Pass rush improves with addition of Miller

One of new coach John Fox's favorite expressions is "the best pass defense is a pass rush." The addition of Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, arguably the draft's top edge rusher, makes sense when put into a prism in which the Broncos finished last in the league last season and 13th or lower in eight of the past 10 seasons.

One of new coach John Fox's favorite expressions is "the best pass defense is a pass rush."

Denver Broncos fans wouldn't know.

It's almost as if opposing quarterbacks have been wearing red scout-team jerseys on game days, the way the franchise has generally avoided quarterbacks in recent years.

There's an exception: Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in that individual category in 2009 as the team finished with 39 total, its highest output since 2002 (40).

But the addition of Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, arguably the draft's top edge rusher, makes sense when put into a prism in which the team finished last in the league last season and 13th or lower in eight of the past 10 seasons.

Denver's 23 sacks last season, in fact, represented at best tied for the 45th lowest total in the franchise's 50 years.

Now, the Broncos not only get Miller - who had 27.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss the last two seasons - but a healthy Dumervil coming back off a torn pectoral muscle.

Dumervil was so excited that he immediately tweeted a personal message to Miller, telling him, "Von, we out here. Let's get it."

What Denver didn't get was the defensive tackle it so desperately needs as the cost of doing business and picking Miller at No. 2 - making him the highest-drafted Denver player in history.

The buzz for the last month has been that Alabama's Marcell Dareus would be the pick. But John Elway and Co. were enamored with Miller, first off. Elway said leading up to the draft that a person doesn't even need to know what number Miller wore in college to know him since he stands out so much on tape. But from a more practical perspective, the dropoff between Miller and the rest of the outside linebackers is considered much steeper than the gap between the high-ranking defensive tackles. And with the Broncos owning two second-round picks, the franchise figures it will fill that gaping hole with either one or both those selections, with a trade for extra picks a distinct possibility, too.

Miller will immediately be slotted in as Denver's starting strong-side linebacker. That allows D.J. Williams to play his natural weak-side slot, with middle linebacker wide open, possibly to be filled in free agency or 2010 strong-side starter Mario Haggan.

The question for Miller from the get-go doesn't appear his ability to "get from Point A to Point B" as quick as possible, as the Texas A&M standout said Thursday. The skepticism will stem from Miller's ability to play first and second down and hold up vs. the run, as well as drop back in coverage.

"I've always covered running backs and tight ends and I've always dropped back into coverage. It was just my role on the Texas A&M team to get after the quarterback, where they needed me most. So on third downs I was always in a rush. If you put on the film, I think I was playing quite a bit, and I can drop back in coverage and cover a slot receiver, cover the No. 1 receiver and get on those running backs."

Champ Bailey will handle those No. 1 receivers, kid. But Denver would be pleased if Miller can stick with the tight ends in the AFC West who stretch the field, such as Zach Miller and especially Antonio Gates.

As a college senior, Texas A&M created a "joker" position outside the right or left tackle for Miller that was a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker spot, helping prepare him for his pass-rushing duties in the NFL.

Miller could find himself in a similar spot with the Broncos. Denver will align Dumervil at right defensive end and 2009 first-rounder Robert Ayers at left end. Putting Miller on the same side as Dumervil would create defensive headaches for opposing coordinators. Miller also could help take some of the pressure off Ayers, who played outside linebacker last year and to date hasn't flashed much of a pass rush.

Physically, Miller is NFL ready. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at his pro day. He has a 37-inch vertical at 6-2 1/2, 246 pounds. He gained nine pounds prior to the scouting combine after dropping to 237 to end his senior season.

"There's no doubt that his versatility is going to make us a better football team," Fox said.

But the Broncos still have that gaping interior hole on the front four by bypassing Dareus, who went to the Bills at No. 3 overall. The team has two second-round picks at 36 and 46 and one of them assuredly will be a defensive tackle, perhaps Oregon State's Steven Paea, North Carolina's Marvin Austin or Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins.

With no fourth- or fifth-round pick in the hopper, Denver could use either of those No. 2 selections to stockpile more draft ammunition.

But the first big blast was the Miller pick. Pre-draft, he had lunch and dinner with Denver, worked out for the team and also met at the club's Dove Valley facility.

"He'll be a big part of us bringing back the Orange Crush defense," Elway gushed.

That's happy talk, of course.

Let's get to a serviceable defense first, with Miller a big piece to that puzzle with much work left to do in the draft and free agency.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Defensive end Jason Hunter was treated for stab wounds at a Detroit hospital Wednesday (April 27) morning. Hunter was in stable condition.

Details are limited this far. Police say a 911 call came in at 9 a.m. Hunter played in 16 games last season and started 12 at outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 defense. He is expected to be back at defensive end this year as the team switches to a 4-3 defense.

Hunter was signed by the Broncos on Aug. 19, 2010, three days after being released by the Detroit Lions.

A statement from the Broncos said, "We are aware of the reports regarding Jason Hunter and are currently in the process of gathering information and reviewing the facts. Our thoughts are with Jason, and we are hopeful he makes a quick recovery. Out of respect for his privacy, we will not have additional comment on the matter at this time."

--Quarterback Tim Tebow believes the lockout can help players that won't change their daily regimen of working out and always trying to improve.

Asked about the negatives of the lockout, Tebow said, "Well I look at it two ways. I would love to be there going through OTAs with the coaches, with everyone; but also I look at in positive ways. I know there's a lot of great players, but I also know there's a lot of players out there that are loving this right now and they're not going to work every day extremely hungry, and they're resting on their laurels a little bit and saying, 'Hey, this is a vacation for me.'

"I love that because every day I'm looking to get better. So I believe that's an opportunity for me to get an edge on a lot of players and I'm going to take that. Whether that's true or not, that's in my head and that's all that matters."

--One of the draft prospects that Denver's front-office brass consistently has raved about publicly is Texas A&M's Miller. Elway was effusive in his praise again at his pre-draft press conference.

"Von, he's a guy that when you turn on the film, you don't even have to know what number he is. That's how dynamic he is and he's a guy that's all over the field. Obviously, he's a guy that's 250 pounds, runs under 4.5 and his production's been unbelievable. He had 17 sacks his junior year, 10 sacks last year even though he was banged up a little bit last year. But ... he's a guy that was really a pass-rusher so you've got to do some projection there. We know he can rush the passer but can he help us on first and second down and learn first and second down where he's going to have to drop in coverage and cover some running backs and tight ends?"

--Denver's draft board last year included about 100 players. It's up to 190 this year.

Part of the switch has to do to the Broncos' shift in defensive scheme to the 4-3, so there aren't fewer specific projections and traits relating to who might fit 3-4 positions.

"And maybe this is just a stronger draft," Xanders added.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would say this - a franchise guy's not stood out to us yet. But that's not to say there isn't one. We're still in the process." - John Elway, on the team's study of the 2011 quarterback class, a position Denver is unlikely to delve into with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn on the roster and huge defensive needs.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--CB Champ Bailey: Potential UFA; $43M/4 yrs, $22.5M guaranteed.
--DT Kevin Vickerson: Potential RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--OG Manny Ramirez: FA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST
--DL Justin Bannan (released).
--TE Daniel Graham (released).
--NT Jamal Williams (released).



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