The Broncos moved on to a new step in their offseason program on Tuesday, beginning their minicamp.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** When the Broncos drafted outside linebacker Shane Ray in the first round, analysts and fans alike wondered about how they would incorporate the rookie in their defensive lineup with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller given the Wade Phillips' reputation to make defenses more aggressive and tenacious. Ware, having played for Phillips with the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-10, was able to shed a little light on how he might use a package with three pass rushers by recalling when Phillips did it years ago with the Cowboys.
"I think it was with me, Greg Ellis and [Anthony] Spencer," Ware began. "He would put all three of us out there and we would have just an array of rushes and we would sometimes just leave that package out there because some teams would try to do the hurry-up on us and try to run the ball but guys knew where they fit and how to stop the run and they didn't really know who to block."
Looking back at Phillips' first year in Dallas, he did use that scheme to some success. Over the course of the 2007 season, that trio combined for 30 sacks, helping the Cowboys win the NFC East with a 13-3 record and a top-five sack rate.
The most-used package that included those three players together was on the field for 22 plays (the package was used on 36 total plays). Facing that package, opponents threw 20 times and rushed twice, though they only gained an average of 4.64 yards on pass plays and 4.5 yards on rushes. With the dialed-up pressure, the Cowboys also forced two interceptions—an interception rate of 9 percent, nearly triple the defense's normal rate.
Overall with the three lineups that was used more than once, the Cowboys allowed 3.83 yards per play on 31 plays. Including the lineups that were only used once, that number rises to 5.7 because of one heck of an outlier — a 57-yard pass the Cowboys gave up against the Panthers in Week 16. Matt Moore completed the long pass to Steve Smith that took them to the 9-yard-line. However, Carolina couldn't muster more than two measly yards against Phillips' defense that ranked third-best in goal-to-go situations. They kicked a field goal and proceeded to lose to the Cowboys 20-13. Outlier aside, the average yardage allowed by the Cowboys' lineup using that package is a much better 4.2 yards-per-play mark.
Ray, who has been recovering from a foot injury, has been limited in his physical workouts but has been trying to pick up whatever he can from veterans and coaches to help his transition.
"I'm in the film room with my coach as much as I can be," Ray said, before noting that he looks to the Broncos' two powers on the edges in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware for advice. "I'm asking questions to Von and DeMarcus everyday about what's going on, what they're doing, what they're seeing, what they're feeling."
Ware described the tutelage that Ray's been getting as "the best of both worlds," with him and Miller taking Ray under their wings.
"With Shane, he's like a sponge right now," Ware said. "Him being a rookie, [he's] just figuring out where he fits in the defense, how and what position he's going to play, but [he's] also learning from Von. [He's learning] two different type of mentalities of rushing. I'm more of a technique guy that's been here for a while and just really teaching him more filmwork, more of learning how to read the tackles. And then Von, both of us working on technique work with him."
Though it's still quite early for lineup prognosticating, it's intriguing to know that using three edge rushers on the field at once is something Wade Phillips has toyed with in the past.