ELVIS DUMERVIL is
one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL, a leader on the field and in the
locker room, the kind of ambassador whose face a franchise can plaster on
billboards all over town. But coach him at your own risk. Over the past five
seasons—three at Louisville and then two in Denver—Dumervil has had five
defensive coordinators. That means a different playbook to study, a different
scheme to learn, a different terminology to memorize each year. "I should
have kept a page from each one of those playbooks," Dumervil says. "I'd
have a pretty good collection by now."
The high turnover
rate has nothing to do with Dumervil, a 5'11" defensive end who, by all
accounts, is a coach's dream. Despite his height, or lack thereof, Dumervil led
the Broncos with 12 1/2 sacks last season and was an alternate for the Pro
Bowl. But it can make a guy paranoid when his boss keeps getting fired. As a
rookie Dumervil watched Larry Coyer get the ax. Last season, Jim Bates was
ushered out of town. This year, Dumervil is intent on stopping the streak and
keeping Bob Slowik employed for a while.
stepped into one of the most precarious positions in the league. Coach Mike
Shanahan helps run the offense, so when the team falters, Shanahan can blame
either himself or his defensive coordinator. After last season, when Denver
ranked 30th in the league against the run, the choice was obvious.
"Everybody had a finger in the pie," Dumervil says. "Some weeks it
was the players, but some weeks it was the scheme. There was too much 'If this
happens, do that,' and 'If that happens, do this.' It's a lot simpler now.
There's not as much thinking."
Bates was doomed
five games into last season, when the Broncos were giving up an average of
187.6 rushing yards. They trashed the seven-man front that Bates was using and
brought strong safety John Lynch up to help against the run. It was hard to
tell who was making the decisions—Bates was listed as an assistant coach in
charge of defense, while Slowik was a defensive coordinator in charge of the
secondary. But those titles were slightly misleading. "Jim ran the
defense," Slowik said. "I coached the defensive backs."
After Bates was
dismissed, the defensive backs lobbied hard for Coach Slow, citing his engaging
personality and businesslike approach. They didn't mind that he had not run a
defense since 2004, when the Packers hired and fired him in the same year.
"Many times, I thought I would never get this opportunity again,"
Hiring a new
coordinator 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--9
last season, only the second losing record in Shanahan's 13 years with the
team. They are talking playoffs this year, but they are in the same division as
LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Darren McFadden, so they first have to
stop a few sweeps. Slowik cannot rely anymore on Lynch, who asked for his
release and signed with New England, but Denver did acquire 308-pound defensive
tackle Dewayne Robertson from the Jets. Asked his job description, Robertson
says, "To cause havoc."
If Robertson and
Dumervil 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 his
streak reaching six. "When you've had as many defensive coordinators as I
have, 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 to
connect the different plays they use."
If it seems that
Dumervil is training for a second career, he is. Despite all the upheaval he
has witnessed over the past five years, he wants to be a football coach.
STARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH MIKE SHANAHAN (138--90 in NFL), 14th
season with Broncos