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Broncos Training Camp Day 12 Takeaways: Depth forced into action on D-line

Posted Aug 12, 2017

With Billy Winn out for the season and Derek Wolfe injured, Zach Kerr's role is certain to increase ... and how the competition on the O-line is heating up as camp ends.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The sight of Derek Wolfe leaving the field on a cart jarred the Broncos, and while his ankle injury isn't expected to sideline him into the regular season, it does force the Broncos to adapt to yet another front-seven injury.

With DE Billy Winn lost for the season because of a torn ACL suffered Thursday night in Chicago and OLBs Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett not expected to return until early in the regular season, the Broncos were already moving pieces around.

Rookie DE DeMarcus Walker has worked at outside linebacker the last week and a half. Even with Wolfe expected to miss some time because of the lower-ankle injury, Walker is expected to remain at linebacker for now, Head Coach Vance Joseph said.

In the meantime, DEs Adam Gotsis and Zach Kerr will be asked to step forward. Kerr, in particular, will likely handle a multi-faceted role, seeing action as a three-technique defensive end and as a nose tackle behind starter Domata Peko.

"I’m wherever they want me to play," Kerr said. "I went into the game as the second end and then played the majority of snaps at nose when Billy went down. I’m cool with being a gadget man."

Kerr said he's made a "quick" adjustment to the defense, but the need to learn multiple positions has forced him to study more.

"Sometimes, it’s a little bit different because I’m playing two different positions,” he said. "Technique at nose compared to a three-technique is a little bit different and vice versa especially in the playbook. There’s definitely different things for the nose and the three to do. It’s coming along pretty quick. I’ve just got to still keep polishing."

With Wolfe and Winn sidelined, the Broncos need Kerr to shine bright, and shine quickly.

1. SETTING DEPTH UP FRONT

The starting quintet on the offensive line matters. But the sixth offensive lineman matters, too. So does the seventh. Rare is the year in which a team goes through all 16 games with the same first-team offensive line.

So when Head Coach Vance Joseph, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy and Offensive Line Coach Jeff Davidson shuffle the deck, it's about something bigger. Whether it's getting Allen Barbre first-team repetitions or rotating Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo in at tackle or giving Connor McGovern a look at right guard while Ron Leary recovers from a groin injury, the moves allow the coaches to figure out the contingency plans that are inevitably used over the course of a season.

"The offensive line is like running back in my opinion -- you need more than five, anyway," Joseph said. "The more we can work McGovern at some left [guard], to work Barbre there left and right -- in my opinion, that’s a good thing for the offensive line."

That is more crucial than simply having the same group of five together for as many snaps as possible. While cohesion and chemistry do matter along the offensive line, they take a back seat to finding out the best five linemen, followed by the top reserves who will be active on game day and must have the versatility to line up at multiple positions.

"As far as the guys playing together, that’s kind of not important — it’s your job to block the three-technique or block the shade," Joseph said. "Whoever’s out there, it works. I’m not concerned about the one group playing together. This is more about guys playing different positions."

2. BARBRE UP TO SPEED

On the first day of training camp, Head Coach Vance Joseph told Orange and Blue 760 that he expected it would take Barbre approximately a couple of weeks to fully learn the offense.

That time has passed, and right on schedule, the competition at left guard that Joseph repeatedly mentioned at press conferences is now afoot. Barbre split first-team repetitions with Max Garcia during Saturday's practice.

"Allen Barbre is a pro's pro. He came in and hit the ground running," Joseph said after practice. "He hasn't made a bunch of errors at all. He's a tough guy. He makes pass pro[tection] look easy at times. He's a tough guy. It's what we saw on tape."

3. SLOTER: FIRST GAME WAS A CHANCE TO LEARN

About a half-hour after practice ended, rookie quarterback Kyle Sloter stepped into a phalanx of media more crowded than any in-game huddle he'd ever seen and answered a barrage of questions with the poise of a seasoned pro.

The attention was to be expected after he led the Broncos on a pair of touchdown drives late in their 24-17 preseason-opening win at Chicago on Thursday night. But he downplayed the accomplishment -- including the 47-yard touchdown pass to WR Isaiah McKenzie, who had plenty of space to himself as the beneficiary of blown coverage.

"The good: I think I can step up in the pocket and throw it 50 yards wide open to a guy,” said Sloter when asked what he saw from reviewing the game film.

But there was more that he felt he needed to work on.

"Bad: I’ve just got to refine the footwork and fix the timing and all of that stuff," he said. "There’s a couple of plays where I could probably go somewhere else with the ball.

"It was my first time out there and I’m going to learn. We’re learning on the fly. I’m not getting too many reps out here [in practice], so I’ve got to make the most of it when I get out there in the game."