Although the position doesn’t get the glamor and spotlight, it is crucial to have talented defensive tackles on the roster for any team in the National Football League. They truly make the other defenders jobs that much easier. There are typically two defensive tackles in for defensive play and, as Pat Kirwan says in his book Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, their job is to “square up and go power against power, driving their blockers backward until their heels are at the quarterbacks toes.” Kirwan says that,
”Interior guys need to develop a ‘rip move’ in order to use his first-step quickness and get his hands under the pads of the guard of center he’s facing.”
If his blocking in his assigned gap is effective, he is able to push the running back towards the outside during a play or make a tackle. On a passing play, he anticipates which way the offensive line man may move in order to wreak havoc, once he beats his man he can effectively pressure the quarterback into making bad decisions and on occasion sneak in a sack as well.
Mitch Unrein is a defensive tackle who became a household name on December 2nd, 2012 when he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The formation of the play was named “The Cowboy”, which is appropriate due to the fact that Unrein attended the University of Wyoming. As an undrafted rookie he signed with the Houston Texans in May 2010, only to end up on the Broncos practice squad in October of that year. He made the active roster in 2011 and contributed hugely in that game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. Not only did he play situational fullback in that game, at his usual defensive tackle position, he applied so much pressure to Josh Freeman that the Bucs quarterback threw an ill advised pass right into Von Miller’s arms. Unrein accounted for 14 points in that victory, as Miller’s catch was returned for a touchdown; his first pick six.
Mitch, born in Eaton, Colorado, grew up a Bronco fan, and like many fans spent his late summers at training camp at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Training camp became one of his favorite childhood memories as he and his friends would always go in and watch the all-time greats play. Elway. Sharpe. McCaffrey. Terrell. He said,
“It was amazing to see those guys.” I can’t believe I made it to their level.”
The two Super Bowl victories are also among his favorite memories of the team as a child. This home grown Bronco has played 30 games for the Broncos, made 27 tackles, one fumble recovery, and became the only defensive lineman to score a touchdown for the Broncos making team history.
Unrein had Manning sign the football after the historic event because he’s pretty sure his future children won’t believe him. He need not worry, that play is cemented in history and will be available via video for ages to come. While it might be an occasional play for a Manning-led offense, it was extremely rare for the Broncos. Mitch seems to have it down though and he might have inspired other defensive linemen to try something similar this upcoming season. At the Pro Bowl John Fox and Manning installed the play for Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt, who attempted to pull the play off. While his imitation was poor, he implied he might like a chance to be on offense this upcoming season.
There are only 53 spots on an NFL roster. At the end of the day for guys like Unrein, training camp is a battlefield – A place to fight for one of those spots. Mitch won that battle in 2011 and his favorite memory as a Bronco was running out of the tunnel for the first time after making the active roster.
“It was a Monday night game against the Raiders and I‘ll never forget how loud (it was) and how many people were there. Making the active roster was a childhood dream that became a reality that day.”
Now that he has achieved so much with the Broncos he said he feels “very humbled to know how kids look up to me now.”
Regardless of the many changes the team had this off season Unrein says the team has improved at every phase of the game.
“Our offense has become better and faster. Defense has done the same thing. Special teams is improving just from the schemes that we run and from our explosive specialists.”
As training camp approaches Mitch’s expectations are “to become an overall better player. Better pass rusher and better against the run. I am hoping for my role to expand, but I will do what ever they need me to do.”
As training camp begins and the beginning of the season looms, Unrein promises that “it’s going to be a very fun year” for the team and it’s fans. Vince Lombardi once said,
“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.”
The Broncos have done this once, when they lost in the playoffs in 1996 and then went on to win it all in 1997. After the devastating loss in the playoffs this past season, fans are hoping for a repeat of 1997. The talent on paper is definitely there, the coincidences are there, and it’s apparent that fans can’t wait to see the team get started working towards that third Lombardi Trophy. The road to New York starts this Thursday!