ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos like how their defensive makeover is going even though nose tackle Ty Warren was on the operating table Tuesday instead of the football field.
Warren was supposed to be the centerpiece of the refurbishing, the anchor of John Fox's 4-3 defense. But he tore his right triceps during practice last week and underwent surgery that will sideline him at least until November and possibly for the whole season.
They'll get tackle Marcus Thomas back from a torn chest muscle next month.
For now, Brodrick Bunkley and Kevin Vickerson are the starting run-stuffers.
"I think both of them have gotten better and both of them continue to work," defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "And there's still room for improvement, a lot of room for growth."
Allen said he likes where this defense is headed.
"I'm pleased with our progress. I don't think we're nearly where we need to be yet, but I like the attitude at which we're playing," he said. "And I think if our guys continue to try to play the right way and play with that type of speed and effort, we're going to get to where we need to be."
Allen was brought on board to help fix Denver's dismal defense, which ranked last in several major categories last year.
Already, they've shown big strides in the secondary and on the edge thanks to rookies Von Miller and Rahim Moore, the return of 2009 NFL sacks king Elvis Dumervil and the emergence of several less noteworthy players.
Warren's injury leaves a gaping hole in the middle at times, and with the second waiver claim thanks to their franchise-worst 4-12 record last year, the Broncos will be interested to see what's out there when teams' 90-man rosters are reduced to 80 on Aug. 30 and again four days later when the final cuts trim rosters to a maximum of 53.
But teams don't normally release good defensive tackles, especially ones that make economic sense.
And the Broncos like the group that they already have, which includes Ryan McBean, Mitch Unrein and Ronnell Brown.
Starting defensive end Robert Ayers has moved inside on third downs, a preview of the mix-and-match moves that Fox is expected to use during the season instead of the vanilla schemes he employs during the preseason.
The starting defense has allowed three points and 90 yards in each of the first two exhibition games, against Dallas and Buffalo.
But the Broncos are allowing 114.5 yards overall on the ground with Felix Jones, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller all posting long runs on them.
Topping their priority list Saturday night against Seattle is shoring up the run defense.
Their secondary looks better already.
Moore, a second-round draft pick, is starting at free safety alongside veteran Brian Dawkins and cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman. He brings a youthfulness and nastiness that were both on display last weekend when he drew a flag for a vicious hit on Bills wide receiver Donald Jones.
Allen said he likes Moore's moxie but said the rookie from UCLA has to learn to hit lower.
"I think we've got to all understand that player safety is at a premium and the NFL is really cracking down on that and so we've got to understand that the strike zone has got to be a little lower," Allen said. "I love his aggressiveness, I love the way that he went after it, but we've got to be smart about where we're hitting guys, and lower down in the strike zone. We want to stay away from the head area."
Moore didn't launch himself at his opponent and he led with his right shoulder, as he's taught. It's just that he caught the receiver's chin upon impact.
Two second-year pros who weren't drafted out of college also have made good impressions on Allen.
Kyle McCarthy, a safety from Notre Dame who played in eight games last year before tearing his right ACL, has returned and looks better than ever. He's Dawkins' backup.