New Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio hasn't been shy about moving his pieces around the board in the first seven days of training camp to get a feel for the combinations he might like to use. But most of the tweaks have typically lasted for a single practice before he returned to the base alignment.
That isn't the case at defensive end, where Robert Ayers, a starter last year and one of the Broncos' two first-round picks in 2009, has been demoted to the second team behind Jason Hunter in the base package during the last two practices.
"I love Jason," said Del Rio. "Jason is a rugged defensive lineman; that's what we're looking for with our defensive line. He plays with great temperament, toughness, attitude. Every day he brings it with passion."
Ayers has started 23 games the last two years, but with just 4.5 sacks in that span -- after a sackless rookie year in 2009 -- his career has been a disappointment relative to his high draft status. Hunter, on the other hand, has nearly as many sacks (four) as Ayers since joining the Broncos in 2010, in spite of playing approximately half as many snaps.
"I haven't seen (Hunter) yet not be ramped up and ready to play hard and tough," Del Rio said. "So that's why he's running with the ones right now. We're going to play the guys that are the most dependable, the toughest, the most physical up front and he's being all that right now for us."
Ayers has also lost his grip on one of the defensive tackle slots he manned when the Broncos moved from the base alignment into their nickel and dime packages. Rookie Derek Wolfe has handled that situational work with the first team the last two days.
As with Hunter, Del Rio also described Wolfe as "rugged," an adjective he didn't use when asked about Ayers.
"Robert has talent," Del Rio said. "He's working hard. He's probably working harder than he has in a while. We'll just continue to let camp play out and let things sort themselves out. But at this point, a week into it, Jason's had a stronger start to camp. That's all."
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