4 DENVER BRONCOS

September 04, 2011

Help arrives for a D that must pick itself up off the bottom

The tapping of the cellphone against a wooden table inside the Broncos' training facility is slow at first. Maybe every other answer. But the longer Elvis Dumervil speaks about returning to the field after missing all of last season with a torn right pectoral muscle—and switching back to defensive end after moving to outside linebacker in 2009—the louder and more frequent the thuds of nervous excitement become. There is a look of serious anticipation on his face.

"When we went to a 3--4 defense [in '09], I just had to deal with it and do what I could for the team," he says. "I ended up having a pretty good year [and leading the league with 17 sacks], but a lot of people don't realize 10 of the sacks came with my hand on the ground. The 3--4 was more of a novelty for me. It was fun at the time because you got to stand up and drop into coverage and feel like you're more athletic. But I only rushed the passer 60 percent of the time. Now I'll get to rush at least 90 percent of the time. And I'm bigger, stronger and in better condition. So I'm extremely excited. I can't wait to get out there."

As they sorted through the quarterback question that had dominated discussion in camp, the Broncos were thrilled to have Dumervil back, and back in a 4--3. His injury, suffered early in training camp, was the first domino in a complete collapse of the Denver defense last year. After a solid showing in '09, the unit had league-worst averages in points (29.4) and yards allowed (390.8), ranked last in sacks (23) and gave up more rushing yards (154.6 per game) than all but one other team.

Such statistics might cause some to run for cover, but they contributed to Brian Dawkins's decision to return for a 16th NFL season. The hard-hitting safety, who joined Denver in 2009 after 13 seasons in Philadelphia, couldn't envision walking away on such a down note, and with Dumervil healthy and rookie Von Miller, taken out of Texas A&M with the second overall pick, arriving as a complementary edge rusher, the Broncos believe a dramatic turnaround is coming.

"We're excited about the opportunity to get that stench off of us," says Dawkins. "What we went through last year as a team, you wouldn't wish that on anybody. It absolutely sticks with you. But if you can learn from the past, it can motivate you to do great things. You definitely should have some pride about yourself when you see that '32' [as in ranked 32 out of 32 teams] behind your defense."

And Broncos fans should definitely feel more confident seeing "92" lining up on the edge. With a healthy Dumervil in 2009, Denver ranked 10th in the league in sacks. Many people thought the Louisville product would struggle with moving from down lineman to stand-up backer, but the transition was smoother than Dumervil's clean-shaven noggin.

After totaling 26 sacks in his first three years as an end, he had 10 through his first six games at linebacker. A 2006 fourth-round pick who'd been a starter since his second NFL season, Dumervil returned stronger and more determined in '10, but after the training-camp injury he was forced to watch one of the worst seasons in Broncos history from the other side of the glass. His inability to assist his teammates gnawed at him, but ultimately he took the long view that the time away would help his body and his game. Dumervil hadn't had such a lengthy break in training since he took up football in sixth grade, so the injury allowed him not only to heal his pec but also to strengthen other parts of his body that he felt he'd neglected over the years. He worked with specialists to grow stronger in his hips and joints and to increase his flexibility. He also added 15 pounds of muscle (he's now 5'11", 260) while reducing his body fat from 15% to 11%.

"Being out for the year is nothing you want to go through, but my legs feel fresh, and I've learned a lot," Dumervil says. "As far as playing defensive end instead of linebacker, I'm way ahead of where I would be. I'm at a position where I feel comfortable and can just go out and play. You're not as assignment-oriented [at end] as you are at linebacker. I don't have to worry about whether there's a two-receiver or three-receiver set. Just put my hand on the ground and let's go."

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 13

QB KYLE ORTON

ATT 498

COMP 293

PCT 58.8

YARDS 3,653

YD/ATT 7.34

TD 20

INT 9

RATING 87.5

RB KNOWSHON MORENO

ATT 182

YARDS 779

REC 37

TTD 8

FB SPENCER LARSEN

ATT 3

YARDS 18

REC 5

TTD 1

WR BRANDON LLOYD

REC 77

YARDS 1,448

AVG 18.8

TTD 11

WR EDDIE ROYAL

REC 59

YARDS 627

AVG 10.6

TTD 3

TE DANIEL FELLS

REC 41

YARDS 391

AVG 9.5

TTD 2

LT RYAN CLADY

G 16

SACKS 7½

HOLD 4

FALSE 2

LG ZANE BEADLES

G 16

SACKS 6

HOLD 1

FALSE 1

C J.D. WALTON

G 16

SACKS 3

HOLD 4

FALSE 1

RG CHRIS KUPER

G 15

SACKS 4½

HOLD 1

FALSE 5

RT ORLANDO FRANKLIN (R)

G 13

STARTS 12

RB WILLIS MCGAHEE

ATT 100

YARDS 380

REC 14

TTD 6

WR ERIC DECKER

REC 6

YARDS 106

AVG 17.7

TTD 1

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 32

DE ROBERT AYERS

TACKLES 39

SACKS 1½

INT 0

NT BRODRICK BUNKLEY

TACKLES 20

SACKS 0

INT 0

DT KEVIN VICKERSON

TACKLES 42

SACKS 2

INT 1

DE ELVIS DUMERVIL*

TACKLES 49

SACKS 17

INT 0

LB D.J. WILLIAMS

TACKLES 119

SACKS 5½

INT 0

LB JOE MAYS

TACKLES 40

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB VON MILLER (R)

TACKLES 68

SACKS 10½

INT 1

CB CHAMP BAILEY

TACKLES 45

SACKS 1

INT 2

SS RAHIM MOORE (R)

TACKLES 77

SACKS 0

INT 1

FS BRIAN DAWKINS

TACKLES 66

SACKS 2

INT 1

CB ANDRE' GOODMAN

TACKLES 17

SACKS 0

INT 0

DB CASSIUS VAUGHN

TACKLES 3

SACKS 0

INT 0

SPECIALISTS

K MATT PRATER

FG 16

FGA 18

XP 28

PTS 76

P BRITTON COLQUITT

PUNTS 86

GROSS 44.6

NET 36.6

*2009 statistics

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics:New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 4--12

September

12 Oakland (Mon)

18 Cincinnati

25 at Tennessee

October

2 at Green Bay

9 San Diego

16 BYE

23 at Miami

30 Detroit

November

6 at Oakland

13 at Kansas City

17 N.Y. Jets (Thu)

27 at San Diego

December

4 at Minnesota

11 Chicago

18 New England

24 at Buffalo (Sat)

January

1 Kansas City

COACH: JOHN FOX

AGE: 56

FIRST SEASON WITH THE BRONCOS

Fox, who was 73--71 in nine years in Carolina and coached the team to its lone Super Bowl, is respected for his defensive acumen and steady demeanor. The latter will be a welcome change—several Broncos said it was tough riding an emotional roller coaster under Fox's predecessor, Josh McDaniels. An even-keeled coach is just the tonic for a franchise seeking consistency and stability.

SPOTLIGHT

VON MILLER, Linebacker

This year's No. 2 overall draft pick needed only a handful of practices to make an impression on one of the toughest and most experienced critics in the game: Broncos All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey. After watching Miller go through one-on-one pass-rush drills and work the edge in nine-on-seven passing situations, Bailey said, "Von is a special player." Not "will be" a special player; Bailey used the present tense. "When you see his intelligence and some of his pass-rush moves, you can tell he's going to make plays."

It's been some time since the Broncos have had a 4--3 outside linebacker with Miller's explosion and pass-rush ability. In most cases the 6'3", 237-pound Miller will line up on the opposite side of Elvis Dumervil to prevent offenses from sliding their protections to contend with Denver's best pass rusher. The 2010 Butkus Award winner, Miller had 10½ sacks for the Aggies in a hybrid end-linebacker role called the Joker. With him attacking off one edge, Dumervil off the other and third-year pro Robert Ayers also bringing pressure—the Broncos expect significant improvement from Ayers, a 2009 first-rounder, now that he's moving from linebacker to end, his college position—Denver has the personnel to make Sundays unpleasant for opposing quarterbacks.

PHOTOMATTHEW EMMONS/US PRESSWIRE (FOX) PHOTOPETER AIKEN/CAL SPORT MEDIA (DUMERVIL)COUPE DE 'VIL After a year in the shop, a healthy Dumervil is back to boost a pass rush that had a league-low 23 sacks, just six more than he alone had in 2009. PHOTOSTEVEN LEIJA/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL/ZUMAPRESS.COM (MILLER)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)