McClain, Pouncey or bust...
By Dave Krieger
Josh McDaniels said all the things coaches have to say at their NFL-mandated pre-draft news conferences - love every player, would take one at any position, willing to trade up or down - but he also said some things he didn't have to say.
Whether these things are to be believed is another question. All coaches throw out at least a little pre-draft misdirection, and we don't have a lot of experience separating McDaniels' direction from his misdirection.
That said, none of it dissuaded me from thinking the obvious course is also the right one: If he's there, the Broncos should draft Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain with the 11th pick of the first round. If he's not, they should trade down a few spots and take Florida center Maurkice Pouncey.
As to whether McClain will be there, your guess is as good as mine. Jacksonville, picking just ahead of the Broncos at No. 10, could take him just as easily - or possibly ask for something from the Broncos to flop picks and take somebody else.
But if McClain is gone when Roger Goodell puts the Broncos on the clock, it will be time to slide back a bit, which they've already gotten inquiries about doing. There, they could make Pouncey the 6-foot-5, 305-pound anchor of the bigger, stronger offensive line McDaniels covets.
There are other possibilities at No. 11, of course. There's Dez Bryant, the Oklahoma State wide receiver who could replace Brandon Marshall. There's Dan Williams, the Tennessee defensive tackle who might - and I emphasize might - star on the defensive line.
And there are other possibilities if they move back, including Idaho offensive lineman Mike Iupati and Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Not to mention Tim Tebow, whose fans may still be hanging out in the parking lot at Dove Valley, I'm not sure.
Still, centers worth first- round draft picks don't come along every year, and Pouncey has come along in a year when the Broncos happen to need one. If McClain is gone, Pouncey becomes their best consolation prize.
But McClain is the guy they need most. Not since Al Wilson have the Broncos had a fire-breathing leader in the middle of their defense. They've already opened the spot by releasing Andra Davis, who started beside D.J. Williams at inside linebacker last season. McDaniels has worked with Alabama coach Nick Saban and knows how much responsibility McClain was given to run a defense of pro-style complexity.
It is as if McClain were built to the specifications McDan- iels keeps talking about - smart, tough, fast, strong. If the Broncos want to stop getting manhandled, a 6-4, 258- pound inside linebacker is an excellent place to start.
"I'm not sure I've met a young man as intelligent relative to the game of football (as) Rolando McClain," McDaniels said. "He's obviously been well-coached, but even if you're coached well, it takes another side to get to where he's at. He's obviously done a lot of listening, studying and understands the game at a level where most kids that come in as rookies will never be at."
McDaniels also said nice things about lots of other players, of course, including Bryant, whom the Broncos had in for a visit Wednesday, the same day as McClain. Still, plugging Bryant into the Broncos' draft slot because he's a logical replacement for Marshall assumes McDaniels is looking to recreate last season's status quo. He's not. He's looking to beef up the foundation of his team.
The other realistic possibility at No. 11, assuming McClain is gone, is Williams. The Broncos have signed three veteran defensive linemen in free agency, but McDaniels said that wouldn't stop him from drafting a difference-maker there.
He also pointed out that Williams had only one year of big-time production at Tennessee, after Monte Kiffin arrived to coach the defense last season. Linebacker Robert Ayers, whom McDaniels drafted at No. 18 last year, also played at Tennessee and also had only one year of first-round production. Ayers' rookie season was a disappointment. So I'm guessing McDaniels doesn't go to that particular well again this year.
Both the Broncos' needs and McDaniels' frustrations about them were pretty obvious during last year's second-half slide. They couldn't run the ball, and they couldn't stop the run. In football, it doesn't get more basic than that.
McClain helps with the latter, Pouncey with the former. They both fill not merely needs, but vacancies. The Broncos should come away from the draft's first night with one or the other.