- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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We all like to live within our comfort zones, and Elvis Dumervil is no exception to that very human nature.
When Mike Nolan, the Denver Broncos' new defensive coordinator, told Dumervil that he was about to become an outside linebacker for the first time in his life, well, he wasn't thrilled. He had carved out a nice living for three seasons at defensive end, a position from which he produced 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2007.
"I was like, 'Hey, whatever it takes to win,'" Dumervil said on Friday from the Broncos' locker room. "It was tough, man, not a walk in the park. I had never dropped into coverage, paid any attention to who was going where.
"I had to get educated in a hurry."
Four games into this experimental relocation, one-quarter of the way into this NFL season, it is not too early to call it a success. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis the linebacker has entered the building.
Dumervil, whose mother named him after Elvis Presley, has eight sacks, tied with Cincinnati's Antwan Odom for No. 1 in the NFL. The King could be destined for the Pro Bowl. Moreover, the Broncos are 4-0 and have allowed a league-low 26 points -- less than half the totals of the second-place 49ers and third-place Jets.
"Tom Brady is a legend and the Patriots will be a challenge," Dumvervil said. "We've had a good week of preparation. I think we'll be ready for them come Sunday."
Don't look now, but there is a counter revolution under way in the NFL, where bigger, apparently, is not always better.
Dumervil, who may (or may not) be his listed 5-foot-11, 248 pounds, is joined on the top-10 sack list by 6-1 Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis and 6-foot James Harrison of Pittsburgh. Like everyone else these days, pass rushers seem to be downsizing. In the cat-and-mouse evolution of offense versus defense, the Dumervils, Freeneys and Harrisons are the answer to hulking offensive tackles that typically go 6-6, 310 pounds.
"We're seeing smaller guys coming on the edge," observed Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They're getting under those big tackles, with leverage and strength. Dumervil bends his knees, gets really low, and uses his long arms to get by those guys, inside or out.
"They reach down, but they can't hit him in the face or it's 15 yards [a penalty]."
The Broncos are part of a trend, in the AFC at least, to the 3-4. The Jaguars and Chiefs also join successful teams such as the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens and Chargers. Part of the reason, scouts say, is that finding undersized players like Dumervil at outside linebacker is far easier than finding prototypical 6-6, 295-pound defensive ends like Mario Williams.
"The tackles are used to blocking guys who are 6-3, 6-4," Dumervil said. "I'm shorter than most and I try to play even lower getting off the ball, get them out of their comfort zone. It gives them something different to think about."
From the very beginning, it seems, Dumervil, 25, has been working an uphill field. He was one of nine brothers and half-brothers growing up in Miami, the son of a Marine; four of them went on to play Division I football.
Dumervil always had a motor. He produced a record 78 sacks at Jackson High School in Miami and, although his name first grazed the nation's sporting consciousness when Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick stomped on his calf in the 2006 Gator Bowl, Dumervil had a ludicrous senior season at Louisville in 2005. He set the NCAA record for sacks in a game with six against Kentucky and finished the year with 20, best in the country. He also had a staggering (literally) 11 forced fumbles, breaking the NCAA record of eight set by Syracuse's Freeney, a fellow Big East player he followed closely. Dumervil won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Ted Hendricks Award, but the NFL was not overly impressed.
He was short by NFL standards and his 40-yard time was in the 4.75-4.8-second range -- small and slow is a lethal combination when it comes to the draft. Dumervil was seen as a situational pass-rusher in a 4-3 defense, at best, and was drafted on the second day by the Broncos in the fourth round, No. 126 overall. Maybe it's because Freeney terrorized them in a 2004 wild-card game and Denver saw a kindred spirit.
Dumervil exceeded expectations, collecting 26 sacks in his first three seasons. Problem was, teams ran at him every chance they got, limiting his playing time. Now, he's protected in Nolan's aggressive 3-4 and is gradually growing more comfortable in space. In Week 2 against Cleveland, he sacked Brady Quinn four times -- all in the second half. It was a game reminiscent of the late Derrick Thomas, whose number 58 Dumervil wore at Louisville. While Thomas and Freeney (with those whirling 360-degree spins) relied more on speed and finesse, Dumervil is an old-school bull-rusher.
Last year the Broncos finished 26th in the league with 26 sacks; this year, they're second to Minnesota (and Jared Allen) with 15. Interestingly, according to ESPN Stats & Information, six of Dumervil's eight sacks have come when the Broncos are playing five or six defensive backs and he lines up in his old spot as the fourth lineman.
Dumervil said that's no surprise that when the Broncos' use their sub-package, including cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Brian Dawkins, an offseason acquisition, "the quarterback has to hold the ball a little longer. The coverage has been great and that helps the pass rush. It all works together."
According to scouts, he sometimes has pass coverage responsibility with running backs and tight ends but winds up rushing the quarterback more often. Dumervil rushes with an intensity that, outside of football, would be considered unhealthy.
"I have a passion for sacks -- always have," Dumervil said. "I love it more than anything -- well, not anything. I can't explain it, really. It's a top priority, and I think I'm headed in right direction."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.