OWINGS MILLS — Tired of getting pushed around, the Denver Broncos made a concerted effort to beef up their defensive line during the offseason.
They imported a pair of strongmen, signing former Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan and former San Diego Chargers All-Pro nose guard Jamal Williams. Bannan inked a five-year, $22 million contract, and Williams signed a three-year $16 million pact.
The Broncos were looking for size, leadership and the capability of keeping blockers from getting to star linebacker D.J. Williams. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Bannan and Williams have injected all of those qualities into the Broncos’ aggressive 3-4 defense.
“What Justin brings to the table is an incredibly high motor,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He plays so hard every single snap, really smart. He does a great job sniffing out screens, things like that. He is a tremendous run player.
“He’ll be real sneaky in the pass rush, too. He can get pressure. He’s played a big role for them. I think he’s really anchoring their defensive line, their front seven in a lot of ways. And you can see the difference it’s made.”
Bannan is a 6-foot-3, 310-pound former University of Colorado standout who started 19 out of 63 games for Baltimore from 2006-09. He recorded 137 yards, three sacks and one interception for the Ravens.
Now, he’s bolstering the Broncos’ defensive line.
“Those guys, I know them all too well,” Bannan told Denver reporters Wednesday. “I can tell you, it’s no personal grudge match. It’d be kind of hard to go back there and say, ‘I’m going to go get revenge’ to guys that have always been good to you and a place where you’ve had good experiences. Really, I’m just going to focus on the game plan and what I have to do and just do my job.”
Williams is a 6-foot-3, 348-pound three-time Pro Bowl selection from 2005-09 ranking behind only Casey Hampton and Kevin Williams, who have made four Pro Bowl appearances apiece during that span.
And D.J. Williams leads the Broncos with 30 tackles and ranks sixth in the NFL in tackles per game with an 8.2 average dating back to 2007.
“Their front seven is a bunch of big guys: big, strong, physical,” center Matt Birk said. “It will be one of those games, a physical one. They’re big, strong guys who tie up double-teams.”
Williams is athletic at 6-1, 242 pounds, balancing speed and hitting ability.
“He can definitely run from sideline to sideline,” Birk said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. Those guys really excel. The more room he has to run, the more dangerous he is.”
Bannan plays with intensity and a chip on his shoulder and is fairly athletic. Although he has recorded just seven tackles and two quarterback hits, his presence is being felt.
“He’s a physical guy,” left guard Ben Grubbs said. “He’s intense and has a good motor. He’s very aware of what’s going on in the game. It’s going to be a battle every play.”
The Broncos didn’t only make an investment in Bannan for his production. They were looking for a proven leader for their defensive line.
“You always appreciate where players have been taught and where they’re coming from,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “We have a great deal of respect for the Ravens and how they go about running their organization and the quality of people and players that they have — the way that their players are coached. We knew we’d be getting a really well-coached football player who was disciplined, who had fit into a scheme very similar to ours.
“He’s got great leadership traits, an extremely good work ethic, a guy that just totally fits what we’re looking for in terms of a team player who is going to give everything that he has. Plays a lot of different roles for us, and he’s been everything that we wanted him to be.”