-- Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, Moneyball, page 141
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Last year, no one had more sacks than the Broncos, who finished the season with 52. When coupled with 160 hurries, as measured by ProFootballFocus.com, and a league-high 364 yards lost on the 52 sacks, it can be argued that the Broncos had the best pass rush in the league.
A month later, the Broncos signed ex-Charger
If the Broncos are to hit the 50-sack plateau again -- which they haven't done in consecutive seasons since 1991-92 -- it won't be because Phillips replaces 100 percent of Dumervil's pass-rush production. It will be because
"There’s no way you can replace what Elvis did for us production-wise," Miller said. "But I feel like if we all take a percentage of what he did -- if I step my game up five percent, Derek Wolfe steps his game up five percent -- everybody just takes a little piece of what him leaving has taken from us, I feel like we can definitely get it done."
If it's Wolfe who ends up picking up more of the slack than others, then it will represent a change in how the Broncos amass their sacks -- from the tackle slots on the inside rather than the ends. Wolfe lines up at end in the base 4-3 defense, but when the Broncos go into their nickel and dime packages, Wolfe shifted inside last year, and is expected to do so again. It worked for six sacks by Wolfe in his rookie season -- and it could have been more.
"I know the type of year that he should've had statistically last year," Miller said. "I probably got lucky with three or four of those sacks and took three or four of those sacks away from him. So I already know what's in store for him this season."
Last year, just eight of the Broncos' 52 sacks came from players who primarily rushed the passer from inside: Wolfe's six and Kevin Vickerson's two. But as passing games quicken and quarterbacks deliver the football faster, disrupting the pocket from inside becomes more essential. Thus, with Miller established on the flank, Denver opened two consecutive drafts with Wolfe and Sylvester Williams, both of whom were stellar pass rushers in college.
"Most rookies have a ways to go, but he's a pretty quick learner," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He's quick off the ball. He's got some natural rush ability.
Between Williams, Wolfe, free-agent pickup Terrance Knighton and returning starter Kevin Vickerson, the Broncos expect to generate enough push from the inside to not need 11 sacks from the defensive end spot vacated by Dumervil.
But replacing Dumervil also means replacing the leadership of a team captain. A decent chunk of that could also fall on Wolfe's shoulders -- although as with his pass-rushing ability, the solution will be collaborative.
"You can just tell when we're working out, there's a lot of guys, leaders coming out of nowhere, guys that weren't really talking the year before," Miller said. "Elvis had that leadership he had established over so many years. But now somebody will rise during the offseason period, training camp coming around, the guys who make plays on the field. Somebody will fill that leadership void."
THE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: THE BASICS
Robert Ayers: After a year out of the starting lineup, he returns at a vital juncture in his career. An every-down role is a possibility, if he plays well enough to reduce the need for a pass-rush specialist to substitute for him in nickel and dime packages. But he has just 6.5 sacks for his career, and even though he flourished in his most extended action last year at Carolina (one sack, five tackles and two passes defensed after Dumervil was injured).
Derek Wolfe: Perhaps the most promising sign for Wolfe last year was that he didn't hit the "rookie wall" into which so many young players smash in the final weeks, playing games that don't exist in a 12-game college schedule. Half of Wolfe's six sacks came in the last three games of 2012, with one sack each game. If you believe in momentum from one season to the next, Wolfe has plenty of it.
Terrance Knighton: Del Rio drafted him as a head coach in Jacksonville, and thought enough of his progress there to bring him aboard after a pair of coaching changes left Knighton out of the mix in north Florida. "I refer to him as a dancing bear type, because he's a huge man that has the feet to go sideline to sideline," Del Rio said.
Kevin Vickerson: He could be half of a big run-stuffing pairing with Knighton when the Broncos are in their base package. But the more seasoned Vickerson also has a few things to teach Knighton. "I think we're very similar in how we play," Knighton said of Vickerson. "I'm a bit quieter on the field. I keep to myself. He's more of a rah-rah guy. He's a veteran. I try to learn as much as I can from him. I'm just trying to learn how he plays and play off him and vice versa."
Sylvester Williams: The first defensive tackle taken by the Broncos in Round 1 since 1997 showed an ornery, feisty side by getting into a tussle during organized team activities. No one wants to see such a scrum explode into a full-tilt fracas, and this one didn't. But Williams' willingness to not back down against veteran opposition revealed a fearless side that should serve him well. Such a moment also demonstrated that Williams won't be undaunted against more seasoned, accomplished foes.