After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In just a few weeks, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at Denver's defensive line.
HOW WILL THE BRONCOS' DEFENSIVE LINE SHAPE UP?
The Broncos' offseason will undoubtedly be remembered for General Manager George Paton's ability to find a franchise quarterback — and for good reason. With the addition of Russell Wilson, the Broncos have vaulted back into playoff and championship contention.
But finding a fix at quarterback was far from the only item on Paton's offseason to-do list.
In 2021, despite boasting the league's third-ranked scoring unit, it was clear Denver's defense needed help up front. The Broncos weren't horrid against the run — Denver finished 15th in rushing defense — but they weren't always able to come up with stops in big moments. In games against Cleveland, Las Vegas and Kansas City, the Broncos were unable to execute in the four-minute drill and get the ball back for the team's offense. After trading Shelby Harris to Seattle as part of the package for Wilson, the team's need along the defensive line only grew.
Paton made sure to meet it.
In the first wave of free agency, the Broncos signed defensive tackle D.J. Jones, a hulking 6-foot, 305-pound player who was among Pro Football Focus' top 30 free agents.
"D.J. was a very important piece," Paton said after the signing. "I thought we needed to improve our run defense. We needed to close games better. We couldn't get off the field when we needed to last year due in large part to our run defense. D.J. is one of the better run defenders in the league."
The Broncos let their personalities shine during the annual portrait shoot. Get a closer look at the defensive linemen's time in the spotlight with these photos.
Paton then retained DeShawn Williams on a one-year deal before adding more depth in the draft. Denver used its second fourth-round pick on Eyioma Uwazurike, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound player from Iowa State, and snagged Wisconsin's Matt Henningsen in the sixth round.
Multi-year starters Dre'Mont Jones and Mike Purcell return to help bolster the line, and Jonathan Kongbo, Marquiss Spencer, McTelvin Agim and Jonathan Harris will also compete for roles.
Soon, we'll start to learn how the addition of talented players will lead to a rotation.
In the Broncos' 3-4 defense, Denver would feature two defensive ends and a nose tackle in its base defense and likely two down linemen when the team shifts to a five-defensive-back look.
Dre'Mont Jones, likely the Broncos' best pass-rushing defensive lineman, should earn a starting role for the third consecutive season, and D.J. Jones, the Broncos' prized free-agent acquisition, should also earn a starting job.
The question for Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero and Defensive Line Coach Marcus Dixon is where to play D.J. Jones. During his introductory press conference, Evero noted D.J. Jones' ability to play both nose tackle and defensive end. If they play him at nose, then Williams could be the other likely starter at defensive end — with Harris, Henningsen, Kongbo, Spencer and Agim competing for snaps, as well. But if the Broncos shift D.J. Jones to the other defensive end spot, then Purcell becomes the likely candidate to start at nose tackle. Of course, teams no longer spend the majority of their defensive snaps in a base defense, which means it's likely more important to learn which two linemen will take the field when the Broncos shift to a nickel defense.
During training camp, the Broncos should also get a sense of how they feel about their depth. Behind the two Joneses, Williams and Purcell, the Broncos largely have a group of young and/or unproven players. If Uwazurike and Henningsen show potential in the preseason — or if players like Agim and Harris continue to grow — then the Broncos should feel solid about their rotation. Most teams tend to keep six defensive linemen on their 53-man roster, which means a handful of players could compete for just two spots.
For a Broncos defense that has one of the league's best secondaries and has rebuilt its pass rush, it still all starts up front. And soon, we'll get a sense of who will lead that charge.