The Broncos' coaches, front office and scouts spent the bulk of January breaking down Denver's own roster to surmise what players might be a fit in 2011, particularly defensively, where the team is expected to return to a 4-3 defensive front.
That could spell bad news for 3-4 stalwarts such as nose tackles Jamal Williams and Ronald Fields and linebackers who are 'tweeners.' It also could mean a return to defensive end for players like Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers.
The next step was aligning Denver's new scheme under defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and head coach John Fox with the free-agent players available. The team will be particularly aggressive on that side of the ball on the open market, as well as the draft, with fewer offensive holes to fill.
The Broncos' in-house strategy hinges largely on the decision regarding 10-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey. The team can franchise Bailey but won't with a $15 million one-year cap hit that comes with it.
Still, the team appears reticent to commit long-term to Bailey, who turns age 33 next season, so one of the few spots without a hole may create yet another crevasse.
Should Bailey sign elsewhere, it opens the real possibility Denver could target LSU's Patrick Peterson with the No. 2 pick. Peterson's size-speed ratio would fit any scheme and in Denver's case, provide a raw replacement for Bailey.
But overall, the Broncos will concentrate on rebuilding its front seven both in the draft and in free agency, while keeping tabs on right-tackle prospects with Ryan Harris due to hit free agency.
A couple of free agents to potentially keep an eye on are running back DeAngelo Williams, who would help take some of the pressure off Knowshon Moreno while adding a playmaker to the backfield. They also desperately need a dual-threat tight end, with Owen Daniels and Mercedes Lewis two of the top names available.
1. Defensive tackle: The Broncos have tried a long line of patchwork fixes in the middle of the front four for years. Now is time to get serious about rebuilding from within. If Auburn's Nick Fairley doesn't go to Carolina at No. 1 in the draft, he'd have to be considered near the top of the team's list.
2. Safety: Denver has gone the free-agent route several times since 2000 and few have lasted for the long haul. Brian Dawkins remains a top-notch leader but doesn't have the speed-athleticism combination that Allen is looking to infuse within the defense. Free safety Renaldo Hill is a heady player but doesn't consistently make big plays and is limited in coverage.
3. Middle linebacker: D.J. Williams has moved around from strong to weak to middle linebacker and back again over the last five years. But in a base 4-3 alignment, he lacks the desired thump with which to build a defense around.
Running back LenDale White continues his rehabilitation from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last August and has his sights set on returning for mini-camps. He was supposed to run on flat ground beginning in January. WR Eddie Royal's recovery from hip surgery could last into May or possibly June. WR Demaryius Thomas' timeline puts his availability for training camp in serious jeopardy.
Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.