Shelby Harris Projects what his Role with Broncos will be With Jurrell Casey in the Fold
The Denver Broncos' defensive line is poised to look very similar to the unit that finished Vic Fangio's maiden season. Simply swap Jurrell Casey for Derek Wolfe, and the unit is poised to return two of the three down-linemen positions.
Mike Purcell was brought back on a restricted free-agent tender to man the nose tackle slot, while the Broncos closed a one-year deal with Shelby Harris, after he languished on the open market for nearly two full weeks.
While fans are disappointed to see Wolfe depart for Baltimore, the emotions are likely bittersweet. After all, it's not like the Broncos replaced Wolfe with chopped liver.
Casey is coming off five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, which is five more than Wolfe has ever attained (and I say that as a big Wolfe admirer). Even Wolfe himself is high on Casey's prospects in Fangio's defense.
"They’ve got Jurrell Casey," Wolfe said via KUSA's Mike Klis. "He’s going to ball in that defense. I have no hard feelings about the team. I wish them nothing but the best."
At 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds, Casey is versatile enough to play anywhere on the D-line but he projects as one of two 5-tech defensive ends. We know where the 6-foot-3, 328-pound Purcell projects (nose tackle) but what about Harris?
“Pretty much I’m looking at the same role as last year," Harris told Klis. "For me, it’s always try to play with a chip on my shoulder and go out there and try and prove everybody wrong. And I’m ready to go do that again."
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As I said on Friday after the Harris news broke, the silver lining for the player is that once the dust settles on the outbreak that has the nation on lockdown and things return to normalcy, Harris gets to play another contract year in the Fangio scheme that so obviously accentuated his skill-set.
It took time for Fangio and D-line Coach Bill Kollar to realize where Harris best fit (DE not NT), but once he was put into his natural position (Week 5), he was mostly off to the races. Harris has never been a dominant run defender when it comes to plugging gaps, but he is a phenomenal backfield penetrator and that obviously really comes to the fore in the pass rush.
Harris posted six sacks last season while leading all NFL defensive linemen with nine batted passes at the line. While the 6-foot-2, 290-pound trenchman proved his pass-rushing prowess in Fangio's scheme, if he really wants to maximize his opportunity to garner a fat contract next spring, he needs to focus on honing a more well-rounded skill-set and that means getting stouter against the run.
In a system like Fangio's that plays quite well to Harris' strengths, the sky is the limit. And that's the one thing he's holding onto in the wake of his free-agency disappointment in being unable to garner the multi-year max contract he hoped for.
"But also just to be able to play in Vic’s system one more year, it was a good feeling to get … that second year is always the better year so I just felt like I wanted to stay in the same system," Harris told Klis.
Broncos fans will see Harris in mostly the same role he filled last season at defensive end, playing opposite of Casey. Outside of former Houston Texan Joel Heath essentially replacing the departed Adam Gotsis, the Broncos' D-line will look similar to last year's unit.
Year two of the Fangio defense in Denver, especially with Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan returning from injury and A.J. Bouye taking over as cornerback No. 1, is likely to feature a quantum leap forward from the unit, which only portends well for second-year QB Drew Lock and the Broncos' offense — who could be handed a lot of additional possessions and short fields as a result.