Denver defense entering training camp with renewed focus and a little “sugar”
First-year Broncos coach Vance Joseph likes his buzzwords. The auditorium at the team’s Dove Valley headquarters is littered with them. “TRUTH,” in blue capital letters, is sprawled across the back wall.
But it was “juice” that the Broncos were missing offensively in 2016 and what Joseph is on a mission to regain in 2017.
And “sugar” is what the Broncos’ defense added this offseason, despite the losses of coordinator Wade Phillips and veteran linebacker Demarcus Ware.
“I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense,” said Joe Woods, the team’s former defensive backs coach who was promoted to defensive coordinator. “All I said is, I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s something that will give us a little changeup, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That’s all we’re doing.”
The Denver defense that led the NFL against the pass for two years is out to do it a third time. The base laid by Phillips, Woods’ mentor and predecessor, hasn’t budged. It has undergone small renovations to revitalize a run defense that ranked only 28th last season with 130.3 yards allowed, and to improve a pass defense that yielded an Nfl-best 185.8 yards.
“I don’t want to go backward on defense and I’ve said that from the very get-go,” general manager John Elway said. “We’re not going to go back on defense. It’s important for us to continue to stay good on defense and help the offense.”
Phillips’ version of the 3-4 alignment was based on simplicity and designed to feature the pass rush. Getting to the quarterback was the primary goal, and the Broncos had the personnel to do it with Von Miller and Ware on the edges, two of the NFL’S top cornerbacks in Chris Harris and Aqib Talib and a pair of elite safeties in T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart.
“Our defense, we made little tweaks. We’re not as simple as we have been in the past,” Harris said on the NFL Network recently. “In the past, we played so much man and just making it so easy for the quarterbacks. So now we’re going to sprinkle in different little things and make them think.”
Some of those tweaks are personnel changes. Getting bigger up front was a priority, so the Broncos added nose tackles Domata Peko and Zach Kerr in free agency, then drafted defensive end Demarcus Walker in the second round. Shane Ray, who played more snaps than Ware last season because of injuries, will be the true starter this year, with Shaquil Barrett staying as a key reserve. Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis will again man the inside, and the secondary will again stand as the backbone — one that could be even better with safeties Will Parks and Justin Simmons enter- ing their second seasons.
“My message to the whole group this year was that we have to reset,” Woods said. “I feel like after the first year we won the Super Bowl, we were flying high. Guys came back and they worked hard, but it wasn’t the same thing. We came back for 2016 and didn’t have the season we wanted. 2015, it was great and we won the Super Bowl. 2016, it was down. Those two years have nothing to do with what we are trying to do in 2017. We have a reset mentality and we’re worried about what we’re doing this year to get better.”
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris celebrates after breaking up a third-down pass to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson last November. The Denver secondary, nicknamed the “No-fly Zone,” remains loaded with talent. “I don’t want to go backward on defense,” GM John Elway says.