Oklahoma coaches routinely raved about Jeremy Beal's relentless effort and cerebral film study. Beal didn't possess as much raw talent as some of OU's highly touted recruits, he but finished second in school history in career sacks.
Entering his third season with the Denver Broncos, Beal is still waiting to make his NFL regular-season debut after spending his first year on the practice squad. Last season he suffered a knee injury in the final preseason game and was placed on injured reserve.
But because of two unusual offseason situations, Beal has an opportunity to carve out a key role on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Denver's front seven is one area coaches will monitor closely when the Broncos open preseason play on Thursday night against San Francisco.
Nine-year veteran Shaun Phillips, a former Pro Bowler in San Diego, was signed to a one-year, $1.1 million deal to play a defensive end/linebacker role. Phillips, though, might be forced to play more linebacker early if Von Miller's four-game suspension is upheld. Reports are the suspension wasn't related to drugs. Miller is confident the suspension will be reversed and he won't miss a game. In the meantime, Phillips' role is in limbo.
The Broncos also are replacing former starting defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was released and signed with Baltimore.
Now there's an opening opposite defensive end Derek Wolfe, a second-round pick who started all 16 games his rookie season. The favorite for the other starting spot is Robert Ayers, a first-round pick four years ago who hasn't lived up to being the 18th overall selection.
Beal's ultimate goal is to seize that starting vacancy, but he is first focusing on making the 53-man roster.
Currently running with the second team, Beal should survive the cut and earn regular playing time ahead of several other young players.
“It really doesn't matter where you are on the depth chart,” Beal said. “The key is to be consistent every day and try to improve every day. If you do that, you're going to make the team. All you can control is what you can do.”
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The Broncos thought they got a seventh-round steal two years ago with the 247th overall pick. Only seven players were drafted after Beal.
“We were definitely excited to see him still there at the bottom,” Broncos general manager Brian Xanders was quoted as saying. “We're surprised he fell that far, probably because of the combine and Senior Bowl stuff. On tape, he was very productive.”
His combine numbers didn't impress anyone, but Beal's consistent college production was impressive. A three-year starter at OU, starting 43 games, Beal recorded 56.5 career tackles for loss. Beal also caused 10 fumbles and batted down 14 passes.