Originally written on BroncoTalk  |  Last updated 11/19/14

Denver Broncos defensive line coach Jay Rodgers. (DenverBroncos.com)

With Wayne Nunnely‘s surprising retirement comes the just-as-surprising promotion of Jay Rodgers, who spent the last three seasons as a defensive assistant with the Denver Broncos. Rodgers will now serve as the Denver Broncos defensive line coach and be directly responsible for the grooming of top 2012 draft pick Derek Wolfe. He’ll also be tasked with making sure the level of production in 2012′s defensive line stays consistent with the improvements made in 2011, despite a slew of roster changes in that area.

That’s a lot to ask someone assuming the job responsibilities midway through the offseason. So is Rodgers ready?

A “defensive quality control coach” in 2011, Rodgers comes from an offensive coaching background in college, coaching quarterbacks at Missouri State University (2004) and Stephen F. Austin University (2005-2006) before coaching wide receivers at Iowa State (2007-2008). Before that, Rodgers played quarterback for three years at the collegiate level.

So Rodgers, a defensive assistant at the NFL level, comes from an offensive coaching and player’s background in college. Is that cause for concern?

Not necessarily — the man he is replacing did the same thing.

Before 18 years of coaching the defensive line at the professional level, Wayne Nunnely was a head coach (four years at UNLV) and running backs coach in college. Nunnely himself was a former fullback.

Given Nunnely’s career, clearly an offensive background in college is no inhibitor to success as a defensive line coach at the NFL level. Furthermore, Rodgers has only worked with the Denver Broncos defense at the professional coaching level; he has three years experience to help him hit the ground running.

Quoteables – Broncos players and coaches on the Rodgers hire

Rodgers has the seemingly unanimous blessing of everyone involved in the Broncos’ organization with this promotion. The man he replaces certainly gave him high praise.

“The defensive line will be in good hands with Jay Rodgers, whom I’ve worked with very closely for the last three years,” Nunnely said. “He is very deserving of this opportunity, which he has earned through his hard work and knowledge. Jay has many great qualities as a person and coach that will make him successful in his new role.”

Head Coach John Fox said he has no doubt that Rodgers’ time with Nunnely “has prepared him for this opportunity that he has earned,” and defensive end Elvis Dumervil agreed.

“He’s a young, bright coach,” Dumervil said of Rodgers. “He knows a lot — he’s been around. I think he’s extremely smart. He’s learned a lot from Coach Nunnely as well and I think his future is bright. It was very fortunate to be able to have Coach Rodgers on staff and get him in.”

Going back to last season, when Rodgers’ duties changed from that of a “defensive assistant” to someone directly involved with the defensive line, players were already giving Rodgers credit. Listen to Robert Ayers‘ statement following the Cincinnati Bengals game last year, in which he forced a crucial fourth down QB pressure that helped the Broncos edge the Bengals 24-22:

“In that situation, they had the blocking tight end to my side, and he released, so I kind of figured it was a pass,” Ayers said. “That is what Coach Nunnelly and Jay Rodgers have been telling us, and I was just there to make the play, so you have to give them credit.”

Matching a prolific career

There’s no question that Rodgers has some big shoes to fill. Nunnely was a huge asset to the Denver Broncos organization. In seven of eighteen seasons, Nunnely’s teams ranked among the league’s top seven club in rushing yards allowed per game. In 1998 and 2005, both with the Chargers, his clubs were ranked No. 1.

To fill those shoes, Rodgers will have help. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio comes with a wealth of coaching knowledge he will impart. His brother, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, will naturally remain a resource and confidant.

But the time he spent with Nunnely, a coach in the same mold and from a similar background as Rodgers, will serve him better than any help he can get from others on the coaching staff. By all accounts, Rodgers was hand-picked and groomed for this very coaching opportunity.

Rodgers has been in the Broncos’ D-line plans all along.


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