ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For at least half his eight seasons in Denver, Derek Wolfe was the Broncos’ best all-round defensive lineman.
He had some injuries but when healthy Wolfe was strong against the run and could either get to the quarterback or work with Von Miller so the outside linebacker could get there.
Wolfe is now gone as the Broncos revamped their three-man defensive front this season. Denver allowed him to enter free agency without an offer, even though Wolfe was coming off a career-best 7.0 sacks in 12 games in 2019. He wound up signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Ravens, who are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
To replace Wolfe, the Broncos picked up Jurrell Casey via purchase/trade and Christian Covington.
The Broncos’ defensive line appeared to be a concern at the start of the offseason. But after adding Casey, Covington and rookie McTelvin Agim, while bringing back Shelby Harris and Mike Purcell, Denver’s D-line now seems to have considerable depth.
A look at the Broncos’ defensive line for 2020:
Coach: Bill Kollar
The spry and fiery 67-year-old Kollar enters his 31st season as an NFL coach. Kollar played eight seasons as an NFL defensive lineman from 1974-81, then coached the defensive linemen likes of Chris Doleman, Leonard Little, Kyle Williams, Aaron Schobel and J.J. Watt.
Kollar joined Gary Kubiak's staff in Denver in 2015, when he coached up Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson into helping the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
Projected starters: Jurrell Casey, Mike Purcell, Shelby Harris
Casey was one of the Broncos’ top offseason acquisitions. Coming off five-consecutive Pro Bowl seasons with Tennessee, Casey and the $37.9 million left on the final three years of his contract were sent to the Broncos in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick. Casey will draw $11.79 million this year; the rest of his contract is not guaranteed.
Purcell, who hails from Highlands Ranch, was an NFL journeyman with less game experience until he found the right fit with Broncos’ head coach Vic Fangio last year. Purcell was first a surprise member of the Broncos’ season-opening roster, then a starter beginning in Game 5.
Purcell’s stout play in the middle of the line keyed the Broncos’ improved run defense after the first four weeks. He was signed a second-round, $3.259 million tender as a restricted free agent in March.
Shelby Harris is coming off a career-best season and disappointing free-agent market. He had 6.0 sacks and 9 pass deflections that led all NFL defensive linemen. Yet, he drew little more than one-year offers in the market and wound up signing back with the Broncos on a one-year, $3.25 million deal.
Backups: Dre’Mont Jones, Christian Covington, McTelvin Agim
Jones was a third-round rookie last year who showed flashes but struggled to keep his weight above 280. He should be stronger this year which in turn should help him compete for a starting position.
Covington was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract as a free agent after he played the previous five seasons with the Texans and Cowboys.
Agim is a rookie from Arkansas who despite some past behavioral history was selected late in the third round because of his inside pass-rush ability. He had 9.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss his last two seasons for the Razorbacks.
Competing: DeMarcus Walker, Jonathan Harris, Kyle Peko, Joel Heath
Walker was a second-round draft pick in 2017 primarily because of his skills as an inside pass rusher. The Broncos’ previous coaching staff tried to make him an outside linebacker following injuries to Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett, and Walker has never quite found his groove since.
He did play well at times last year although various injuries set him back.
Peko, in his second stint with the Broncos, and Heath, who played the previous four seasons with the Texans, will compete with Purcell for a nose tackle position.
Jonathan Harris played in five games for the Bears and Broncos last season as an undrafted rookie.
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