ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To be frank, the Broncos’ defense was pushed around last year on the ground.
After falling from the third-best run defense in 2015 to the fifth-worst just a year later, the Broncos decided to make a philosophical change this offseason that would entirely change the look of the defensive line, literally.
Instead of using words such as “slippery” and “gritty” to describe the defensive line, Denver wanted their men in the trenches to be described using two words: big and strong.
“We wanted to get bigger upfront. We were undersized last year, we knew it,” Jared Crick said. “Being bigger, being stronger will help out [with the run game]. Right now, as defensive lineman, we’re doing what we can, getting stronger and getting bigger. We’re just using this summer time to be better physically than we were last year.”
The work began before the start of summer, too.
In March, with the opening of free agency, the team added Zach Kerr and Domata Peko—both of which immediately became the two heaviest players on the roster at their time of signing. After the draft, however, they were overtaken by another player in their own meeting room: undrafted rookie free agent Tyrique Jarrett, weighing in at an official 335 pounds.
“They brought me here to beef up the run defense,” Kerr said during the team’s final week of OTAs.
Not only will Kerr’s 334-pound frame be a substantial upgrade, in terms of weight, from that of Sylvester Williams’ 313 pounds in the middle of the defense line last year, it’ll be an even bigger margin when he steps outside to play defensive end.
“I’ve got a majority of my snaps at nose, but I get a good amount of snaps outside at the end positions as well,” Kerr said.
If Kerr does indeed play defensive end, this will not only show their commitment to getting much bigger along the defensive line, it will be a drastic change from last year. Just a year ago, Denver’s starting three defensive lineman weighed a combined 883 pounds, or an average of 294 pounds. This year is a different story.
“I’m 20 pounds heavier than I was last year,” Derek Wolfe said during OTAs. “Last off season was so short. It was hard for me to recover and get back to my normal weight. I’m walking out at about 305-310 [pounds] right now. I’m moving as well as I’ve ever moved, so I feel great.”
Wolfe’s additional weight wasn’t solely gained by his own desire, either. When asked if the team emphasized that he, and his fellow defense lineman, should get bigger during the offseason, Crick simply responded, “Yes.”
“I probably gained 15 pounds this offseason,” Crick said. “It’s not an advantage for yourself to be under 275, which I was at times last year, going against offensive lines in the AFC West. This offseason, I’ve tried to gain 15 pounds. Hopefully I can gain another 5 before training camp. Obviously all good weight where I can still move. I feel a lot stronger going into this summer than I have in any of the summers I’ve been in the NFL.”
If Domata Peko, Wolfe and Crick are the three starting defensive lineman entering 2017, they would weigh a combined 930 pounds—an average of 310 pounds per lineman. This would be a 16 pound increase per lineman from just a year ago. This doesn’t even include the 334 pounds that will rotate from Kerr and potentially the 335 pounds from Jarrett.
For Crick, who was listed at 285 pounds last season, this would be the first time that he’s ever played at or above 300 pounds.
“Prior to this, the heaviest I’ve been was probably 285. Then when I got here last year, it was a little tough for me to keep on the weight,” he said. “This is the heaviest I’ve been so far. If I can keep it up and keep my weight on, I’m going to be feeling a lot better than I did last year.”
Outside of football, it is rarely said that the more a person eats the better they feel. However, for the Broncos’ defensive lineman they believe this will be the case. Instead of his usual three-to-four meals a day, Crick upped his daily intake to six-to-seven meals to add the additional weight and strength.
“There’s no secret to training,” Crick said. “Train hard, eat right and eat a lot. So, that’s what I did.”
If it’s as simple as adding weight, then the Broncos accomplished their goal on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.