ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After only a week of seeing the initial offense versus defense workouts, it’s abundantly clear the Denver Broncos' defensive front will have a different look than last season.
For 2017, the Broncos hope bigger is far better. Or as cornerback Aqib Talib said: “Man, just that size in there, that beef, that’s where you get it done.’’
Two of the Broncos’ most prominent signings in free agency were Domata Peko and Zach Kerr, listed at 325 and 334 pounds, respectively. And all four players listed on the Broncos’ roster at over 320 pounds are new acquisitions -- Peko, Kerr and two undrafted rookies in offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson and nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett.
The Broncos will open their second set of OTAs Tuesday -- OTAs mark the first opportunity for the team to work in offense versus defense drills -- and the run defense continues to have a prominent place on the to-do list. A defense that had finished at, or near, the top of so many defensive categories in recent seasons (those quality showings included sacks, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense) was 28th against the run in 2016. In their 9-7 playoff miss, the Broncos surrendered 13 runs of at least 20 yards and four runs of at least 48 yards.
It affected everything they tried to do on defense, because offenses could move the ball on early downs, avoiding obvious passing situations that brought the pass rush of Von Miller and a secondary filled with Pro Bowlers into play. That's why it has been such a front-burner issue as the Broncos move through the offseason program.
And if the Broncos hold to their early work by the time things unfold in the regular season, Peko will be the team’s nose tackle in its three-man front, while Kerr is a player that coach Vance Joseph can play where needed in that front.
“Domata is a nose tackle, definitely. You’ve seen Domata, right? … It makes a difference,’’ Joseph said. “Kerr’s played some nose. That’s the beauty of having Kerr. … He’s a big body that can hold a point at nose, but he’s a quick athlete inside that can rush the passer. He’s a beauty to have inside. He can play nose [or at either defensive end]. Even on sub-downs, he can rush inside for us. It’s great having a guy like that.’’
That’s to go with Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick, who have worked as the starting defensive ends with Peko in the middle, in the early workouts. Wolfe is a high-volume player, in terms of playing time, and figures to lead the way among the defensive linemen by the time the season is over.
Adam Gotsis, who defensive coordinator Joe Woods said looks "like an action figure’’ this past week, figures to be in the rotation at defensive end as well. All in all, it’s more crowded in that position group, with a higher degree of difficulty to earn playing time and the Broncos hope it all means their 2017 defense is back to the dominant-on-all-fronts level it thinks it should be.
“Obviously, people have the chance to study in the offseason to see what plays have success against you,’’ Woods said. “ … Once teams find something that works, they copy it from game to game. The biggest thing for us is we had to look in the offseason and evaluate schematically what we were doing and what we were doing as coaches, whether we were coaching things correctly, and were the players executing it. … We identify some errors where we can get better and that’s what we’re doing right now.’’