2017 Broncos Season, Defense and Special Teams Questions
The Broncos are heading toward summer, mini-camps, training camp, and the start of the 2017 regular season. Yesterday I looked at the focal areas and questions on offense. Today I'll look at defense and special teams, which is a shorter list.
Depth in the back end
About: The Broncos have a great front line of linebackers and secondary with the No Fly Zone. Von Miller, Shane Ray, Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis are poised to start at linebacker. Chris Harris, Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby are the top corners, while Darian Stewart and TJ Ward man the safety positions. But the team needs to continue to build depth. Justin Simmons and Will Parks must continue to develop at safety, and the hope is rookie Brendan Langley can join with Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon to provide some depth at corner. In the linebacking core, the Broncos have Shaq Barrett, but must continue to develop depth behind the starters, especially in the middle. Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson have plenty of pressure to perform in 2017.
Defensive Line Issues
On the Roster: Derek Wolfe, Jared Crick, Domata Peko, Zach Kerr, Billy Winn, Kyle Peko, Adam Gotsis, and Kasim Edebali
About: The defensive line was a weak spot last season, and is still a work in progress. Though the Broncos boast a top five defense in the NFL, they were woeful at times against the run. The combination of Crick and Gotsis was not enough opposite Wolfe at defensive end, and Sylvester Williams never developed into the force in the middle the Broncos had hoped. This off-season didn't yield a lot of high-impact signings, either. Domata joins cousin Kyle Peko and Zach Kerr to provide beef in the middle. The Broncos have to hope the production is an upgrade. The Broncos' biggest draft on defense was DeMarcus Walker in round two, a defensive end from Florida State. Some combination of Walker, Crick, and Gotsis needs to step it up for the Broncos in 2017.
Special Teams Captain
About: The past two seasons, the Broncos have seen their leader on Special Teams depart. First, it was safety David Bruton. This off-season, it was corner Kayvon Webster, who went to the Rams. So who will step up into that leadership void? That question is muddied, but there will be plenty of people vying for the spot. Brendan Langley, the corner the Broncos drafted in round three, projects as a Special Teams player. Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer have also been key contributors on Special Teams, as have reserve linebackers Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson. The pre-season will say a lot about who steps up, and Special Teams could be a place where those on the bubble earn their roster spot.
About: The Broncos have been poor in the return game for a couple of seasons, but they're hoping to improve. Jordan Norwood, despite setting a punt return record in Super Bowl 50, flamed out in 2016, often fumbling more than creating dynamic plays. Kalif Raymond had flashes of speed and brilliance, but no consistency, and Cody Latimer was a reliable returner in 2016, but certainly didn't make anyone fear his ability. Enter a trio of rookies, Brendan Langley, Carlos Henderson, and Isaiah McKenzie, all of whom project as potential Special Teams contributors. While Henderson might be a force on offense, and Langley could be a key part of the No Fly Zone, McKenzie's selection was the most intriguing. At the University of Georgia he was an explosive kick returner who often returned them for touchdowns. His selection at an already deep position seemed particularly geared toward kick and punt returns, and I can't wait to see what he can do. Either way, the Broncos invested heavily in speed with an eye toward improving in the return game. Soon enough we'll see if it will pay off.