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What a 3-4 defense may look like in Denver

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January 29, 2015

Wade Phillips is returning to Denver to be the Broncos next defensive coordinator, the same role he held in Denver for three season before becoming the Broncos head coach in 1993. With coaching changes comes changes in philosophy, and the Broncos will likely be returning to a 3-4 base defense.

Here’s what that might look like.




Terrance Knighton (6’3″ 340lbs)

This is of course assuming he re-signs with the Broncos. Some have speculated Knighton will be following Jack Del Rio to Oakland as he did from Jacksonville to Denver. However, running a 3-4 scheme it is very important to bring size up the middle which Knighton has plenty of. He could fit the mold that players like Vincint Wilfork, Casey Hampton, BJ Raji among others have set.


Here’s where things get a bit tricky. Generally speaking in a 3-4 you need big physical defensive ends around 6’4″ 300lbs that can both rush the passer and stop the run if needed. Most of Denver’s ends are undersized for that role so they may have to get creative.

Malik Jackson (6’5″ 293lbs)

Jackson is easily the closest to that size and won’t have to do much to adjust.

Derek Wolfe (6’5″ 285lbs)

Wolfe could really go either way at this point. Bulk up and he’s your other starting DE or slim down and he provides depth at OLB.

Sylvester Williams (6’2″ 313lbs)

Here’s where the creativity comes in. Williams is too small to play 3-4 NT so without bulking up significantly, it might make more sense for him to switch to DE.

OLB (2)


These are easy, and probably a big reason for the switch regardless of who Denver hired as DC.

Von Miller (6’3″ 250lbs)

Miller terrorized quarterbacks in college running a 3-4 defense, getting him drafted 2nd overall in the 2011 NFL draft.

DeMarcus Ware (6’4″ 258lbs)

This will be a sight for sore eyes for Ware returning to the system he ran in Dallas, some years with Wade Phillips. This move benefits Ware the most, and will hopefully transform him into the player the Broncos hoped they were getting instead of an expensive Shaun Phillips he was last season.

Miller and Ware combined for 24 sacks in 2014. Look for that number to go up next year.

ILB (2)

Don’t be surprised to see Denver select a ILB early in this years draft. The players they have might be able to fill in fine but they would be again, undersized.

Danny Trevathan (6’1″ 240lbs)

Typically you want your inside linebackers to be around 6’3″ 250, Trevathan is on the wrong end of both of those metrics. Might be fine in coverage but could be a liability against the run.

Brandon Marshall (6’1″ 250lbs)

Marshall did an admirable job last season filling in for Trevathan and showin he could lead the defense but again, he too is undersized.

Other options

TJ Ward

Probably wouldn’t be a full position change for Ward but he did frequently play up in the box last year.

Free agents


Larry Foote (AZ)

Would provide veteran leadership and experience anchoring ILB in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense for a decade.

Ray Maualuga (CIN)

If the Broncos can’t pry away their secondary coach, maybe try a Bengals linebacker who played a 3-4 at USC.

Brandon Spikes (BUF)

Familiar with the scheme from his time in New England and the University of Florida.




Needless to say not much change is needed for one of the leagues best units. “No fly zone” is in good shape.

Chris Harris

One of the top young corners in the league with a newly inked contract extension.

Aqib Talib

Coming off a pro bowl year.

Bradley Roby

Will hopefully continue to grow after a strong rookie season.


Rahim Moore

Solid season coming back from injury.

TJ Ward

Another free agent find pro bowler in 2014 for Elway.

David Bruton

Showed he could be more than just a special teamer and can continue to be a rotational player.

There are obviously still a few holes to fill and questions to be answered, but for the most part it should be a smooth transition for the team. We know Elway will do all he can to give Kubiak and Phillips all the tools needed to succeed.

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