Until now, defensive end DeMarcus Walker was rarely asked to work in a role similar to the one that made him a second-round pick two years ago.
He took weight off to play outside linebacker as a rookie. He regained it to try to find playing time in his second season, but the back-and-forth hindered his progress. Through two seasons, Walker has just 122 regular-season snaps to his name. With the defensive-line complement enjoying good health last season, opportunities were scarce; he played in only three games.
Six months into Head Coach Vic Fangio's stewardship, Walker feels better about his prospects now than in his first two seasons.
"I feel great. I'm way stronger and heavier than I was,” Walker said during the offseason program. “I'm just holding my own and getting better every day.
"This is a whole different system and a whole different type of technique that Coach Fangio has brought to us. This type of technique that I'm playing is something that I played at Florida State."
Anything that can bring Walker back to the role he had with the Seminoles should help. At FSU, he was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in college football, racking up 37 tackles for loss and 26 sacks during his final two seasons (2015 and 2016).
"It's more reading and also we're attacking," Walker said of Fangio's scheme. "It's the best of both worlds, which is what I'm used to. I've just got to keep on getting better."
Walker showed flashes of his college form during OTAs and minicamp. Although he occasionally got caught offside as he mistimed his rush at the snap, he displayed his quickness often enough to record pressures during most of the sessions that were open to media viewing.
"I think I'm doing everything better," Walker said. "I'm more confident, of course. But I'm just doing my job and working hard. I've been working my tail off like no other. I just sit back and prove myself right when the time comes."
That time has to be in training camp. While starting nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. is not back for 2019, the Broncos used a third-round pick on Dre'Mont Jones and signed Billy Winn in April. Winn was a solid rotational lineman for the Broncos in 2016.
So even before discussing the rest of the young linemen looking to make an impact, Walker finds himself in a roster crunch. If the Broncos keep six defensive linemen once again, someone among Jones, Winn, Walker and veteran Zach Kerr could be on the bubble.
When full-pad practices begin, Fangio expects to have a better read on Walker's outlook.
“I think he’s making progress and ultimately with D-Line and O-Line you have to have the pads on to see," Fangio said during OTAs. "I like where he’s at. I like where he’s at emotionally too. I think he’s in a good spot emotionally. He’s probably matured in the last couple of years and we're going to see what he has or doesn’t have here come training camp.”