June 28, 2012

A closer look at: Robert Ayers

It has been a slow period since the draft and OTAs, plus there now not being anything major happening between here and training camp I was looking for ideas for posts that I could possibly do. Having recently done some rookie bios about players we had drafted I thought it may be interesting to take a look at current veterans on the roster. With this idea in hand it was then time to decide which player I would take a closer look at. Easiest way to pick a player was to look at the complete list of the roster at DenverBroncos.com. It did not take me long to decide on a player I wanted to look at, number two on that list was Robert Ayers. I thought Ayers could be the perfect player to dig a little deeper into because outside of the perspective and opinion we already have what do we really know about Ayers?

There are a few things we do know. He was drafted out of Tennessean at the 18th overall pick by first year head coach Josh McDaniels. He was converted from an DE to an OLB for his first few years before being switched back to DE with the hiring of current head coach John Fox. He has been labelled a one-year wonder, a bust, a reach, over-drafted or 'never living up to his draft pick' since his arrive in Denver. This is mainly due to his poor sack numbers since entering the league. Though it has been noted he is one of, if not the best run defender on the team and he played much better in last year's playoffs.

Other than that there is not much being put out there about Ayers. Our entire fan knowledge of Ayers is summed up in a single paragraph. Let's try to expand and build upon this with what I have gathered here.

To being with first here is Ayers's personal information.

Date of birth: (1985-09-06) September 6, 1985 (age 26)
Place of birth: Jersey City, New Jersey
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) Weight: 274 lb (124 kg)

African Studies major. Born as Robert Earnest Ayers, Jr

Highschool Years:
Ayers attended Marlboro County High School in Bennettsville, South Carolina. He was an All-State linebacker and was selected to play in the 2003 Shrine Bowl as a senior. Added All-South honors from Fox Sports Net and was a Top 100 Dream Team choice by Prep Star. Super Prep rated him the third-best linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. ESPN's Tom Lemming rated him the seventh-best linebacker in the country and he received a four-star ranking from Rivals.com. His senior year he recorded 112 tackles and intercepted five passes. As a junior he had 94 tackles, eight sacks, and three interceptions, he also returned kickoffs in 2003. Best game as high school senior was 28-tackle performance against Clover. In addition to lettering in football he lettered in track as a sprinter, running the 100-meter dash and 4 x 100 metres relay. He was coached by Dean Boyd.

As a graduate at the time, recruiting sites like Scout and Rivals preferred Ayers as a linebacker due to his 4.5 (Also seen it as 4.6, 4.68 below) 40 time and 227-lb weight. He was fast and had a knack for getting into the backfield in a hurry; in his senior year, nearly a third of his tackles were for loss. Like most high school standouts, Ayers played on both sides of the line of scrimmage, he played FB on offense.

For me I thought it was very interesting that Ayers came into college as a stand-out linebacker not a defensive end. This could have been one of the numerous reasons McD thought Ayers was suited to play OLB (outside linebacker).

Highschool Vids:
Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Note: It should be noted I am relying heavily upon the opinion and knowledge of this post, linked here and referenced at the bottom. As a Vols fan, supporter and follower the writer would have a better knowledge of Ayers's college years than an outside observer like me and should be a decent reference point.

Below is an article with comments from HC Boyd.

2004 Before joining College
Marlboro County High School linebacker Robert Ayers returned from Gainesville this past weekend and enjoyed his stay there, according to Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd.

"He had a very good time," Boyd said. "I do know that he has a very good relationship with coach [Charlie] Strong."

Two schools are leading in the race to land Ayers' skills at linebacker.

"I really think it's between Florida and Tennessee," Boyd said.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker runs a 4.68 40-yard dash and grabbed seven total interceptions during his junior and senior seasons.

Boyd said Ayers' effectiveness against the passing game stems from time spent watching game film.

"He can watch a game or two on a team that we're playing, and he'll figure out their tendencies and what they like to do," he said. "There's times out there that he's calling out [the offense's] plays before they happen."

Boyd said Ayers has good instincts for where plays will develop and delivers punishing tackles when he sets his eyes on a target.

If he applies himself, Ayers should be able to develop his impressive physical talent and be a quality player on defense.

"He could be an All-America," Boyd said. "It's all up to Robert. The ball is in his court."

Coming into college Ayers was big, fast and strong. You could not ask for much more out of a defensive linebacker prospect.

Well, except for a little maturity.

If there was one red flag about Ayers coming out of high school, it was his academic work ethic: he didn't have one. Like so many kids who found their path to popularity through sports, he was content to simply get by in the classroom and enjoy life on the gridiron with little regard to the future. It's a pattern that would come to haunt Ayers in his first few years at Tennessee.

Redshirting the 2004 season, Ayers had little more to do than enjoy campus life, grow, get stronger, and get faster. And that extra time - coupled with a lackadaisical attitude toward his studies - came when the Volunteers football team was perhaps at its most bankrupt point in terms of player responsibility and accountability. Having enjoyed so much success over the last several years (including near-total ownage of the Zookified Gators), the Vols were cocky. Players like "The Future" Kelley Washington had set the tone in previous years with a "me and the NFL" attitude, and several Vols had come to believe that the orange on their backs was a caste mark indicating their inevitable ascension to the country's premier sports league. College was a time to lift weights, look good, keep reasonably out of trouble (with a loose definition of "reasonable"), and prep for the millions of dollars coming down the pike.

That was not the environment Ayers needed at the time. Like so many college kids, time away from home was time to fuel the bad habits that hadn't been eliminated yet. Without rehashing his off-field record (personally I would like to know more but I couldn't find it), it suffices to say that his final incident with the police came as an aggravated assault charge in 2005 with Jerod Mayo. Along with linebacker Rico McCoy, Ayers was charged with aggravated assault in March for hitting a student during a campus party that erupted into a fight between members of a fraternity and the Volunteer football players. Mayo and Ayers turned themselves in to authorities and were released on their own recognizance from the Knox County Detention Facility in March. In August, Ayers pleaded to a reduced charge. At the time of the incident, police responded early on the morning of March 5 to the University Center and found four fights outside and one fight inside. Holes were punched in the walls of a ballroom and a picture frame had been smashed. Ayers was suspended from the team. Head coach Phil Fulmer wouldn't suspend Mayo. He believed the charges against Mayo are a case of mistaken identity. "We've got some very immature young men on this football team, and certainly, if not immature, socially unadjusted at this time. I'm extremely embarrassed and disappointed in the actions of a number of our players over the last several months," coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I apologize to the university community, (University president John) Peterson, (athletic director) Mike Hamilton and all the fans that follow our program. We have a large majority of our guys doing the right thing and a few that have embarrassed us in a very big way." For more click here.

Yet through it all, Ayers continued to get bigger and stronger. Ayers wanted to be a linebacker but agreed to slide to defensive tackle, where the Vols had serious depth concerns. Ayers redshirted as a 230-pound outside linebacker, having bulked up to 250 pounds prior to the 2005 campaign, he made that shift, he backed up All-SEC choice Parys Haralson. Like so many others under Fulmer, Ayers didn't start in his first year as a player, though he made an entrance into 9 games. The stat line wasn't very impressive in relief duty (6 total tackles, 1 sack for a loss), but he was now working his way onto the field.

For those who don't follow the Vols, that last paragraph's recap of the 2005 season sweeps a tremendous amount of dirt under the rug. 2005 is known in the Big Orange land as TSOWWDNS (The Season Of Which We Do Not Speak): the year where the preseason 3rd-ranked Volunteers finally fell to their own hubris to end with a 5-6 record - the first losing record ever under Fulmer and the only year they ever lost to Vanderbilt (and that in Neyland Stadium, of all places). A general lack of team unity and purpose, and a lack of cohesiveness at the quartback position brought humility to the Vols in a big, big way. Oddly enough, this may very well have been the best thing that could have happened to Ayers.

For all of his neck-hugging and butt-kicking, Fulmer had a hard time getting through to Ayers in the early years. It's not hard to understand why: when a self-admittedly immature 19-year old has a few coaches telling him to grow up, a whole team of players fueling his playful instincts, and a seemingly inevitable track to the NFL Draft, one of the two messages is at a severe disadvantage. 2005 largely changed all of that; the clean-up of attitudes progressed at a much quicker pace once the team learned they were not invincible. Slowly and fitfully, character began to re-emerge in the team as players realized that the privileged post-collegiate existence they had come to assume was not at all certain.

Slowly, reality set in and the hunger returned, but it was not all at once.

Though the off-field issues ended for Ayers in 2005, he still had his academic problems to work through. The kid just wasn't a good student. Between his early legal problems and a tendency to flirt with academic ineligibility, Ayers's total off-field record would have been sufficient to keep him riding pine (or perhaps dismissed) from some other teams. Yet the one character trait of Fulmer that was both his biggest weakness and his biggest strength was his willingness to give players a second chance. Fulmer knew very well that most of his players had no recourse if they failed to complete college; they would simply return to their previous lives and pick up where they left off. In the case of an athlete with a hard-luck background, Fulmer often felt that yanking a scholarship was equivalent to condemning the player to a failed life. Whether this level of compassion is justified is a debate for another day, but it suffices to note that Fulmer would not drop a player that he felt still had a chance to turn his life around. Sometimes, Fulmer was burned by this approach.

And sometimes, Fulmer was right.

Somewhere in the middle of the uncertainty, the humility, the academic issues, and the inevitable nearing of the end of a college career, Ayers began to realize that racuous living had a very short shelf life. Slowly (and probably very painfully at times), he began to develop the personal maturity that he had lacked previously. There is little mention in news articles about the turnaround in these years, but reading articles about Ayers prior to 2006 compared to articles written after 2007 shows a complete turnaround: the timbre changed from writing about a physically gifted kid with little room for sense to a beast of a man who was a team leader and on pace to graduate.

Ayers shifted to right end the in 2006, playing behind Antonio Reynolds, but was hampered early in the 2006 season by a left hand fracture suffered in August camp. He would produce 25 tackles (17 solo) with one sack in 13 games, earning two late-season starting assignments.

In 2007, Ayers was a reserve, again behind Antonio Reynolds. Even though he was used off the bench, he led the team with four sacks and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also collected 34 tackles (25 solo) with two pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

The struggle to turn a life around isn't easy. Bad habits are very difficult to kill, especially when the temptation to feed those habits is still very much alive. Change is coupled with frustration when the mind and body are tasked with responsibilities they've never handled before. Progress is very difficult to notice, and months may go by without any feeling of accomplishment.

But at some point, there may be a moment where all of the effort shows payoff, and the accomplishments of a life changed are instantly recognizable. That moment came for Robert Ayers in the summer of 2008. During the marketing runup for the upcoming football season, billboards across Knoxville began to be covered with UT football ads. Photos of Fulmer, Eric Berry, Jonathan Crompton, and Arian Foster grew to life. And the most prominent UT football billboard in all of Knoxville - the one located near campus off I-40 just east of the Alcoa highway exit - featured only one person.

Robert Ayers.

The pose (seen here) in its reproduction in poster form) marked the defensive end from South Carolina as the image of the new campaign, "Carry the Fight". Seeing himself on the billboard, Ayers suddenly realized how much the team had come to depend on the one-time classroom slacker. One of the defensive campaigns for the 2008 year, Ayers turned in one of the brightest performances in all of the SEC during the second - and final - losing campaign of Fulmer's career.

Regarded as one of the nation's premier defensive players coming out of Marlboro County High School, Ayers struggled to earn his place with the Volunteers until his senior season.

For all of Ayers' physical ability, the coaches admit that he just recently emerged following a few inconsistent seasons.

"When Robert got here, he thought he was God's gift to football," former head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He wouldn't listen to the upperclassmen -- not in a bad way, but he just didn't take to coaching very well. (As a senior) he's starving for coaching, and he's giving great effort. He's turned into a big-time SEC defensive end."

Renewed dedication helped him emerge as one of the few bright spots during a troublesome season for the Vols. He would go on to earn All-Southeastern Conference honors and shared the Andy Spiva Award, given to the team's most improved defensive player.

As a senior, Ayers caught fire at midseason to deliver 49 tackles (34 solo) with three sacks, leading the team and league with 15.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also had six pressures and his first career interception. As a senior in 2008 Ayers became a starter at right defensive end, recording 49 tackles, three sacks, and a team and league leading 15.5 tackles for losses. He also had six pressures and an interception.

When asked about his off-field issues at the NFL Combine, Ayers was very up-front and honest. He freely admitted his problems during his college career and took the blame upon himself for all of them. He also noted that his last legal altercation was in 2005, that he turned an academic train wreck into graduation, and that he was a defensive captain and First-Team All-SEC. It took some hard lessons along the way, but the St. Clio standout athlete learned to couple his physical gifts with off-field maturity and turn himself into a complete player. It remains to be seen how much his draft stock is affected by having only started for one season, but whoever does pick him up can safely know that he's a character guy: he's "been there, done that" and has ended that chapter in his life.

When Robert Ayers is the first Vol taken in the NFL Draft in 2009, he will be the final star in the Fulmer legacy of caring about his players perhaps a bit too much.

Career Summary:


2008 - Games/Starts: 12/12 ... Led team and finished third in SEC with 15.5 TFLs while earning All-SEC honors from the league coaches and second-team honors from Associated Press ... Contributed two tackles while applying constant QB pressure at UCLA ... Part of DL that held Bruins to 29 rushing yards on 31 attempts ... Finished with two tackles including a TFL against Florida ... Had four tackles, including a TFL at Auburn ... Finished with a season-high five tackles against Northern Illinois ... Had career game against Georgia, finishing with a career-high nine tackles, including 3.5 TFLs and grabbed first career INT ... Credited with two tackles and first sack of season against Mississippi State ... Contributed four tackles including a TFL against Alabama ... Recorded seven tackles in return to home-state South Carolina ... Both tackles were TFLs against Wyoming ... Credited with six tackles, including two sacks and three total TFLs at Vanderbilt ... Added six tackles against Kentucky, including one TFL. Helped UT tie for third in the nation in total defense (263.5 ypg.) and rank 10th in the country in scoring defense (16.8 ppg.).

2007 - Games/Starts: 14/0 ... Paced Vols with 12 tackles for loss and four sacks...Set then career TFL highs against Cal and Southern Miss ... Led team with 11/2 TFLs against Cal ... Finished with three tackles against Golden Bears ... Had two TFLs including a sack against Southern Miss ... Finished with two tackles against Florida ... Led team with six tackles including, three TFLs and two sacks against Arkansas State ... Recorded one tackle and one quarterback hurry against Georgia ... Finished with two tackles an assisted on a TFL against Alabama ... Had three tackles including a TFL against South Carolina ... Finished with five tackles vs. La.-Lafayette ... Had one TFL among two tackles against Arkansas ... Contributed two tackles, including assisting in a TFL against Vanderbilt ... Had four tackles and a TFL against Kentucky ... Concluded season with fourth sack and 12th TFL in Outback Bowl against Wisconsin.

2006 - Games/Starts: 13/2...Made first two starts of collegiate career to finish 2006 season against Vanderbilt and Kentucky...Two tackles and one QB hurry vs. California...Two tackles against Air Force...Nearly had safety against Florida, corralling Gators' Jemalle Cornelius for 7-yard loss to the 1...Recorded sack against Marshall...One TFL against Memphis...Had TFL in three consecutive games (Florida, Marshall, Memphis)...One tackle and one hurry against Alabama ...Three tackles against home state South Carolina... Finished with four tackles against LSU...Logged two tackles against Arkansas...Broke up pass and finished with two tackles against Vanderbilt in his first career start...Recorded two tackles against both Kentucky and Penn State.

2005 - Games/Starts: 9/0 ... Made collegiate debut at LSU ... Posted first career tackle -- sack for 6-yard loss -- vs. Ole Miss ... Career-high four tackles vs. Memphis.

2004 - Redshirted.

Draft Analysis:
Positives: Powerfully built athlete. Good lower-body strength to hold up at the point of attack. Flashes the ability to anchor and split double-team blocks on the edge. Good initial hand punch to stun the offensive tackle. Flashes some upfield burst to challenge wide and has good lateral quickness to redirect inside. Good use of hands to slap away the tackle's hands. Varies his speed off the edge and can surprise a lackadaisical blocker with suddenness. Can close with authority, flashing explosiveness. Versatile defender with experience at tackle and end. Developed into a team leader as a senior. Could be an ascending player who is just beginning to scratch the surface of his vast potential.

Negatives: Lacks an elite first step or the straight-line speed to be true edge rusher. Relies more on varying his speed off the snap and his strength at the point of attack rather than pure athleticism. Moved around a lot in Tennessee's defense and was allowed to exploit mismatches. Likes to tackle high and stronger ballcarriers can escape his grasp. Stepped up his play significantly as a senior and could be a one-year wonder motivated by big NFL paycheck.

Compares To: MARK ANDERSON, Chicago -- Ayers might be the rising star at this position, or 2008 could have just been an aberration. He had three so-so years and even in 2008, it was not until the second half of the season that he started living up to his high school headlines. He might not have the suddenness to play the edge in NFL, but might be a decent fit as an under tackle. (This I find very interesting, since we move him inside a lot.)

Pick Analysis:
The former Vol is an athletic edge player with outstanding versatility. As a potential defensive end/outside linebacker, he's capable of stacking the run while also providing some pass-rushing skill off the edge. Though he has been pegged as a "one-year wonder," Ayers was playing the best football of his career at the end of his senior season, and he may continue his ascent as a rookie.

Injury Report
2000: Did not play as a freshman in high school due to a shoulder injury.

2002/03: Played his last two high school seasons with a torn labrum in his shoulder. I believe this required surgery.

2006: Suffered a left hand fracture in August camp (8/08).

Big hitter:
Here’s a look at how the Volunteers will be affected by his absence.

What They Lose

Statistically, Ayers had a fairly impressive 2008. But the statistics fail to convey the ferocity and devastating hits that Ayers become known for in his time as a Volunteer. (Why don't we see this?)

What’s Next

Perhaps the biggest question heading into Lane Kiffin’s inaugural season at the helm of the Volunteers is the defensive line. Returning only one starter in defensive tackle Dan Williams, and losing the defensive coordinator John Chivas to L.S.U., the defense, particularly the front four, was a primary focus of the Vols’ spring practices.

Fortunately for the Vols, the line seems to have risen to the occasion. Chris Walker, who has moved into Ayers’s old position at starting defensive end, has had a monstrous spring, earning the team’s spring M.V.P. and earning myriad praise from Kiffin, usually containing the word "unblockable." Walker lived up to that description in the first scrimmage, with five tackles, three for loss, two sacks and a safety. The freshman Montori Hughes has also exceeded expectations. He had four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the scrimmage.

Hughes, a low-rated recruit overlooked by most colleges, is a mobile 310-pound tackle who has been causing fits for the Tennessee offensive line in practice. Kiffin has shifted the junior Wes Brown to tackle from defensive end, and positioned Ben Martin at defensive end. A similar player to Walker, relying on his speed and quickness, Martin rounds out a Volunteers line that has been showing plenty of promise.

The defensive line may not be considered the strength of this year’s team yet — it is lacking some depth behind the starters — but it is clearly no longer a weakness.

Ayers's Draft Rise:
The upswing in performance in the 2008 campaign was sufficient to bump Ayers from a draft "maybe" to a likely first-day pick. Talk seemed to center on a mid-second round pick when the season ended, with the biggest knock that he had such little starting experience relative to other defensive ends in the draft. His ability to sustain his performance over multiple seasons is a complete unknown, and NFL scouts are keyed in on finding uncertainties just like that. Ayers needed some way to prove himself outside the 2008 season; together, the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine proved to be exactly that opportunity.

The Senior Bowl proved that Ayers could succeed outside of UT:

Coming in, critics were concerned about him not being a full-time starter as a Vol for very long. Then he straight whooped Michael Oher last Monday in practice and was basically unblockable in last night’s game, recording 1.5 sacks — the half sack resulting in a defensive TD. He’s a second-round lock who could move up with a strong combine showing. Ayers was the Defensive Player of the Game.

Ayers continued to impress at the NFL Combine. Answering questions about his past and present gave the NFL teams a chance to feel better about his maturity; with Goodell's crackdown on off-field incidents, teams are especially wary about problem cases, and Ayers walked out with a clean slate. His combine numbers were, for the most part, very good, and the only real flaw was making only 18 reps of the 225-pound bench press. (Though, for a guy with arms as long as Ayers, that's not as bad as it sounds.) The hard work, positive attitude, and solid performance gave NFL teams yet one more reason to believe that the Ayers of 2008 was indeed a different player than the cut-up who came into Tennessee in 2004.

So how much did the offseason circuit help Ayers?

As with most players, opinions varied widely on Ayers. Mike Mayock places Ayers as the top DE prospect in the entire draft, and the #5 overall prospect.

SI placed Ayers at #27 overall, with the notable quote:

Ayers played like the best defensive end in the nation last season and his combine workout may have moved him into the first round.

CBSSports places Ayers at #41 (6 in position).

Yahoo! places Ayers as the #2 4-3 defensive end.

Bleacher Report places Ayers at #28 overall.

Here is an scouting report from MHR on Ayers (click here).

As we all know Ayers was drafted by the Denver Broncos as the second of our two first round picks at 18th overall of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Signing with Broncos:
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos on Monday (August 4, 2009) signed outside linebacker/defensive end Robert Ayers, whom they selected in the first round (18th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft from the University of Tennessee. As per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. Ayers signed a five-year contract with $9.7 million guaranteed.

In his rookie season he recorded 19 tackles and no sacks. He recorded his first professional sack in week 1 of the 2010 season against David Garrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Broncos Career:
Ayers started his career with the Broncos back at the position he originally wanted to play in college, Outside Linebacker. He played OLB for his first two years under McDaniels and his '3-4' defense.

As a rookie Ayers totaled 18 tackles (13 solo), two pass breakups and one fumble recovery in 15 games (1 start) . He registered multiple tackles in five consecutive games (Games 4-8) and six times for the season. He made his first career start at Phi. (12/27) and recovered a fumble on special teams in that contest.

His second year Ayers was as a starter and he posted 39 tackles (32 solo), 1.5 sacks (6.5 yds.), one pass defensed and one forced fumble in 11 games played (10 starts) in 2010. He tied for the team lead with 10 quarterback hits while ranking fourth on the club with six tackles for a loss. He recorded his first career sack (5 yds.) in the season opener at Jacksonville. He had two tackles for a loss and helped set the edge at Tennessee, limiting Titans running back Chris Johnson to his third-lowest rushing output (53 yds.) in his previous 24 contests. He missed Games 6 through10 with a foot injury.

Ayers made the switch from linebacker to defensive end prior to the start of the 2011 season and recorded a career best in sacks (3-12) and starts (13) in addition to his 39 tackles (25 solo), two pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. During an 'Ask a Bronco' video done by DenverBroncos.com, linked here and referenced at the bottom, Ayers was asked a question about the two different positions:

Q: Having played OLB and now moving back to DE, what do you prefer about DE and will miss most about linebacker? (I paraphrased)
A: I am happy to be back, I do miss LB because it is very versatile, you can drop into coverage, rush the passer and thats fun. But DL is my home and I am happy to be back. But I need to keep working and trying to get better. (paraphrased again).

Notable Stats:
  • A third-year defensive end who totaled 57 tackles and 1.5 sacks (6.5 yds.) in his first two NFL seasons at the outside linebacker position.
  • Started 10-of-11 games played in 2010 and tied for the team lead with 10 quarterback hits despite missing five games due to injury.
  • Recorded a tackle for a loss in four consecutive games to start the 2010 season.
  • Notched the longest scoring fumble return by a Broncos rookie in team history with his 54-yard touchdown on Monday Night Football vs. Pittsburgh (11/9/09).
Here is an article about Ayers done before the Patriots playoff game after Ayers's impressive performance against the Steelers.
Before Pats game:
As the Broncos' starting left defensive end, Robert Ayers must rush the passer and also protect the edge. But has he finally turned the corner?

That's what Broncos fans — and probably coaches — want to know with the third-year pro having made three sacks in his past two games, including two last weekend in the playoff victory over Pittsburgh. Three sacks in two games is double Ayers' total (1½) for his first two pro seasons combined. The 6-foot-3, 274-pounder from Tennessee became a lightning rod for criticism each time the Broncos' defense struggled the past two seasons, or when the sky turned blue.

That comes with the territory when a team expends a first-round draft choice on a player (No. 18 overall in 2009) and he doesn't turn into an immediate playmaker.

"I don't think I'm anywhere near where I need to be," Ayers said this week.

His performance against the Steelers offers optimism as well as a glimpse of his potential. Ayers got to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at critical junctures of the game.

Ayers sacked Roethlisberger for a 9-yard loss early in the second quarter, forcing Pittsburgh into a third-and-16 while backed up on its 14-yard line.

Bam: On the next play, Roethlisberger's pass was intercepted by Broncos rookie safety Quinton Carter, setting up a Matt Prater field goal for a 17-6 Denver lead.

Then, on the last play of regulation, Ayers ended any Steelers hopes for a Hail Mary finish from the Denver 49 when he dropped Roethlisberger for a 15-yard loss.

"Robert, as the year has gone on, he's grown up; he's grown up as a man," (Then)Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "He's grown up as a player, and he's really gotten better as we've gone on. I expect to see (further) progress in Robert Ayers."

What must be really encouraging to Allen and other Broncos coaches is hearing Ayers say he is not about to rest on his recent laurels. He wants to build on his performance today.

"It's just one game," he said. "I'm definitely not satisfied. I want to keep getting better. I always say I want to be the best player in this league. I'm not even the best player on this defense. But that's what I'm going to keep aiming for."

Ayers appears more comfortable this season as a 4-3 defensive end, returning to the position where he excelled in college. In the 3-4 alignment favored by then-coach Josh McDaniels, Ayers was an outside linebacker his first two years with the Broncos.

The challenge against New England, he said, is to pressure Tom Brady, who completed 23-of-34 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots' 41-23 victory Dec. 18 in Denver.

"Executing — that's the one thing that the Patriots do so well," Ayers said. "On third down, they convert a lot. In the red zone, they convert a lot. When they get in the red zone, we have to hold them to three points or possibly force a turnover. We know they're going to get their plays. But we can't give them gifts."

Here is another article done before the Pats game with quotes from Ayers's highschool coach Boyd.
Before Pats game:
Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd knew it was a matter of time before Robert Ayers would make his mark in the NFL.

For Ayers, a defensive end for the Denver Broncos who played at Marlboro, that moment came Sunday in the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The third-year player recorded a career-best two sacks in the 29-23 overtime victory.

Ayers and the Broncos travel to New England to face the Patriots today with a trip to the AFC Championship game on the line.

"Robert has grown into a good young man," Boyd said. "If he can continue to play the way he is playing, he is going to help not only Denver but also make a name for himself."

Sunday’s production is what the Broncos had hoped for out of Ayers when they took him with the 18th overall pick out of Tennessee in the 2009 NFL draft. But that wasn’t the case early on in his career.

When he arrived in Denver, Ayers was moved from defensive end to linebacker in the Broncos’ 3-4 system. He managed just 58 tackles and 1½ sacks during his first two seasons.

But with the Broncos moving to a 4-3 scheme under new coach John Fox, Ayers moved back to defensive end this year and even switched back to wearing No. 91, which he wore at Tennessee. He finished the year with 39 tackles and three sacks in helping the Broncos to the AFC West division title.

"Robert, as the year has gone on, he’s grown up. He’s grown up as a man, grown up as a player. He’s gotten better as we’ve gone on," Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen told the Denver Post this week. "I would expect that to continue."

Ayers hopes so but thinks there is plenty of room for improvement.

"I don’t think I’m anywhere near where I need to be. … I’m definitely not satisfied," the former Marlboro standout told reporters this week. "I want to keep getting better. I always say I want to be the best player in this league. I’m nowhere near that. I’m not even close. I’m not even the best player on this defense. But that’s what I’m going to keep aiming for, and I’m going to keep working. If I ever get to the point where I am the best player in this league, I’m going to try to keep getting better, too." (Same quotes as above)

And that drive and determination Ayers talks about is something Boyd saw early on in his high school career. Boyd said Ayers watched more film than any player he’s had during his time at Marlboro and that Ayers wasn’t afraid to mix it up even during his sophomore year.

"He would get physical and that is one of the first things a football coach wants to know if a guy is going to throw his nose in the hornet’s nest and find out if he was tough or not," Boyd said. "Once you got that, you knew you had something to work with because he always had the size and speed."

Boyd said he exchanges text messages with Ayers frequently and was able to talk to him in October when the school retired Ayers’ No. 56 jersey (I thought he played in 42?). Boyd will be watching tonight’s game to see how his former player does against the Patriots’ offense.

"It is fun to watch him and know we got a young man working hard, representing Marlboro County and doing the things to make you proud," Boyd said.

Here is Ayers's take on new players, including Peyton.
On new players:
Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers remembers exactly what it felt like to play against Peyton Manning, and it wasn’t good (Manning’s Colts beat the Broncos in 2009 and 2010). Now Ayers said he is thrilled he’s about to be on the same team.

"We want to do our part on defense. We don’t expect him to come here and make us 16-0 and throw for 60 touchdowns and do those types of things," Ayers said. "We know it’s going to take a team effort and everybody working. I think him from watching the way we were last year, from coaching. pretty sure he feels like he’s coming to a team that’s going to work."

Ayers swung by Dove Valley around lunchtime Monday after hearing news of Manning’s imminent signing on Twitter earlier in the day. Ayers, one of the Broncos’ most active players on social media, had been following the saga closely but trying to separate the facts from rumors. Ayers, though, said he wasn’t surprised that Manning ultimately chose the Broncos.

"If you come here, look at the coach Fox and Elway and those guys, the city, the passionate fans here, the guys we have on offense, the offensive line, the running backs, the flexibility coach McCoy presents on offense, the improving defense, I think it’s a great place for him. I don’t think he made a bad decision," Ayers said. "I think he made a great decision. Hopefully we can prove him right and hopefully we can win a lot of games here."

And it doesn’t hurt from Ayers’ perspective that Manning also played college football at Tennessee. The Broncos drafted Ayers out of Tennessee in 2009.

"Me and Britton [Colquitt], now got three," Ayers said. "Fortunately, we’ve got probably the greatest, one of the greatest if not the greatest Vol of all time on our team."

Ayers had always publicly supported Tim Tebow last season, so I asked him (reporter) what he thinks this means for Tebow. Ayers said he doesn’t necessarily feel bad for Tebow because of the business side of the NFL.

"I was telling my father, if they were to bring in John Abraham or Dwight Freeney, I’d welcome them with (open) arms. It’s the name of the business. You can always learn from guys like that," Ayers said. "I’m pretty sure he’ll be open to learning too if we decide to keep him. One thing that won’t change with Tim is his work ethic. He’s going to work. He’s going to grind. He’s not going to change who he is. He’s going to keep working, he’s going to be a leader, he’s going to bring a lot of energy and passion to whatever team he ends up. If it’s here, we’re going to be happy."

Other Appearances:
Like most of the Broncos players Ayers has done work giving back to the community. Here are a few events I found that Ayers contributed too.

Denver Broncos' # 91 Defensive End Robert Ayers was Keynote Speaker at YESS Institute's YESS Mentoring Celebration.

YESS Institute is excited to announce the addition of Robert Ayers as the keynote speaker at its annual year-end celebration at Denver Public Schools North High School. Produced entirely by YESS Institute mentees and mentors from North, West and Lincoln High Schools for their parents and the community, the YESS Mentoring Graduation recognizes the contributions and accomplishments of each student as they work toward high school graduation.

"Robert Ayers embodies the very essence of what the YESS Institute is teaching its students: community leadership, character development and the value of education," said Carlo Kriekels, YESS Institute Co-founder & Executive Director. "The YESS Institute is honored and the students are "super psyched" that Robert will be addressing them at the YESS Mentoring 2012 Graduation Event."

The YESS Institute provides high school students the skills to shift the negative cycle of poverty, dropout and violence into a positive cycle of leadership development, civic engagement and economic contribution through peer mentoring and emotional intelligence. The YESS Institute supports role models, agencies and schools through innovative emotional intelligence curriculum and peer mentoring. In the past 10 years, YESS Institute has achieved a 92% graduation rate for students previously considered the most at-risk for dropping out of school.


Denver Bronco Linebacker Robert Ayers Challenges BMS Students

Mr. Robert Ayers, of the Denver Broncos, addressed the students of Bennettsville Middle School. His presentation was both encouraging and uplifting. The students were actively engaged and excited by the presentation. Mr. Ayers challenged the students to study and work hard to achieve their goals. Mr. Ayers allowed several students to discuss their career aspirations and dreams before the student body. Marlboro County’s own, discussed the importance of family, ambition and setting goals. Dr. Tillar, Superintendent of Marlboro County Schools, was also in attendance.

I think it is great that Ayers is going back to high schools and challenging the kids to do better and focus on their education. Ayers himself has struggled with his commitment and motivation to education which probably limited his potential in college.

Here are my thoughts and things I found interesting while doing this research. I found it surprising that Ayers was a great linebacker in highschool, this I did not know.

I thought his sack production was interesting. He did pretty good in high school with 8 I believe his senior year. But he never was an amazing sack artist in college with 4 and 3 being his best season totals. Seeing and knowing this I don't know why people complain about his sack production. I think he is producing at the level that he is capable of. I just think people are sore (butt hurt) because we could have had Clay Matthews or Orakpo but chose Ayers. Ayers has and still does what he does best and that is stopping the run.

I thought it was cool he tied for the lead on the team for QB hits his last year as an OLB, 2010. It shows he can get to the QB. I would be happy if Ayers produces 5-8 sacks a year for the next decade. Personally I think he is almost there plus I love the job he does hooking up Von Doom.

The arrest and academic issues were completely new to me, this I did not know.

The best part I found about this research is Ayers appearances at high schools to encourage students to pursue their education because Ayers made the mistake of not. It shows me a maturity and growth as a man, this I respect.

As has been the case with Ayers there is still that approach to 'wait and see'. We as fans are willing to give him another year in his natural position to better himself. But Ayers will need to step up his game to get that next fat contract as his rookie deal draws to a close.


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Part 1: Rocky Top Talk 1

Part 2: Rocky Top Talk 2

Gainesville, SCnow, CBS Sports

Govolsxtra 1

Govolsxtra 2


Ask a Bronco

That is it from me for a while, enjoy ~ Aussie.


  1. Well if that's it for you for awhile, no one will be on here. Seems like it's just you and me, and me just at night for an hour or so.

    Nice piece on Ayers. Two things though on your final analysis. First, you yourself did what everyone does. You said, "give him another year in his natural position to better himself." We just learned that DE wasn't really his natural position. So far he has had about two and a half years at DE. Second, the part about people being "butt hurt" because we could have had Orakpo and Matthews is just hindsight talking. Of course now you can say they would have been better picks than Moreno and Ayers and if we had Matthews we could have gone Darius last year instead of Von. There are so many ifs. Maybe we weere going to go Maybin at 12 and Buffalo surprised everyone and picked him 11 which threw McD for a loop. Personally I think Ayers would have slid a ways had we not took him. Probably to Alphonzo Smith's spot. I like Ayers and think he's an alright DE. He gets pressure all the time, just not the actual sack. Stuffs the run with the best of any DE's in the NFL. I can't understand, with the projections I read in your article, why McD put him at OLB in our 3-4. I think he would be a great DE in the 3-4. Oh well. McD is gone. Thank God.

  2. Yeah I think Princess has been busy with work and I have no real plans for the next month. I always check up on the site to comment but not much else is planned yet.

    Let me try to explain my thoughts a bit better.

    First on 'give him another year'. I think every year Ayers has got this. He either changes something or does just enough (like the steelers game) to want to see more. I thought it was interesting in his draft analysis that the person reviewing him saw Ayers as an under tackle. In that regard I am of the belief we have been using him correctly. Have him at DE on run downs and move him inside on passing downs. I just don't expect much sack production out of him.

    As for his nature position I don't think he has one. Not big enough or athletic enough for either DE or OLB. He should probably be considered a role player that can fit multiple positions.

    Also he has only played the year at DE the previous two at OLB.

    Yes it is hindsight and that is not my opinion, most fans think we could have done better. But 2009 was a poor draft for almost everyone anyway.

    Ayers may have slid a bit further in the draft but there was an rush on OLB that could play in a 3-4 that year. He still would have been an first round pick in my book (late 20s).

    I projected that McD 'may' (and that is a big if) thought Ayers could have played OLB because Ayers was a standout LB in high school and wanted to play it in college. The thought being Ayers drops to that 250-260 weight range, which he did, to play that position. But he never was going to be a sack machine, he doesn't have the speed or explosion to do it. He could tackle and hit though. So if I am McD my thought process is Doom as your rush linebacker and Ayers plays the strong side as your tackling machine (but you don't need to draft these type players as high as we did).

    For me I think he is way to small to be a DE in a 3-4. I like to model my 3-4 ends after the Pats. Ty Warren and Richard Seymour types. 6-3+ and close to if not over 300 pounds. Ayers doesn't have the frame for that sort of weight. He is not really big enough to play DE or UT in a 4-3 either and is too big and slow to play OLB. Hence why I see him as a role player, sort of like Jason Hunter.

    He may surprise this year with a better line next to him. But I doubt he stays here long term though, Wolfe was basically drafted to replace him.

    And yes glad to have Elway and Fox over McD.

  3. Yeah, my take is he is a good rotational guy too. Sucks that we drafted someone of that capacity so high in the draft (Moreno too), but now that they are here and part of the team we have to accept that WHERE they were drafted is past news. Now it is just a matter of hoping they contribute. Both will do that very well I believe.
    Ayers has a good solid base and strong lower body. Good to see in a guy his size. Makes for more than adequate support in the run defense. If it wasn't for that he would be flirting with being a bust in the NFL. I think there is a good chance we will see lots of 5-2 type looks with the D this year with Von, Ayers, Wolfe, Warren and Doom all on the DL and with DJ and Woody/Trevathian manning the LB spots.

  4. Yeah I know with Ayers and Moreno but what can we do, at least both are on the cheap now.

    I don't see it as a 5-2 alignment but I know what you mean. Have Von play right on the line of scrimmage (giving that 5-2 look) and blitzing the sh*t out of the QB haha.

  5. Man I wish for some football news.

    Also love having Von over Smith, at least Von won't get stabbed lols.