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SI's 2008 NFL Scouting Reports: Broncos

SI's 2008 NFL Scouting Reports
Denver Broncos
Projected Finish: 2nd in AFC West
 
Dumervil had 12 1/2 sacks for an otherwise porous defense.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
2008 Schedule
 
 
SPOTLIGHT
 

Yet another new coordinator tries to fix a defense that is vulnerable to the run -- in a division full of elite backs.

Elvis Dumervil is one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL, a leader onthe field and in the locker room, the kind of ambassador whose face a franchisecan plaster on billboards all over town. But coach him at your own risk. Overthe past five seasons -- three at Louisville and then two in Denver -- Dumervil hashad five defensive coordinators. That means a different playbook to study,a different scheme to learn, a different terminology to memorize eachyear. "I should have kept a page from each one of those playbooks," Dumervilsays. "I'd have a pretty good collection by now."

The high turnover rate has nothing to do with Dumervil, a 5' 11"defensive end who, by all accounts, is a coach's dream. Despite his height, orlack thereof, Dumervil led the Broncos with 121/2 sacks last season and wasan alternate for the Pro Bowl. But it can make a guy paranoid when his bosskeeps getting fired. As a rookie Dumervil watched Larry Coyer get the ax. Lastseason, Jim Bates was ushered out of town. This year, Dumervil is intent onstopping the streak and keeping Bob Slowik employed for a while.

Slowik has stepped into one of the most precarious positions in the league.Coach Mike Shanahan helps run the offense, so when the team falters, Shanahancan blame either himself or his defensive coordinator. After last season, whenDenver ranked 30th in the league against the run, the choice was obvious."Everybody had a finger in the pie," Dumervil says. "Some weeks it was theplayers, but some weeks it was the scheme. There was too much 'If this happens,do that,' and 'If that happens, do this.' It's a lot simpler now. There's not asmuch thinking."

Bates was doomed five games into last season, when the Broncos were giving upan average of 187.6 rushing yards. They trashed the seven-man front that Bateswas using and brought strong safety John Lynch up to help against the run. Itwas hard to tell who was making the decisions -- Bates was listed as an assistantcoach in charge of defense, while Slowik was a defensive coordinator in chargeof the secondary. But those titles were slightly misleading. "Jim ran thedefense," Slowik said. "I coached the defensive backs."

After Bates was dismissed, the defensive backs lobbied hard for CoachSlow, citing his engagingpersonality and businesslike approach. They didn't mind that he had not run adefense since 2004, when the Packers hired and fired him in the same year. "Manytimes, I thought I would never get this opportunity again," Slowik says.

Hiring a new coordinator is often a Band-Aid solution for a deeper problem inDenver: finding players to help Dumervil anchor the front seven. The Broncoswere 7-9 last season, only the second losing record in Shanahan's 13 years withthe team. They are talking playoffs this year, but they are in the same divisionas LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Darren McFadden, so they first have tostop a few sweeps. Slowik cannot rely anymore on Lynch, who asked for hisrelease and signed with New England, but Denver did acquire 308-pound defensivetackle Dewayne Robertson from the Jets. Asked his job description, Robertsonsays, "To cause havoc."

If Robertson and Dumervil can hold the line, the Broncos should contend for awild-card spot, and Slowik should be back next year. Otherwise, Dumervil is indanger of his streak reaching six. "When you've had as many defensivecoordinators as I have, you see that they use a lot of the same terminology,"Dumervil says. "One of them says something and it reminds you of another. I liketo connect the different plays they use."

If it seems that Dumervil is training for a second career, he is. Despite allthe upheaval he has witnessed over the past five years, he wants to be afootball coach. -- Lee Jenkins

 
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