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Denver Broncos

Stadium: Sports Authority Field | Coach: John Fox
Team RankingOverallRushingPassing
Offense14th95.0 (23rd)248.0 (11th)
Defense27th93.5 (10th)300.5 (29th)

Does Quinn have a shot to start?

The Sports Xchange
 
Does Quinn have a shot to start? · Notes, Quotes · Strategy And Personnel
 

While much of the discussion has revolved around quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, a report by Chris Mortensen on ESPN Radio claimed Brady Quinn can't be counted out as a potential starter.

Mortensen said director of football operations John Elway and coach John Fox have said Quinn has a legitimate chance of winning the job.

Said Mortensen, "I can tell you unequivocally that if you talk to John Elway and John Fox, they will tell you emphatically that Brady Quinn is absolutely in the mix in terms of the competition for the starting job. They are not handing it to Tim Tebow. They are not handing it to Kyle Orton. They may have a depth chart to start out, but I know in communicating and speaking to both men that Brady Quinn is not forgotten."

--One of new coach John Fox's favorite expressions is "the best pass defense is a pass rush."

Denver Broncos fans wouldn't know.

It's almost as if opposing quarterbacks have been wearing red scout-team jerseys on game days, the way the franchise has generally avoided quarterbacks in recent years.

There's an exception: Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in that individual category in 2009 as the team finished with 39 total, its highest output since 2002 (40).

But the addition of Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, arguably the draft's top edge rusher, makes sense when put into a prism in which the team finished last in the league last season and 13th or lower in eight of the past 10 seasons.

Denver's 23 sacks last season, in fact, represented at best tied for the 45th lowest total in the franchise's 50 years.

Now, the Broncos not only get Miller - who had 27.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss the last two seasons - but a healthy Dumervil coming back off a torn pectoral muscle.

Dumervil was so excited that he immediately tweeted a personal message to Miller, telling him, "Von, we out here. Let's get it."

What Denver didn't get was the defensive tackle it so desperately needs as the cost of doing business and picking Miller at No. 2 - making him the highest-drafted Denver player in history.

The buzz for the last month has been that Alabama's Marcell Dareus would be the pick. But John Elway and Co. were enamored with Miller, first off. Elway said leading up to the draft that a person doesn't even need to know what number Miller wore in college to know him since he stands out so much on tape. But from a more practical perspective, the dropoff between Miller and the rest of the outside linebackers is considered much steeper than the gap between the high-ranking defensive tackles. And with the Broncos owning two second-round picks, the franchise figures it will fill that gaping hole with either one or both those selections, with a trade for extra picks a distinct possibility, too.

Miller will immediately be slotted in as Denver's starting strong-side linebacker. That allows D.J. Williams to play his natural weak-side slot, with middle linebacker wide open, possibly to be filled in free agency or 2010 strong-side starter Mario Haggan.

The question for Miller from the get-go doesn't appear his ability to "get from Point A to Point B" as quick as possible, as the Texas A&M standout said Thursday. The skepticism will stem from Miller's ability to play first and second down and hold up vs. the run, as well as drop back in coverage.

"I've always covered running backs and tight ends and I've always dropped back into coverage. It was just my role on the Texas A&M team to get after the quarterback, where they needed me most. So on third downs I was always in a rush. If you put on the film, I think I was playing quite a bit, and I can drop back in coverage and cover a slot receiver, cover the No. 1 receiver and get on those running backs."

Champ Bailey will handle those No. 1 receivers, kid. But Denver would be pleased if Miller can stick with the tight ends in the AFC West who stretch the field, such as Zach Miller and especially Antonio Gates.

As a college senior, Texas A&M created a "joker" position outside the right or left tackle for Miller that was a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker spot, helping prepare him for his pass-rushing duties in the NFL.

Miller could find himself in a similar spot with the Broncos. Denver will align Dumervil at right defensive end and 2009 first-rounder Robert Ayers at left end. Putting Miller on the same side as Dumervil would create defensive headaches for opposing coordinators. Miller also could help take some of the pressure off Ayers, who played outside linebacker last year and to date hasn't flashed much of a pass rush.

Physically, Miller is NFL ready. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at his pro day. He has a 37-inch vertical at 6-2 1/2, 246 pounds. He gained nine pounds prior to the scouting combine after dropping to 237 to end his senior season.

"There's no doubt that his versatility is going to make us a better football team," Fox said.

But the Broncos still have that gaping interior hole on the front four by bypassing Dareus, who went to the Bills at No. 3 overall. The team has two second-round picks at 36 and 46 and one of them assuredly will be a defensive tackle, perhaps Oregon State's Steven Paea, North Carolina's Marvin Austin or Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins.

With no fourth- or fifth-round pick in the hopper, Denver could use either of those No. 2 selections to stockpile more draft ammunition.

But the first big blast was the Miller pick. Pre-draft, he had lunch and dinner with Denver, worked out for the team and also met at the club's Dove Valley facility.

"He'll be a big part of us bringing back the Orange Crush defense," Elway gushed.

That's happy talk, of course.

Let's get to a serviceable defense first, with Miller a big piece to that puzzle with much work left to do in the draft and free agency.

--General manager Brian Xanders has been directly involved in drafts for the last 15 years.

He's never had an outside linebacker earn the type of pre-draft grade of second overall pick Von Miller, a prolific pass rusher at Texas A&M.

"I've never seen a player with his ability at his position," Xanders said Saturday after wrapping up the team's post-draft press conference.

On the scouting scale, an 8.0 grade is a rarity, which would be afforded to a Sam Bradford at No. 1 overall last year or perhaps Stanford's Andrew Luck next April. A 9.0 is a near impossibility.

Xanders wouldn't give away Denver's scale number but did say Miller graded out as an immediate starter and that 10 teams called him to tell him Miller was the best player on their overall board.

"His athleticism at 248 pounds matched up with average starting corners and receivers in the league. But his production, graded off the tape, was so rare. And his mismatch ability, there were tackles he'd run by and they wouldn't touch him."

The Broncos bypassed Alabama's Marcell Dareus, the top-rated defensive tackle, because they felt Miller was so special. Miller ended up being one of six defensive players picked by Denver. The team also grabbed two safeties, two more linebackers and a defensive end to help bolster a Denver defense that ranked last overall.

The only issue was that, by grabbing Miller, 12 defensive tackles overall went in Round 1. Denver didn't feel comfortable enough to address that area the rest of the way, feeling it would be reaching.

The position entering draft weekend was the club's biggest glaring need.

Thus, Denver will push hard in free agency to fill that void. The team will try to re-sign pending free agent Marcus Thomas and peruse the open market.

At the draft, the goal was to fill four starting slots within four picks in the top 68, and the Broncos may have done just that: at outside linebacker with Miller; at free safety with UCLA's Rahim Moore; at middle linebacker with North Carolina State's Nate Irving; and at right tackle with Miami's Orlando Franklin.

"One of the main criteria in this draft was to get faster on defense," coach John Fox said. "That's something we felt was a deficiency and I think we accomplished that in a pretty big way."

It also was an apparent victory for Denver's new power structure, with Xanders, Fox and new executive vice president of football operations John Elway running the draft for the first time.

"I was really happy with the whole process," Elway said. "We discussed a lot of things and came out unanimous on who's going to be the next guy. It worked well, especially when you look at the guys we got."

BEST PICK

Linebacker Von Miller: He will be an instant starter at strong-side linebacker and immediately boost a pass rush that posted just 23 sacks last season, tied for at least the 45th worst showing in Denver's 50-year history.

COULD SURPRISE

Linebacker Nate Irving: Bill Parcells in a TV special had Irving as the draft's top inside linebacker with a first-round grade. Denver's brass saw many of the qualities, touting his non-stop motor and ball-hawking skills.

A closer look at the Broncos picks:

Round 1/2 -- Von Miller, OLB, 6-21/2, 246, Texas A&M

The conventional wisdom was that Denver would fill a gaping hole at defensive tackle with Marcell Dareus. But John Fox saw Miller as slightly more explosive and the pass rush that produced just 23 sacks last season a more glaring need. Miller with the returning Elvis Dumervil significantly boosts Denver's ability to attack the pocket.

Round 2/45 - Rahim Moore, FS, 5-111/2, 202, UCLA

The safety class overall is considered weak but there's near universal opinion that Moore, if not the top available, is among the best options. Moore has a real chance to unseat Renaldo Hill at free safety, as the Broncos continue to try and improve their range and speed defensively.

Round 2/46 - Orlando Franklin, OT, 6-5, 316, Miami

Denver expects to lose incumbent Ryan Harris at right tackle and Franklin likely will be given the opportunity to step in immediately to buttress an already young offensive line. Franklin also played left tackle as a senior, but the Broncos believe Franklin has the size and nasty demeanor as a run blocker but will have to prove he can adequately protect lefty Tim Tebow's blind side.

Round 3/67 -- Nate Irving, MLB, 6-1, 242, North Carolina State

Irving is the kind of player that doesn't necessarily wow you with measurable - particularly after a severe 2009 car accident sapped some of his strengths - but he is a player who is constantly around the ball. And the tenacity he demonstrated to return from multiple injuries demonstrates the football-first mentality Denver sought in its prospects.

Round 4/108 Quinton Carter, S, 6-01/2, 211, Oklahoma

Denver tried to address its safety position in 2009 with the developmental additions of Darcel McBath and David Bruton. Neither has emerged as a bona fide starter candidate, with McBath suffering a litany of injuries. The Broncos try again with both Carter, more a hard-hitting, inside-the-box type, to add to second-round pick Rahim Moore.

Round 4/129 - Julius Thomas, TE, 6-4 1/2, 246, Portland State

The Broncos try to land lightning in a bottle a la Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham, taking a player with a steep basketball background and converting him to a viable NFL tight end. Denver, swapping with Green Bay to make the pick, has a need at the position for someone who can stretch the field vertically with soft hands. Thomas may fit that bill on that front but is raw and also must get stronger, benching 225 pounds just 16 times at the combine.

Round 6/189 -- Mike Mohamed, MLB, 6-3, 239, California

The third linebacker on draft weekend by Denver, Mohamed figures to battle Irving at middle linebacker but has moved all around his collegiate 3-4 alignment. Mohamed isn't a burner but is quick, athletic and smart and racks up tackles. He was Cal's leading tackler at 112 in 2009 and 95 in 2010. Should be a productive special teams player.

Round 7/204 -- Virgil Green, TE, 6-3, 245, Nevada

The Broncos released tight end Daniel Graham and 2009 second-rounder Richard Quinn still has only one catch on his resume. So it was imperative Denver shored up the position. Green joins Thomas two rounds earlier as immediate combatants for playing time. Green has freakish athleticism with a 42.5 inch vertical leap and a 4.5 40 time. He's also been productive, with 58 catches and 10 touchdowns the last two seasons, in a spread offense run by San Francisco second-round pick Colin Kaepernick.

Round 7/246 Jeremy Beal, DE, 6-2, 262, Oklahoma

Denver finally dips into the defensive line pool and emerges not with a tackle but end in Beal, a three-year starter. Beal is considered a high energy player who could help as a situational pass rusher with 28 sacks over the last three years.

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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