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Broncos Camp Preview: Zach Allen looks to take next step, bolster Denver's defensive line

As training camp approaches, it's time to turn our attention toward the season. Ahead of the first open training camp practice, we're examining each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to watch when practices begin and the preseason gets underway. We continue the series with a look at the Broncos' defensive line.

For more information on attending training camp this year, click here.

What we know:

The Broncos' big move in free agency on the defensive side of the ball came as the team signed Zach Allen in free agency. The former Cardinal, who will replace Dre'Mont Jones in Denver, posted a career high 5.5 sacks in 2022 as he played for Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph in Arizona.

"I think Vance is one of the best coaches in the NFL, and [I] was really fortunate to be with him for four years," Allen said in May. "If you have a chance to make it five, six, seven [years], then you're going to do that. I really am a believer in his stuff, in his coaching style. At this point, he's just a really good friend."

Allen joins a defensive line that includes D.J. Jones — who posted a strong first season in Denver in 2022 — and a veteran in Mike Purcell.

"Zach, we feel he's really good in the run game," General Manager George Paton said in March. "He provides some inside pass rush, as well. When you watch tape of Zach, it's just the way he plays. He's relentless. He's all over the field. Again, he can play the run and he can rush the passer. We're really happy to have him."

Denver may also count on 2022 draft picks Eyioma Uwazurike and Matt Henningsen to play larger roles this season. Uwazurike played in eight games and recorded 17 tackles and two quarterback hits. Henningsen appeared in all 17 games and posted 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and a sack.

Jonathan Harris could also compete for a role, and the team signed Jordan Jackson during the offseason.

Denver also signed veteran nose tackle Tyler Lancaster during the offseason, while PJ Mustipher joins the team as an undrafted free agent. Elijah Garcia also returns, while Haggai Ndubuisi will compete with the team as part of the NFL's International Player Pathway program.

What we need to learn:

What does the rotation look like?

Allen, one of the team's top free-agent additions, seems set to start at one of the team's defensive end positions. D.J. Jones, too, figures to have a major role. But there may not be much external clarity beyond that. Jones' skill set could potentially allow him to play at defensive end or defensive tackle, depending on how the team wants to use Purcell. If the Broncos choose to play Jones inside, where he made an impact in 2022, it could leave a starting spot open for a new player.

The defensive line is no easier to evaluate without pads than the offensive line, which means training camp and the preseason will be the first opportunity to get a real assessment of the group.

Could one of last year's rookies in Uwazurike or Henningsen demand more playing time? Will Purcell and Jones take the field together on base downs? Will another player identify himself as capable of a major role?

There may be a bit of unknown entering camp, which makes it an intriguing position to monitor.

Player to watch:

Zach Allen

The Boston College product has played solid football in recent years for the Cardinals, but he may be able to reach another level.

It's no easy feat to reach double-digit sacks from the defensive line — those totals come more often from outside pass rushers — but Allen has been well tutored. He worked alongside J.J. Watt in Arizona, and the Broncos view him as an ascending player.

"I definitely think I can improve, watching the film," said Allen in May when asked whether he believes he can reach double-digit sacks this season. "That's a big reason why I came here. I think there's a lot of good pieces here to help me get there and help us win some football games."

During training camp, he should get the chance to work against a pair of solid guards in Quinn Meinerz and Ben Powers. Those matchups could give an early indication of how much of an impact Allen could make in 2023.

Previous articles in the series:

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