Unfortunately, we've entered the final few days of the Denver Broncos OTA program and from there we can look forward to some boring weeks of waiting. We'll try to fill in those gaps as best we can, but not this week. This week is our last chance to get a good look at the coaches and players before training camp.
Father's Day weekend was filled with sadness in the sports world with two legends of their respective sports passing away in the same week. First, Chuck Noll, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history passed away. Second, was one of my favorite baseball players growing up, Tony Gwynn. I had long ago stopped following baseball, so I was shocked that he had passed away - until I learned he had been battling cancer for quite some time. I got to see him play and no one hit a sweeter ball in places no defender could reach.
John Fox, all those years ago, got his crack at the National Football League due to Noll. It's good to know today's Denver Broncos are coached by a man who was taught by a guy who won four Super Bowls in six seasons.
"The guy’s in the Hall of Fame. His accomplishments were outstanding. I know what he meant to the city of Pittsburgh and I know what he meant to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organization," Fox said of Noll's life and legacy, "And I know what he means to the Fox family as well. That was my first opportunity in pro football and I can’t think of a better guy to start your career with. He has such a big influence. So he’ll be missed by not just the Pittsburgh Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh but the whole National Football League."
When asked about how Noll influenced him early on, Fox said, "The guy was constantly trying to acquire knowledge. It didn’t matter what realm it was. He was a tremendous teacher and he did, like I say, acquire knowledge all the time. He’d coach anybody at any time. But just his even-keelness, too. I think that first year, in my league, we got whipped 50 something to whatever, twice in a row and fighting back and getting in the playoffs and actually losing to Denver out here in 1989. So just probably his even-keel approach and his technique orientations and his teaching ability."
To make things even more coincidental, John Fox was playing football at San Diego State while Tony Gwynn was playing baseball at the same school. It was a connection that lasted intermittently throughout their lives. Of Gwynn, Fox said, "I know it’s been a rough, rough weekend. Tony’s young. He was playing baseball there (San Diego State) at the time I was playing football. I got to know Tony and came back years later with the Chargers and he was still playing with the Padres. So I’m pretty close to him. I bumped into him on his Hall of Fame tour out in Arizona. Tremendous guy, tremendous family and a big loss."
Where will Ware Wear out the other Team?
If Demarcus Ware plays a full 16 games, what can we expect from him? Let's look at his last 5 seasons to find out.
Now things shift gears, which I've always found odd with these kinds of questions. It would make more sense to me to cover the regular stuff first, then hit the guy with some questions that might be a bit more personal, but then again, I don't ask the questions.
The biggest news of OTAs is the chippy kind of mentality that the new defense now seems to possess and I for one hope it carries all the way through to next year's OTAs.
"We’re in the process. I like our additions both in free agency as well as the draft. The guys have worked tremendously hard. I like their attitude at this point, and that will determine our altitude. We’ll just finish off this week of OTAs and then send them on their ways to get refreshed for the upcoming season. We’ll answer those questions as we move forward," Fox explained, adding, "They bump into each other. Even though we’re not in pads, there’s still a lot of technique teaching going on on both sides, all three phases actually. They bump into each other a little bit. But they’ve worked that hard and they’ve been able to manage that and be easier on their teammates. But they’ve done everything we’ve asked and that’s all you can ask."
He also likes what T.J. Ward brings to the table - well at least while in his "underwear", saying, "Again, still out here in the underwear. He brings an attitude. He’s got a little edge about him, which we like. And he understands the game very well; he’s easy to coach. And he’s picked up our terminology in our defensive system pretty quickly, so he’s got good football character that way as far as learning and adjusting, so we’re very, very pleased with him at this point."
I'm a broken record in here, but I love it. I love everything I see and hear about this defense. On paper, this defense has more talent than the 2012 defense that finished in the Top 5.
Yeah, you remember that guy, right? Talk about a bad run of luck with two season ending injuries ... in a row. Still, it sounds like he is ready to compete. I remember having high hopes for this guy when he came out as a rookie and showed up highly touted second round fellow draft pick, Rahim Moore.
"Just staying optimistic, keeping my mind on that big goal of returning and making a difference on the team through all the ups and downs," Carter said of being injured for two years, "By far that’s the most difficult point but I’m here now just taking it a day at a time, getting better each day."
Carter is definitely looking forward to stepping out on that field again, saying, " I’ve been out for two years so it seems like an eternity since I’ve played. I’m ecstatic to be out here. I just sit out there and just take it all in. I’m really out here playing and getting a chance to play again. I’m truly blessed and thankful."
Personally, I am as amazed as Carter probably is that the Broncos stuck with him through two full years of injured reserve. The NFL is often jokingly called Not For Long and its because a player could be a hero one year and a bounced out of the league the next (cough, Tim Tebow, cough).
That support he received from the Broncos organization obviously wasn't lost on him when he was asked about it, saying, "It means the world, especially in this business. They pretty much believed in me and that gave me the confidence to just take my time and get healthy. Now I’m ready to make a difference."
It's a good thing too, because Carter has been physically ready to play since the middle of last season. Which means he is back to full strength and there is no real schedule to speak of. Just football.
"You know how IR works, once you’re on there, you’re on there," Carter said of being healthy during last season, "I wasn’t on the IR return list. Like I said, I’m very thankful that the Broncos supported me and put me on IR. They could have released me. So I’m thankful and blessed that they kept me and now I’m here at this point."
I'm definitely happy for him and looking forward to seeing him fight for a roster spot.
The big man spoke third and the media immediately began talking defense - which I absolutely appreciated. When asked about John Elway's offseason roster moves, Knighton offered, "I just know the team’s never going to be the same. And when you go to the Super Bowl, a lot of teams obviously are going to get players off your team and try to build around players that have been successful. So I knew we would have to replace guys. I just didn’t know we would with these quality of guys. I’ve never been on two really good rosters like this in my career, so I’m just happy with the guys we got, and obviously we’ve just got to finish this year."
So yeah, this team went to the Super Bowl last year, but the roster is apparently even better this year. The excitement is building, but it could just be me again. Speaking of building, Knighton was also asked how he might build on last season, which he replied, "Me, personally, I want to be a Pro Bowler. I want to be the best tackle in the NFL. Right now me and Sly are working nose and three-technique so I want to be the best nose tackle I can be. Right now I’m just watching future opponents and trying to build off how I played later in the season last year once I got into a good rhythm. Right now, just trying to get better and not trying to take steps backwards."
If you ask me, Knighton has nothing to worry about. He is already well on his way to a household name and fans always tend to vote for the previous years' performance, which means Pot Roast is a shoe in for the Pro Bowl in 2014. Mark it down.
Then we get into the kind of questions that interest me, the first of which was how the defense was doing during OTAs, to which Knighton responded, "Right now we’re just trying to build good habits. Running to the ball, things that you can control. Obviously we can’t hit guys, but just being where you’re supposed to be, learning the playbook, working on conditioning and making sure you’re flying around. Our coach is always telling us three hard steps to the ball and make sure you burst off the stack. Just the little things. Obviously, you can really tell a lot when we have on pads, but for right now we’re just working on the small things."
I love the good habits, especially ones that involve no broken tackles and do involve turnovers for a defense. The guys are just focusing on technique, the fundamentals, and the playbook.
Asked about how things change once the pads come on as it did during Broncos minicamp last week, Knighton said, "Just pad level, working on double-teams, pass rushing and finally being able to knock guys over. Right now, when we’re rushing the quarterback, we have to stay on the edge. The O-Line has the advantage because they know we can’t bull rush them or anything so like I said, right now we’re just working on the small things and the fundamentals. But when the pads come on, you start working on what you’re going to do during the year."
They then asked about Knighton's twitter spat with Tyrann Mathieu, which was pretty awesome stuff on Sunday and yesterday when Knighton was asked about it. We'll see how well Mathieu and his Arizona Cardinals play the Broncos in the regular season. Click the link to see the full story - no need to rehash it here. Besides, there are a few more defensive questions that are begging me to put in here.
How about that secondary? The talk was about getting more physical in the secondary. With T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and now rookie Bradley Roby, it certainly looks physical on paper. Rahim Moore can be pretty physical too.
However, Knighton made a good point about all this paper tiger stuff when he said, "On paper we do but like Coach Del Rio said, we’ve got to put the work in. Obviously we’ve got the guys back there who mentally are going to come up and hit and just having that fear factor for receivers and running backs in the back end of our defense is obviously going to help. But like I said, we won’t know until we put the pads on. We’ve just got to put the work in."
Yep, you got to put the work in if you want to be great. Speaking of putting the work in, why isn't it that way with all 32 NFL teams? Actually, Knighton summed that up nicely as well while answering a question about player participation during voluntary practice.
"It raises the level of everybody," Knighton said of the teams work ethic, "When I first got here last year, I didn’t know what to expect for OTAs and then camp, but you see why guys like Peyton and Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller, why they play at a high level is because they practice at a high level, they prepare at a high level. And it becomes contagious throughout the roster and I think that’s why this team is successful."
Probably the greatest gift guys like John Elway, Von Miller, Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady and Demaryius Thomas brought to Denver was a team culture centered around greatness and winning. We all remember the country club culture and I'm sure we are all quite glad it is gone.
The pass rushing hype-machine that is Quanterus Smith was next up for questioning. He is basically a rookie, so I am doing my best to temper my expectations. However, I am quietly optimistic, even if the fan hype is driving me a little crazy.
On his first real crack at OTAs, Smith responded, "I feel like it’s going well. It’s the first time getting back out there and really playing healthy and stuff like that, so I feel good about it."
Broncos OTAs: everything you need to know
The Denver Broncos OTA offseason workouts will be held May 28-30, June 2-4 and June 16-19. Read on for more coverage.
He also mentioned his knee is back to where it was before he hurt it in college, which means he is fully recovered from that. I personally can't wait to see how he does in training camp and the preseason.
It will help him to have DeMarcus Ware teaching him the finer points of rushing the passer. Asked about the tips he's been getting from Ware, Smith said, "It’s more with your hands and just going through the tackle instead of trying to get around him ... using your hands and going through him, he taught me that. So I’m trying to work on that."
For a defensive end, Smith isn't very heavy. In fact, he is Elvis Dumervil-like in that regard. He said he put on weight last season in preparation for this offseason, but is still only 254 and hopes to get up closer to 260 by the time the season starts. For a defensive end that is not very heavy. He will need to be quick and agile to be consistently effective.
For his final question, he was asked if he felt like people forgot about him somewhat. In response, Smith said, "It’s possible. I came from a small school, went fifth round and stuff like that. So, it’s possible, but it’s my job to make them remember me and stuff like that, so I have no problem earning my respect."
I doubt anyone reading Mile High Report forgot about him, but its just another display of Elway's patience for young players. It's still a Not For Long league, but maybe in Denver that length of period is just a wee bit longer than average. In any case, it will be fun to see both Quinton Carter and Quanterus Smith fight for a spot on this roster.