ELVIS DUMERVIL isone of the best young pass rushers in the NFL, a leader on the field and in thelocker room, the kind of ambassador whose face a franchise can plaster onbillboards all over town. But coach him at your own risk. Over the past fiveseasons—three at Louisville and then two in Denver—Dumervil has had fivedefensive coordinators. That means a different playbook to study, a differentscheme to learn, a different terminology to memorize each year. "I shouldhave kept a page from each one of those playbooks," Dumervil says. "I'dhave a pretty good collection by now."
The high turnoverrate has nothing to do with Dumervil, a 5'11" defensive end who, by allaccounts, is a coach's dream. Despite his height, or lack thereof, Dumervil ledthe Broncos with 12 1/2 sacks last season and was an alternate for the ProBowl. But it can make a guy paranoid when his boss keeps getting fired. As arookie Dumervil watched Larry Coyer get the ax. Last season, Jim Bates wasushered out of town. This year, Dumervil is intent on stopping the streak andkeeping Bob Slowik employed for a while.
Slowik hasstepped into one of the most precarious positions in the league. Coach MikeShanahan helps run the offense, so when the team falters, Shanahan can blameeither himself or his defensive coordinator. After last season, when Denverranked 30th in the league against the run, the choice was obvious."Everybody had a finger in the pie," Dumervil says. "Some weeks itwas the players, but some weeks it was the scheme. There was too much 'If thishappens, do that,' and 'If that happens, do this.' It's a lot simpler now.There's not as much thinking."
Bates was doomedfive games into last season, when the Broncos were giving up an average of187.6 rushing yards. They trashed the seven-man front that Bates was using andbrought strong safety John Lynch up to help against the run. It was hard totell who was making the decisions—Bates was listed as an assistant coach incharge of defense, while Slowik was a defensive coordinator in charge of thesecondary. But those titles were slightly misleading. "Jim ran thedefense," Slowik said. "I coached the defensive backs."
After Bates wasdismissed, the defensive backs lobbied hard for Coach Slow, citing his engagingpersonality and businesslike approach. They didn't mind that he had not run adefense since 2004, when the Packers hired and fired him in the same year."Many times, I thought I would never get this opportunity again,"Slowik says.
Hiring a newcoordinator is often a Band-Aid solution for a deeper problem in Denver:finding players to help Dumervil anchor the front seven. The Broncos were 7--9last season, only the second losing record in Shanahan's 13 years with theteam. They are talking playoffs this year, but they are in the same division asLaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Darren McFadden, so they first have tostop a few sweeps. Slowik cannot rely anymore on Lynch, who asked for hisrelease and signed with New England, but Denver did acquire 308-pound defensivetackle Dewayne Robertson from the Jets. Asked his job description, Robertsonsays, "To cause havoc."
If Robertson andDumervil can hold the line, the Broncos should contend for a wild-card spot,and Slowik should be back next year. Otherwise, Dumervil is in danger of hisstreak reaching six. "When you've had as many defensive coordinators as Ihave, you see that they use a lot of the same terminology," Dumervil says."One of them says something and it reminds you of another. I like toconnect the different plays they use."
If it seems thatDumervil is training for a second career, he is. Despite all the upheaval hehas witnessed over the past five years, he wants to be a football coach.
PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH MIKE SHANAHAN (138--90 in NFL), 14thseason with Broncos
Keary COLBERT --New ACQUISITION
Ryan CLADY (R) --New ACQUISITION
Marlon McCREE --New ACQUISITION
Niko KOUTOUVIDES-- New ACQUISITION
Dewayne ROBERTSON-- New ACQUISITION
SACKS 12 1/2
Boss BAILEY --New ACQUISITION
SACKS 3 1/2
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
2007 RECORD 7--9NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 9/13/11 DEFENSE 30/7/19
8 at Oakland (M)
14 SAN DIEGO
21 NEW ORLEANS
28 at Kansas City
5 TAMPA BAY
20 at New England (M)
9 at Cleveland
16 at Atlanta
30 at N.Y. Jets
7 KANSAS CITY
14 at Carolina
28 at San Diego
NFL Rank: 29
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .445
Games against playoff teams: 5
SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Broncos' units.
Cutler will win a Super Bowl some day; perfect sub in Patrick Ramsey.
Young is more third-down than every-down back; unit lacks size.
Marshall is one of NFL's toughest to tackle; no real No. 2.
Tony Scheffler catches, backup Graham blocks.
Lacks power and explosion; either too old or too young.
Dumervil, best of the bunch, should be a situational rusher.
Williams returns to weak side; LBs need to get speedier.
Don't blame corners: With no pass rush it's hard to cover.
Working in a new kicker and seeking to improve return units.
No one wanted Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary or MikeAnderson, either. So when Young went undrafted out of Texas in 2007, he signedwith Denver and looked to those former 1,000-yard rushers for motivation. NowYoung is setting his goals absurdly high: 2,000 yards rushing this season."It's a confidence thing," he says. "You've got to speak it beforeyou can do it."
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
August 15, 1983
IN A show-stopping performance that blazed across theDenver sky, John Elway established himself—in exactly four minutes, 22seconds—as a phenom of extraordinary proportions. That's how long it took theNFL's most heralded rookie in eons to grab the Broncos by the throat and marchthem to the winning touchdown. If he keeps this up, he'll be a legend bySeptember.
-- Douglas S. Looney
Free access to all BRONCOS stories and photographs from the SI archives, plusvideo clips.
BRETT DAVIS/US PRESSWIRE
RUSH WITH GREATNESS Dumervil had 12 1/2 sacks for an otherwise porous defense.
KYLE TERADA/US PRESSWIRE (YOUNG)
ANDY HAYT (COVER)