Denver was destroyed by the injury bug in training camp. Denver will probably finish 8-8 this year because we are decimated by injuries. Next year Denver should be Super Bowl contenders once Dumervil and Ayers get to play together.
Champions are built through the draft. ESPN says it, so it must be true. The Denver Broncos brain trust Ń John Elway, Brian Xanders and new Head Coach John Fox Ń came out of their first NFL draft all smiles, congratulating each other and everyone around for what they said was an excellent set of selections. They just drafted, “the next Derrick Thomas” in outside linebacker Von Miller, according to them, plus a handful of other guys who will make us forget all about Josh McDaniels. So why am I feeling so lackluster about the whole thing? Why don’t I feel like the Broncos made themselves a better football team over the weekend? Count me among the legions of Orange and Blue followers upset about the lack of an impact defensive lineman being brought in. And I’ll take it a step further: I don’t like the selection of Von Miller, either. Football is not that complex. It’s a game played first and foremost at the line of scrimmage. If you win the battle at the line of scrimmage, on either side of the ball, you’re going to win nine of 10 football games. We all know that, right? Yet this has been Denver’s biggest weakness for the last half dozen years. They have consistently failed to address this glaring weakness through the draft, opting instead for a batch of low rent free agent D-line signings, year after year, Fox after McDaniels after Shanahan. It has not worked and never will. Denver had a chance to pick up the best D-lineman available in this draft in Marcell Dareus. They choose instead to select the sexier Miller, mostly because of his pass rushing ability. Meanwhile, 12 defensive tackles were selected in the first round. The brain trust bragged about Miller’s “measurables” Ń how fast he can run and how high he can jump and all that. Combine stuff. Miller will be hell to deal with on third and long situations, they boasted. This is all fine and good, but what happens when the other team is never IN third and long situations? What happens when the other team is able to run right at the Broncos’ soft underbelly for four and five yards at a time? What good is a pass rusher if the other team is never forced to pass? Denver gave up more than 150 yards PER GAME on the ground last season. Miller is not going to help improve the statistic one tiny bit. Neither will the next group of free agent has-beens that get signed whenever free agency starts. Maybe scheme can fix some of what ailed Denver’s run defense last season, but from the looks of things, we’d better get used to watching enemy running backs having career days against Denver É again. Elway, Xanders and Fox fell victim to an obsession with Combine numbers and “the best player available regardless of position” garbage. When it comes time for their first pick next year, will Carolina draft a quarterback? Of course not. Common sense says you draft the best player available AT A POSITION OF NEED, which would have been Dareus, not Miller. If Denver is going to build a great defense, it has to start in the middle, at the line of scrimmage. It’s nice to have a flashy pass rush specialist, but what about the foundation of the defense? Dareus Ń who went to Buffalo with the very next pick Ń can play three positions along the defensive line and would have been the first brick in that foundation that needs a lot of bricks. The pick of Miller (a “once every 10 years talent” according to the Broncos Ń we’ll see about that) and the rest of the puzzling Denver draft sends another signal to Bronco supporters: Don’t get in a hurry. This is a long term re-build, and no short term fix is going to change things that much. Denver is likely about a dozen “impact” players away from being a legit contender. They think they got four or five this weekend. They’re obviously not all that concerned about the 2011 season (if there is one) and are probably counting on another full set of draft picks in 2012 before they begin to envision reaching contender status. That part actually makes sense. But only if the Broncos alter their draft philosophy to start trying to fixing what needs fixing most.
Mark Knudson is a former Major League Baseball pitcher and member of the 1993 Colorado Rockies. He writes sports columns for the Denver Daily News. Respond at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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