ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos defense in 2012 will be sporting a new look up front.
New Defensive Line Coach Jay Rodgers values size in the middle, and the offseason has certainly added that to Denver's defensive tackle position.
The team selected Derek Wolfe with its first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, signed former Bronco Justin Bannan, and got Ty Warren back healthy under a restructured contract.
"Obviously with Von (Miller) and Elvis (Dumervil) being dynamic guys on the outside, a lot of teams will use running backs to chip those guys," Rodgers said. "Which makes the inside guys even more important to create not only push up the middle but also be able to work those guards and work the edges with the guards. I know as a D-line coach, the worst position you can put a quarterback in is having people in their lap, because they can't step into throws and it affects the balls.
"Those guys up front, in between Von and Elvis, are very much important."
One of those players is Warren, a 10th year veteran with two Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots. He missed the last two seasons with injuries, but the former All-Pro believes he's in the best shape of his NFL career.
"I'm about as fresh as I have ever been," Warren said. "As far as my body feeling good, I probably haven't felt this good since I was bigger than everybody else in high school, when I could go play a game and dominate and walk away without a scratch on me."
Defensive end Jason Hunter, entering his third year with the team, thinks Warren can make a huge impact this year on the defensive line.
"That dude is disruptive," Hunter said. "He gets in there, makes plays. He's a big guy so it's hard to move him. He's dominant. Having him healthy is going to be a tremendous difference to our defense."
The defense welcomed another interior lineman with 10-plus years of experience with the free agent signing of Bannan. An 11th-year vet, Bannan started all 16 games in his one-year stint with the Broncos in 2010. Last year, with the St. Louis Rams, he started 14 games.
Denver also added some young, fresh legs to the middle. With their first pick in the 2012 draft, the Broncos selected Wolfe from the University of Cincinnati.
Head Coach John Fox said Wolfe was a player the Broncos had pegged for their pick all along.
"He is very, very productive as far as creating havoc on the quarterback, mostly because he does a great job with his hands," Fox said. "I think he's the most productive sack guyof all the tackles in the draft. He has a great motor. On some testing things that we do, he is a great-character guy and a guy we think will bring a great attitude to our defense."
After watching the rookie on tape, Warren shares Fox's assessment.
"As far as Mr. Wolfe, I've seen film on him and he looks like a heck of a player," Warren said. "He looks like he's going to develop into something special if everything goes his way. I'm excited about all my teammates, all the guys on the defensive line that I play alongside of."
Another tackle likely to contribute in the middle for Broncos this year will be Kevin Vickerson. "Vick," as his teammates call him, missed 12 games last year with an injury but is now healthy and heavier this offseason. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio made it known he prefers his tackles on the larger side, so he's excited about using Vickerson on the inside of his 4-3 defense.
"One of the conversations early that (Vickerson and I) had was, 'Hey, what do you want me to weigh?'" Del Rio recalled. "I said, 'Well, the guy I looked at on film last year looked like a defensive end that was moved in there. It was a narrow body. We'd like to see a large rear end in there.' So he's made it a little bigger (laughs)."
"(Vickerson has) added some good weight," he continued. "We're trying to make sure it's good weight he's adding. He's working hard in the weight room and getting himself into shape."
The defensive line could also get some support from a member of last year's practice squad that has earned praise in OTAs and minicamp - Sealver Siliga.
"(Siliga is) a guy that can give us a little bit of a presence in there, eat up blocks and give us a little bit of a push in the middle," Del Rio said. "His demeanor is excellent. He participated in the rookie minicamp. Everything we've asked of him in terms of weight room, conditioning, studying and then work on the field, I think he's been reallygood."
In his first year as defensive line coach, Rodgers hopes for a smooth transition, thanks to all he learned from the man he's replacing, who had 17 years of experience in the NFL.
"Obviously, Coach (Wayne) Nunnelly is arguably one of the best D-line coaches in the National Football League and has been for a longtime," Rodgers said. "Having him as a mentor over the past couple years has been tremendous for me in my learning process and I look to grow beyond these years and hopefully for a lot of years to come."
Though he's only about halfway through his first offseason in a new role, Rodgers has a precise and distinct philosophy he wants his line to personify.
"Definitely in the run game, we want to be a physical presence up front," Rodgers said. "If we can take care of the run without using anybody else besides D-lineman, that's what we want to do. It starts with being physical at the point of attack. There are specific techniques that we havethat help us, but bottom line we need to get off the ball and strike and separate and be a physical presence. In the passing game, everything startswith the run first. If we stop the run early, we get a chance to rush the quarterback and get plays on him."
MEET THE LINEMEN
Robert Ayers: The fourth-year pro has been with the Broncos his entire career and played in all 16 games last year, making a career high 13 starts and recording 39 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.
Justin Bannan: The former Broncos defensive tackle started all 16 games during his one-year stint with the team in 2010. An 11th-year veteran, Bannan has played in 144 NFL games and made 269 tackles.
Jeremy Beal: A seventh-round pick in 2011, Beal racked up accolades at Oklahoma such as Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and second-team All-America honors in 2010.
Jamie Blatnick: Signed to the Broncos as a college free agent in 2012, Blatnick led the Oklahoma State Cowboys with 13.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in 2011.
Elvis Dumervil: The sixth-year defensive end holds club record for most sacks in a single season with 17, set in 2009. Dumervil is averaging more than 10.0 sacks per season in his five years in the league, all with the Broncos.
Ben Garland: The defensive lineman hailing from the Air Force Academy was signed as a college free agent in 2010. During the offseason, Garland was sworn-in to the Colorado Air National Guard outside the Broncos facilities at Dove Valley.
Jason Hunter: The seventh-year veteran played in every game the last two seasons with the Broncos, making a total of 14 starts.
Malik Jackson: A fifth-round draft pick in 2012, Jackson started all 12 games at defensive tackle for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2011, earning first-team All-SEC honors with a team-best 11 tackles for a loss.
Cyril Obiozor: Entering his fourth year in the NFL, Obiozor has spent each year in the league with a different team, playing in 13 games and recording seven tackles.
Sealver Siliga: Brought on as a free agent during the 2011 season, the 307-pound tackle has yet to see game action as a Bronco but has been drawing some attention from the coaching staff this offseason.
Mitch Unrein: The third-year tackle from Wyoming was brought in as a free agent in 2010. He played in 14 games last year and recorded eight tackles.
Kevin Vickerson: A seventh-year tackle, Vickerson missed the final 11 weeks of the 2011 season with an injury. In 2010, he started 12 games for the Broncos.
Ty Warren: Entering his 10th year in the league, Warren has two Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots. He is entering his second year with the Broncos but missed all of last season with an injury.
Derek Wolfe: The team's first pick in the 2012 draft, the former Cincinnati Bearcat led the Big East and was fifth in the nation last year with 21.5 tackles for a loss.