Chavous-type with his work ethic and preparation for the game. He's not super-big and he's not super-fast, but he's been very productive throughout his career.

Brian Williams and Eric Kelly are also in the mix.

The key back here might depend on what happens up front.

2. Who brings more pass rush up front?
The addition of top pick Kevin Williams is obviously going to free up Chris Hovan more and give them a dynamic duo inside on passing downs.

The early returns on Williams have been very positive. He was signed and in on time. He's responded to coaching extremely well. He's quick, active and athletic. He's the real deal.

The real question marks might be as a pure outside pass rusher, where the solution might be in the magic of new defensive coordinator George O'Leary and his ability to properly utilize his talent and create favorable matchups. He doesn't possess the sure-fire talent to just line 'em up and let 'em play. He's going to have to create some opportunities for his players. But he does have some unique and talented pass-rushers.

Veteran Lance Johnstone has been a double-digit sack man when his reps are limited to keep him fresh and he is able to focus on bringing it upfield.

Lorenzo Bromell is a hot-and-cold player, but his hot spots tend to come as a pass rusher.

Nick Rogers has been impressive coming off the edge in the team's nickel scheme in camp thus far.

The versatile Billy Lyon is probably going to pick up some garbage sacks from somewhere along the line this season, too.

Chris Claiborne, Raonall Smith and rookie E.J. Henderson also offer outstanding pass-rush potential as situational blitzers.

3. Who steps up at free safety?
Second-year man Willie Offord is getting every possible chance to do it. You can take that however you want.

"Willie Offord, we're looking," Tice said in the early days of training camp. "He's improving. He made a couple of good hits today on goal line. I was encouraged with that. He looked a little more relaxed out there; he's still doing a lot of thinking. I think he is progressing nicely. I think all three young safeties are progressing nicely. The question is can they get there in time? Can they get to September 7 in time? What I mean by that, I mean obviously if they left now they could walk there by September 7, but can they get there playing-wise? Can they get there talent-wise by September 7?

"We are going to keep our eye on that situation and see how they progress. I like what I am seeing so far. Of course, you would like to be done and finished and have it sorted out by now. We didn't think it would be sorted out by now anyway. … Free safety is an area where we have two young guys battling it out. I really firmly believe one of them is going to step up and be the guy. Other than that, we're not looking to add anything.

"We're not concerned about anything. We are going to keep our eye on a bunch of situations. I have been talking about the last few months that we are going to keep an eye on the young safety situation. Is Willie Offord, Brian Russell or Jack Brewer going to come through for us? If not, then we are going to try and answer that question in other ways. Whether that's moving another guy to safety or try bring a guy in, make a trade, who knows? But we're going to keep an eye on that situation."

Another possibility might be to move Brian Williams inside. But for now, they'd like to see Offord earn the job.

Problem solved? No, not yet.

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