Broncos add 'air power' to defensive lineup

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The Denver Broncos have added a little airpower to their defense during their 2010 training camp in the form of an Air Force Academy second lieutenant.
Ben Garland, a 2010 graduate of the Air Force Academy, has been spending his leave and days off as a Denver Broncos defensive lineman, after being signed by the team as a free agent in April.

A native of Grand Junction, Colo., Garland has been a lifelong Denver Broncos fan. He was ecstatic about the opportunity to play in the NFL when his dream team came calling for him in April at the Academy.

Garland was a defensive tackle playing for the Falcons in a 3-4 defensive alignment. During the 2009 college football season, he led the Falcons in tackles for loss with 10.5 for 46 yards and in sacks with 4.5 for 30 yards. Garland recorded 45 total tackles, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and blocked two field goals; all while playing most of the 2009 season with a broken left hand.

With the Denver Broncos, he's one of 10 defensive linemen in training camp, and the D-line reflects the Broncos' 2009 season. The team burst out of the starting gate in 2009 to go 6-0 under first-year head coach Josh McDaniels. But come game seven, the Broncos suffered through several defensive collapses, winning only two more games down the stretch to finish the season at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. After that, Coach McDaniels put a priority on rebuilding the defensive front this offseason, which resulted in five new faces on the D-line this year, including Garland.

Garland was originally projected to move from his collegiate position of defensive tackle to defensive end for the Broncos. But in line with Coach McDaniel's team-first philosophy, Garland is lining up at every position possible.

"They use you wherever they need you at the time," Garland said. "I've played everywhere on the D-line. Really, your role is based on your performance. If you do well on the inside, they'll put you inside. If you do well on the outside, they'll put you on the outside. If you show some talent on special teams, they'll put you there. I've been working on some of the show teams, just trying my best to get on one."

His work on the defensive line has not only been at all positions, but in several different defensive alignments. The Broncos primarily run a 3-4 defensive front but have also been practicing a good bit of the 4-3 defensive alignment this summer, especially after the recent injury to linebacker and NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil. The linebacker will be sidelined due to a torn pectoral muscle for an estimated four months, forcing the Broncos to look at other defensive options -- such as Garland -- to compensate for the loss of the pro-bowler.

Aside from lining up all along the defensive front, another part of Garland's transition to pro football is the upgrades in speed and power at the NFL level, he said. The game is faster, the players are stronger, and their technique is better. However, the team concept is first and foremost.

"That's what's great about this team, because no guy is trying to step over you to make the team," Garland said. "We're trying to build everyone up to make the best team possible, and whoever makes the team makes the team.

"There's a lot of similarities between the Air Force and this organization -- just the work ethic -- how hard the people work, how much they try to help you. It's more of a team environment and a brotherhood; there's some really good chemistry here," Garland said.

Brotherhood or not, Garland is still a rookie. NFL teams have been notorious in recent years in the pranks and traditional rituals through which they subject their rookies through.

"I expected the rookie kind of treatment -- just kind of hazing, but the guys have a lot of respect for most of the rookies and try to help you out as much as possible. I mean, there's a joke here or there, and, 'Hey, go get my helmet,' but for the most part it's very respectful," he said while holding three helmets after practice last week.

Coach McDaniels complimented Garland's attitude, approach to meetings and work ethic, saying these are ways in which the Air Force Academy graduate stands out both on and off the practice field.

"The example he sets in everything that he does impresses me and had impressed our football team," Coach McDaniels said. "There're really no shortcuts to trying to get better and to improve in this league, and Ben knows that. He's not ashamed to win every sprint because he knows that's what he's supposed to do," said the coach. "If you're capable of doing something at a high level, then you do it at the highest level you can do it at, and you push everybody else with you."

Coach McDaniels was a little more certain about Garland's preseason playing time.

"I don't think this is something where we're just throwing him a bone," Coach McDaniels said. "I think he's really earned it with the way he works and the way he practices, and we'd like to see him go out there and have the opportunity to play and work on some things once we see the film but that's really due to his performance."

Garland has earned respect not only in the eyes of his head coach but also among several veteran players. One of those veteran players is Jarvis Green, a nine-year veteran who left New England in the offseason to sign with the Broncos, and has taken Garland under his wing.

"Jarvis is one of the biggest mentors on the D-line for me. He's always there to give me a pointer, going, 'Why don't you try this instead of that, that will improve in this area of your game.' He and Ryan McBean have really been there for me, helping me out and giving me pointers," Garland said.

They are also some of Garland's biggest promoters. When Green spotted a Defense Media Activity television reporter on the sidelines he got the reporter's attention and played to the camera by patting Garland's back and giving "No. 1" signs, hoping to give Garland his own little SportsCenter moment.

Even if that buddy scene never makes it on the air, the veteran players truly regard Garland as a brother in arms, Coach McDaniels said.

"I can tell you right now that our veteran players have great respect for him, and they know what he's faced with too," Coach McDaniels said. "He's going to go and fulfill his obligation shortly, and then come back to football, because they know he's got something more important on his mind."

As an Air Force Academy graduate, Garland has a five-year active duty service commitment to fulfill. Department of Defense policy requires him to serve at least 24 months of active duty before applying for an early release. If signed by an NFL team after that 24 month period, then Garland can apply for an early release, transferring to the Guard or Reserve while pursuing his NFL career.

This is the exact route that 2008 Air Force Academy graduate Chad Hall has taken. Signed by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2010 NFL draft, Hall became a reservist and is now trying to make the Eagles as a wide receiver and kick returner.

"My No. 1 commitment is the Air Force, and if they ask me to come back early, then I will be more than happy to come back early and serve my country and do what I can do," Garland said. "Get that taken care of, serve your country and then after that, work as hard as you can and represent the Air Force as well you can. After that, be that Air Force guy -- the hard worker, the dedicated person, the person who pushes himself as hard as he can no matter what the odds are against him."

Right now, the odds are against him making the active roster due to his military service commitment. Once he runs out of advance leave this summer, Garland will return to duty at the Air Force Academy. Additionally, all NFL teams must cut their rosters down from their current 75 players to just 53 players on Saturday. At that point, the Denver Broncos are expected to move Garland from their active roster to what the NFL calls "military-reserve status." After that, Garland won't count against the 53-man roster, but the Broncos will retain his NFL rights. Garland will be eligible to return to the team while on leave for future organized team activities and training camps.

Back at the Academy, Garland is one of several second lieutenants working in the Academy's Athletic Department, and his specific duties will be helping out with the strength and conditioning programs in the varsity weight room.

The Broncos' final preseason game is Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Kickoff will be 7:07 p.m. Central Standard Time. Locally, the game will be broadcast on CBS affiliates KCNC-4 from Denver and KKTV-11 in Colorado Springs, and KOA 850 AM.