Broncos look to draft to rebuild lagging defense
April 18, 2001
DENVER (AP) – Look for defense to be the thrust of the Denver Broncos’ draft this weekend as head coach Mike Shanahan rebuilds what had become a tattered, demoralized unit by the end of last season.
While their diversified offense was the NFL’s second-best last season, the defense never kept pace, allowing a league-worst 246.6 yards per game passing and finishing 24th overall.
The run defense was a respectable seventh in the NFL at 99.9 yards per game, but there were glaring breakdowns there as well. Worst was the 407 yards rushing by Cincinnati that included Corey Dillon’s league-record 278 yards.
Too many opponents rolled through that defense with impunity, and heads rolled as a result. Greg Robinson was fired as defensive coordinator, and three starters _ defensive tackle Keith Traylor and cornerbacks Ray Crockett and Terrell Buckley _ weren’t invited back.
In comes no-nonsense defensive guru Ray Rhodes as coordinator, and you can bet he has had considerable input in the defensive free agents the Broncos have signed as well as the defenders they will select on Saturday and Sunday.
The most notable free-agent additions were cornerback Denard Walker and defensive tackles Chester McGlockton and Leon Lett.
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That doesn’t mean the Broncos will automatically ignore those positions in the draft.
Shanahan, typically mum in the weeks before the draft, has said you can never have enough good defensive linemen or defensive backs.
The best of a deep and talented group of defensive tackles in the draft lottery are Florida’s Gerard Warren, Georgia’s Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, Texas’ Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton, Miami’s Damione Lewis, Maryland’s Kris Jenkins and Stanford’s Willie Howard.
Warren might be the second player selected overall, right after quarterback Michael Vick. As many as six of those tackles could be taken in the first round.
Draft experts say the top defensive end prospects are Missouri’s Justin Smith, California’s Andre Carter, Florida State’s Jamal Reynolds and TCU’s Aaron Schobel.
At cornerback, the list is led by Ohio State’s Nate Clements, Syracuse’s Will Allen, Mississippi State’s Fred Smoot and Wisconsin’s Jamar Fletcher.
The Broncos’ re-signing of John Mobley means that linebacker is not a critical need, although Bill Romanowski is 35 and Al Wilson injured both shoulders last season.
Leading the linebacker prospects are Miami’s Dan Morgan, Georgia’s Kendrell Bell, Oklahoma’s Torrance Marshall, Florida State’s Tommy Polley and Arkansas’ Quinton Caver.
Denver appears set at safety with Eric Brown, Billy Jenkins, Kenoy Kennedy, George Coghill and Darius Clark returning. The class of available safeties in the draft is thin.
Shanahan has been known to surprise on draft day, so an offensive selection in the first round wouldn’t be completely out of character.
If so, expect it to come at wide receiver or in the line.