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2009 Preview: Analyzing The D-Line

July 22, 2009

Bronco Madness is breaking out the 2009 previews and with 9 days left until training camp, and with 8 position groups to cover, we will be going at the alarming rate of 1 a day. But today, we start with certainly the most criticized portion of the defense. Our Defensive Line. Here we have reviews for every single player and a quick little overview at the end with who we would cut. 

With 11 players on the Defensive Line, that means we had to write, yes, 11 player profiles. That means you will have plenty of reading material in your cubicle today as you try to sneak looks in between meetings. Enjoy!

KENNY PETERSON:

Kenny Peterson did not even start last year. Yet somehow he managed being probably the most talented player on that entire Defensive Line, to the point where the Broncos new regime were willing to re-sign him and keep him from reaching the Free Agent market. It seemed like an obvious holdover as he compiled 3 sacks, 24 tackles and forced one fumble in only 10 games.

kennypetersonprofile

Peterson is in his 7th year pro so it would be odd if he had a “break out season” but after showing off a good blend of speed and strength he has been starting at various positions throughout the off-season. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan seems very fond of him though and sees him as the perfect fit for his trademark 3-4 defense. 

The question is no longer if  he will contribute but how he will. He could either start at Defensive Tackle or switch off with Ronald Fields. He could also play Defensive End full time but Mike Nolan might rather see him as a Defensive Tackle. He has been everything but guaranteed a roster spot and will be a player to watch in training camp and the pre-season. Grade: 7.3

MATTHIAS ASKEW: 

Matthias Askew would be another holdover from the Mike Shanahan era in Denver. He spent the final eight weeks of the season on Denver’

s practice squad after the club signed him on Nov. 3 and to everyones surprise Josh McDaniels kept him. This is probably because of his great size for the position of Defensive Tackle but in my opinion it was more because he was from Michigan State where McDaniels started his career. 

matthiasaskewprofileThe truth is he will have to fight tooth and nail for even a practice squad. He hasn’t played a game since 2005 with the Cincinnati Bengals so getting any major playing time would be very unexpected but he does seem well suited for a 3-4 defense. Askew doesn’t have great footwork but more brute strength.

Of course, as you would guess Askew isn’t a statistical giant. He has only had 5 career tackles and has only played in 6 regular season games. He would be pretty lucky to land an active roster spot but might be able to score a role in the practice squad. When you begin to build a team with a new scheme, a person that has the optimum size for the position is considered very valuable. Grade: 5.8

CARLTON POWELL:

Carlton Powell could be called the disappointment of the 2009 season easily. Not because anyone had high expectations but just because we couldn’t see anything from him. Carlton unfortunately spent his rookie season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list with an injury to his right Achilles tendon suffered during an offseason workout.

carltonpowellprofileWhile he clearly has injury concerns, he is supposed to be fully recovered and playing better than ever. Powell has a good feel for the game but still needs to build up more strength to fight off double teams, something needed in the 3-4 defense. He also will have a solid impact on the run game immediately.

Nobody is really clear on whether he will start or not but he looks very likely to make the roster at the least. I expect to see him win the number 2 defensive tackle spot but if he really falters in training camp it could potentially go to teammate Marcus Thomas. For now though, he seems to have a grip on the job and the trust of the coaches as well as the support of fans. Grade: 6.6

RYAN MCBEAN:

Ryan McBean spent the entire 2008 season on the Broncos practice squad and yet to the surprise of almost everyone he looks to start at Defensive End this season. McBean, who has only played professionally for two years, has only seen playing time in one game after being drafted in the 4th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, the Jamaican native has captured the attention of Mike Nolan and Josh McDaniels as well as the respect of the locker room.

Picture 3McBean flashes the kind of mean streak and the attitude that this defense needs when playing. He is a good tackler but does need to work on his upper and lower body strength if he wants to become a star in the NFL. I also think that he needs to work on some of his technique which seems to have been ignored by past coaches.

Unless he takes a serious plummet during training camp, he will be a favorite on the D-Line to be part of the final 53 man roster. As I said earlier, he has been starting most of this off-season and has reportedly been pressuring opposing Offenses very well. Could he be the kind of surprise player that could shock everyone and become a star? It’s unlikely but possible. Grade 7.0

RONALD FIELDS: 

Ronald Fields, will probably be the most successful player on the entire Defensive Line this season. Considered the steal of free agency by many, he is a solid player who will easily be relied on to start in 16 games. After becoming a favorite of Mike Nolan in San Francisco, he will be making his debut appearance in Denver this year and should be the best player on the line.

ronaldfieldsprofileFields shows power and low pad level, which allows him to control his area and plug things up at the point of attack. He also shows great effort and a drive to win. Critics will worry that Fields is not able to fit into the 3-4 well at either End or Tackle but I disagree and think he will be successful at Tackle.

Ronald Fields will start. I don’t see any way that this won’t happen unless he absolutely fails this training camp and pre-season. I also think that he will be the best player on the defensive line when he gets there. I could see him rotating with other players but that still seems unlikely. When you have the coaches on your side as well as a load of talent it will be hard to lose the starting job. Grade: 7.8

J’VONNE PARKER:

J’Vonne Parker who has in 5 years played for 4 teams would be the definition of a journeyman. That said, Josh McDaniels seems to like him. He was signed as a Free Agent after playing on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad and as you would guess, it is questionable whether he will make the roster or not. His stats spell that out with only 5 career tackles.

jvonneparkerprofilePersonally, I am not a big fan of Parker. He has very limited upside and all sorts of physical weaknesses. He doesn’t have the proper footwork but he does have good size for the position which the new regime has stressed is important. Parker doesn’t have very good speed off the line either.

Parker if any thing is just competing for a roster spot. Nothing more. He will not start and will probably not be anywhere in the top 3 Defensive Tackles. I couldn’t imagine him getting anything higher than a #4 spot. I think that the Broncos might potentially put him on the Practice Squad because he is eligible. He really has to perform this training camp to get a spot. Grade: 5.2

RULON DAVIS:

Rulon Davis is an undrafted free agent who I am a big fan of after watching him play at California & Berkley at the highest level possible. Known for being a high character player and a former marine he has garnered the affection of Broncos fans. After seeing Wesley Woodyard dominate as an undrafted rookie, Rulon Davis hopes to follow the path he set for undrafted rookies in Denver.

rulondavisprofileDavis is a decent athlete and is very strong. He is a powerful tackler and does a nice job in pursuit. With a non-stop motor he is very tough as well a hard worker. He doesn’t have great speed to get off the side of the line but still can stop the run for us and provide a good amount of versatility. 

Rulon like any undrafted free agent will have to fight to get on the roster but that doesn’t mean he is incapable of making it. Actually, I think that he has a better chance of making it than some veterans. He could probably play back up Right End and get some good playing time in his first year. He should watch out though because Everette Pedescleaux is eyeing this spot too and is also very talented. Grade: 6.9

NIC CLEMONS:

Nic Clemons much like the previously mentioned Kenny Peterson could end up playing either Defensive Tackle or Defensive End. While Tackle seems like the better fit for him, will he really be able to fit in with this many Defensive Tackles? After playing in his first ever game in 3 years last year he managed to actually play for 10. That said, his stats weren’t excellent with only 13 tackles total.

nicclemonsprofileClemons doesn’t bring much to the table in his skill set. He has good technique for a player who hasn’t gotten that much playing time throughout his career but it is definitely acceptable. He is a bit underweight though and he doesn’t have great strength or speed, if he was to play Defensive End.

Clemons will have to really pull off a good training camp/pre-season to make the teams active roster. The problem is, if he doesn’t make the practice squad, he won’t be able to even get on the Practice Squad as he was on the active roster all year even though he played in only 10 games. I don’t expect to see him make the cut. Grade: 6.2

EVERETTE PEDESCLEAUX:

Everette Pedescleaux whose name I have no idea how to pronounce-or spell is an undrafted free agent we picked up after playing for Northern Iowa in college. He is expected to play Defensive End for the Broncos if he makes the 53 man roster and with a solid resume from his time in college, it should be interesting to see how he plays during training camp.

everettepedescleauxprofilePedescleaux is a 5 technique Defensive End, a type of player that was very hard to find in this years draft. With excellent hand and footwork as well as decent speed for a guy who weighs in at 312 pounds, he could have quite an impact as an undrafted free agent and has a good shot at making the roster.

Pedescleaux will have to fight to get on the roster, there is no doubt. He probably will have a harder time than Rulon Davis too assuming that the Broncos and the Denver media have been pimping him up since the day we got him. Still, maybe there is a spot for both. That seems unlikely but if they both deserves spots give them it. Or at least a practice squad spot. Grade: 6.4

MARCUS THOMAS: 

Marcus Thomas has really just kind of disappeared from conversation in my opinion. With Carlton Powell coming back and Ronald Fields showing off as well as a group of surprisingly talented Defensive Ends it is easy to forget that he started all 16 games for us last year. Still, could he maybe the surprise cut from this group of Defensive Linemen?

Picture 1Thomas plays with a mean streak-there is no doubt. He is a powerful force in a 4-3 defense but there’s the catch. We now play a 3-4 defense and that is what makes me wonder if maybe we could see him lose his roster spot. He is a bit short to play DT here and isn’t so talented we can’t get rid of him.

So to many peoples surprise (as well as his), he might have to take it up another notch if he wants to keep his spot. Now, McDaniels might alienate the fans by doing that but that has never stopped him before. I don’t know how I feel on whether he will get a roster spot or not, but it is safe to say he probably won’t be high on the depth chart. Grade: 6.5

CHRIS BAKER:

Chris Baker is another rookie free agent from the small school of Hampton where he was a very productive Defensive End. Made for the 3-4 defense it is hard not to like his size as well as his skill set. That said of the three undrafted free agents on the Defensive Line, he seems the least likely to make the final cut on to the 53 man roster.

chrisbakerprofileBaker has excellent size and bulk as well as long arms and big hands which he knows how to use well. He is stout at the point of attack and has the ability to take on and shred blockers. Still, he has serious character concerns and has run into trouble off the field. It makes you wonder if we are opening a can of worms.

Some people had projected him being drafted in the 4th round but I don’t agree at all. I saw him as more of a late rounder if even being drafted. That is why he will need to fight for a roster spot very hard. He might surprise and beat out either Davis or Pedescleaux but  that would be very, very hard. Grade: 6.1

OVERVIEW:

I think saying that we have an average group of Defensive Linemen is a pretty accurate description. There is obviously potential but the best we are going to get out of them is mediocrity which would be an improvement over last year. If we could have all of our starters at the beginning of the season play for almost the entire year, we should be happy. As for my cuts at this position group, here they are:

Matthias Askew

J’Vonne Parker (Practice Squad)

Nic Clemons

Chris Baker 

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