John Elway and the Denver Broncos may have surprised everyone by landing Peyton Manning but now they must focus on fixing major areas of weakness on their defense.
As everyone now knows Peyton Manning is on the verge of joining the Denver Broncos assuming there are no major developments in working out the contract details. This move by Denver and Manning has made virtually every media person you read or hear proclaim the Broncos as the overwhelming favorites in the AFC West but also a possible Super Bowl candidate.
In addition there is now a likely list of free agents who many are projecting to possibly sign rather soon with Denver. The list of names usually include a few of Manning's former teammates from Indianapolis like center Jeff Saturday, running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark.
What has seemingly been overlooked in the Manning hoopla is the vast amount of improvement the Denver Broncos have to make on the defensive side of the ball to simply compete for the division crown let alone the Super Bowl.
A weakness that John Elway and company must address is their glaring hole at the defensive tackle position. Their best player at the position last season, Brodrick Bunkley, is a free agent who met with the New Orleans Saints recently. If the Broncos are unable to get Bunkley re-signed they may have to put a lot of faith into a free agent who they signed last offseason but never saw the field.
Ty Warren was signed to a two year $10 million contract last year by the Broncos after he had missed the entire 2010 season with a hip injury. Early in training camp he suffered a triceps tear that forced Denver to put him onto injured reserve thus ending another season for Warren before it ever began. So while it has been reported that Warren is preparing himself to be back for this season's training camp it would be a major gamble by the Broncos to expect much out of an aging player who hasn't seen the field in two years.
In addition to the possible loss of Bunkley and the limited expectations for Ty Warren the Broncos may possibly be without fellow defensive lineman Ryan McBean for the first six games of 2012. McBean along with outside linebacker D.J. Williams were suspended for failed drug tests. Both players did file lawsuits in Denver District Court challenging the ruling so while the case is ongoing it is possible both players are allowed to play. With the Broncos looking at possibly losing bother Bunkley and McBean look for them to take at least one defensive lineman in this year's upcoming draft.
While the interior of the Denver line is an area that their front office needs to address the secondary is another major weak spot. The last memory most anyone has of the Denver defensive backfield is watching them escort Patriot players into the endzone in the playoffs. While the Broncos do have Champ Bailey on one side, he is aging and not quite the lock down corner he once was.
The corner opposite Bailey though is where Denver has to try and make a major upgrade. Last season the Broncos started fellow thirty something Andre Goodman and it was obvious he is no longer the solid starting cornerback he once was. It is expected that Goodman will be released at some point due to his increased age and declining skills combined with a base salary of $4.62 million for 2012. There are no options internally though for Denver as the Broncos nickel cornerback last season was undrafted rookie Chris Harris from the University of Kansas. Even though Harris played well in his role he is not considered to be a starter in the league. With big name corners like Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan already off the market the Broncos will be looking for less costly options like free agent Marcus Trufant who recently visited the team. This is another area where the draft may be used to fill a need cheaply.
While the cornerback position is an area of concern the Broncos are not set either at the safety position. Last year the Broncos took two safeties in the draft in Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter. Both players were given a good amount of playing time but neither was spectacular with Moore in particular not living up to his second round draft status. In fact the performance of the returning safeties on the roster combined with Brian Dawkins not returning led Denver to sign free agent safety Mike Adams in recent days. Adams started all 16 games last year for Cleveland and should provide flexibility in coverage packages for new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Now this isn't to say the Broncos defense does not have some talent on it that can cause opposing offenses trouble. The combination of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil gives Denver a potentially devastating pass rush especially if Manning does allow the team to play from in front. The obvious comparison is that of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis from the Colts.
So while all you may hear about regarding Denver during the rest of free agency through the draft is Peyton Manning and the offense it should not be the area to focus on if evaluating the Broncos chances in 2012. The Broncos will be facing the second toughest schedule in the NFL so it is imperative for John Elway to try and improve his defense in the next few months to help support his new quarterback.