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OTAs will be next step to find defensive line Broncos want

5/26/2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will move into the next level of their offseason program this week when offense versus defense becomes part of the regulated equation.

The Broncos will begin "phase 3" of their offseason program this week with their first set of organized team activities. And for the first time this offseason that will mean some 11-on-11 work for the team’s new coaching staff.

"I like when we get the players on the field, get our hands in there and work," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. " … I like our progress as we go through things. [The OTAs] will be the next step."

In addition to the search for three new starters in the offensive line, the Broncos are trying to figure out how to divvy up both the work and roster spots in the defensive line. The Broncos defense had five players -- DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward -- in the Pro Bowl last season.

"I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team more talented," defensive lineman Vance Walker said.

Walker, who signed as a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs, is part of the mix in a defensive front featuring versatility. Walker, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Antonio Smith and Marvin Austin Jr. have all said they could play multiple positions in the three-man front.

And Darius Kilgo, who was the Broncos’ sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, is the only player in the group who has been a full-time nose tackle, having played the position at Maryland.

"I’ve said I think we have the personnel to move from the 4-3 to the new defense," executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "We’ve got players who started in last year’s defense who can make the change and we added some new guys we think will help us."

Wolfe, Jackson and Smith are players who project as defensive ends in the three-man front, while Williams and Austin could play at end in certain early-down situations. They are also players the Broncos are considering as options at nose tackle along with Kilgo. The Broncos currently list both Austin and Williams as nose tackles.

Walker has said he believes he could play at all three spots in the defensive front, depending on the situation, and he's started games in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense. Walker added this past week that he had not played at nose tackle much until he got to the NFL as an Atlanta Falcons draft pick in 2009.

"It wasn’t until I got to the Falcons where they wanted me to play nose and put on some more weight," Walker said. “I did that, which wasn’t a problem. I was really good at that."

Walker said when he arrived to the Oakland Raiders in 2013, the coaches there decided to use him as a defensive end in a variety of situations and spots in their scheme.

"They realized that I might have been just as good as the starters if not better," Walker said. "They kind of stuck me there. Just being quick, too. There are not a lot of guys that are 310 [pounds] and can move like a [defensive tackle] or an end. A lot of that has to do with it."

Wolfe and Jackson are two players former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio used at both defensive end and then they would move into a defensive tackle position on pass- rush downs. History would say the Broncos must answer the nose tackle question first -- former longtime Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier has always said the nose tackle is the most important player in the scheme and can be the most difficult to find because of power and agility it takes to play it -- but not all of the experienced defensive linemen will make the final roster.

Last season with a 4-3 defense, the Broncos usually had seven defensive linemen active on game day and usually had eight on the roster overall.

However, with a three-man defensive front, most 3-4 teams keeps five defensive linemen active on game days and may have just six on the roster. That leaves plenty to sort out in the coming weeks.

"It’s all about the competition," Kubiak said, "and we think we have a lot of it."