Much has been made of Jon Gruden's affinity for quarterbacks this offseason. The Bucs already had Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski, but Gruden still saw fit to bring in Jeff Garcia in free agency and then make a trade for Jake Plummer. So Gruden has the greatest affinity for any one position of any NFL coach, right?
Mike Shanahan's love for defensive linemen is making Gruden look uncommitted.
Most people are aware of the situation in the past year where the Broncos brought in essentially an entire D-Line's worth of former Cleveland Browns. That is just the tip of the iceberg however, as this offseason Shanahan has gone even deeper in his D-Line love. Yesterday the Broncos traded for Jimmy Kennedy. Four days ago they signed Sam Adams. During the draft the Broncos drafted defensive ends Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss in the first two rounds. The Broncos now have 8 first or second round picks on their D-line, and that does not even include pass rush specialist Elvis Dumervil or the troubled tackle Marcus Thomas that the Broncos selected in the fourth round this year.
So how can the Broncos afford such extravagance on the D-Line? And how can all of these guys get playing time?
Well, Crowder, Moss, Thomas, Dumervil, and Kennedy are still signed to their rookie contracts, and Sam Adams' contract is only for one year at a modest $750K base salary. Other linemen such as Ebenezer Ekuban, John Engelberger, Kenard Lang, and Gerard Warren are also signed to bargain basement prices after disappointing during their original rookie contracts. The end result is that although the Broncos have a lot of bodies and draft pedigree on their D-Line, the salary cap impact of the group is extremely minimal.
In terms of playing time, the group is essentially now a situational platoon. At defensive end the Broncos have run stoppers in Lang and Engelberger, and have the ability to mix Dumervil, Crowder, and Moss in on passing downs. At tackle they can go huge with Kennedy, Warren, and Adams, or they have the option of employing a more athletic front with the likes of Thomas, McKinley, and Demetrin Veal. The philosophy behind this is two fold: the Broncos will be able to react to any type of situational or personnel matchup, and will also be able to keep their line fresh by using rapid substitutions. The Broncos tried a similar tactic last season, albeit with fewer bodies, and had the 12th ranked rushing defense in the NFL and boasted the 15th most sacks in the league. So will the additions of Adams, Kennedy, Thomas, Moss, and Crowder push the Broncos D-Line from the middle of the NFL pack to the upper echelon? The results of this experiment remain uncertain, but rest assured, if it doesn't work out Shanahan will just bring in more defensive linemen, and then some more, and then a few more, then maybe a couple....