As the Denver Broncos concluded day 5 of OTAs, both Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase met with the media to discuss the teams progress during the second week of organized drills. The interviews continued as both Aqib Talib and Wes Welker also met with the media afterwards. One might think those two were purposely paired together on the same day, but hey, who has time for conspiracy theories, right?
Jack Del Rio
One of the fresher veteran faces on the roster is none other than Talib. Broncos defensive coordinator, Del Rio, had this to say about him, "He's a good communicator. He's been terrific in the meetings with some of the younger players. I think Aqib is a veteran guy who understand what he wants now for himself and for the team. He's working hard, been a good teammate and learning our system. I think he's a physical corner and guy who's very capable of shutting down some of the top wide receivers that we'll face.
Pressed further on Talib's physical abilities, Del Rio offered, "Having guys with his ability helps. He's the kind of guy that can do that. He's the kind of guy that will show up and tackle in the run game when teams want to run at corners. So It hink he's a good football player. We're happy to have him."
It has been noted often here at Mile High Report and in our community of members that the Broncos "base" defense could be called the nickel. Del Rio appeared to take a stand against this misconception of what a "base" defense as opposed to a sub package.
"I don't consider the nickel the base, just because of the semantics of it. Base is base. Sub is sub. It is the norm. It is the most frequently played defensive unit. I think last year, 66% of our snaps were in the sub package. You'are playing more and more 3 wide receiver sets, or even 2 tight end sets where the second tight end is really almost like a wide receiver. So you're playing a lot of sub downs, so we've adjusted accordingly."
This might be where the argument of semantics comes into play. Jack Del Rio is obviously old school and is unwilling to let go of his idea of what a base defense is, but in today's NFL it would seem that the rules of the game have made the nickel defense "the norm", while the 4-3 could possibly be considered a sub package as it is no longer "the norm".
Whether or not that is true can be debated, the fact is, the Denver Broncos will likely play the nickel defense 2/3rds of their snaps. So if you were to ask me to project the Broncos starting defense, I'd probably look at the nickel alignment before I look at the "base" 4-3. Semantics...
Speaking of Del Rio being old school, one of the reporters there must have picked up on that and asked him how the game has changed since he played in the 1990's.
"Yeah, it's gone to more space and tempo. I think those are the two things that you're seeing more and more prevalent. There are still examples of power football. We're going to play the NFC West this year. There's a lot of power football going on in that division with Seattle and Sa Francisco ... So it's not like you can ignore that part of the game. But more and more you're seeing teams that want to go with space and tempo."
Everyone is obviously happy to hear Von Miller is ahead of schedule and already participating in a limited way so early in the offseason program.
"Von is still working hard with the trainers and the rehab and trying to work his way back on the field. He's doing a good job from that standpoint. He's very engaged in our meetings. He's another one of those veteran guys that's trying to step up a little more in a leadership role. Speaking up and letting the guys understand what it takes to play at a high level. So that's been very good for us."
Apart from his rather troubled 2013 campaign with suspensions and injuries, Von Miller is still the linchpin to this defense. He is the motor that drives all of the other parts. It will be imperative to get his explosiveness back and also to keep him healthy all year long.
Del Rio is quite pleased with the new configuration of his defense and spoke of the leaders saying, "We've got a good group of leaders. That's really something I'm very pleased with. Between DeMarcus, Terrance Knight in the front. At linebacker, Danny Trevatghan's really stepped forward, Nate Irving, those guys are very confident, very comfortable leading guys. In the back end, I think you see some real natural leadership ability with T.J. in terms of getting the guy's attention and Aqib is a great communicator. So we've added some pieces, and some of the guys we have coming back, it's a good mix."
A key advantage for Del Rio has to be his unit going up against the best offensive in the NFL. If they can compete and stop this high octane offense half the time, then I am convinced they can stop any other offense most of the time.
Obviously we’re going to play complimentary football. We’re looking to win games. And if our offense is potent and goes down and scores quickly, then obviously we’re called on to do our part and get them the ball back. So we can limit that number of snaps by playing better defensively. Being better on early downs, getting them off the field on third downs and creating more turnovers. So we’re going to always look to play complimentary football as a team, play to win. But I can assure you that defensively, we have high goals and high standards and we’re getting ourselves prepared to play great defense here."
Turnovers have been something of a disappointment for the Broncos organization on both sides of the ball for a few years now. The bright spots being that when this Broncos defense did get a rare turnover, it was one of those game changing or game clinching kind of turnovers. If they're going to be bad at getitng turnovers, then at least they were good at when they got them.
Things moved on to Broncos offense coordinator, Adam Gase, who was predictably asked about Emmanuel Sanders and his integration into the offense after just five days of practice.
"When you watch him on film from when he was at Pittsburgh, you just see that quickness off the line, the vertical speed, his ability to separate down the field. We’ve seen basically all that same stuff we saw, so he hasn’t lost any of that within the last year or the last four months, whatever it’s been," Gase said of Sanders, adding further, "It’s a different kind of dimension for us. I think we’ve got a group of guys, every guy brings a little different element to our passing game, and not saying what we had before wasn’t any good, but it’s just a little different element for us."
As people look at what players were lost in free agency and who came in to replace, they usually look at the stats. I did too at first, but someone pointed out to me that Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders were two completely different wide receivers and that Sanders added an element to this Broncos offense that was missing in 2013. He is not as big and strong as Decker, but the Broncos already have big and strong in Demaryius Thomas. What they needed was a speedster.
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When pressed on the difference between the two, Gase offered, "They’re different body types, and Eric had his way of finding ways to get open and catching the ball and making plays down the field, and making big plays underneath and creating, and Emmanuel can do the same thing. It’s just going to be in a different way. They’re two different styles of players, but their job at the end of the day is to get open and catch the ball, and they both can do that."
I often wonder just how difficult the job is for an offensive coordinator trying to install an offensive system for Peyton Manning and the more I think about it the more I think it must be the worst job on the planet. Why? Because the best you can do is have Peyton do his thing and win a ton of football games, while the worst thing you could do is having your system suck so bad that even Peyton can't make it look good.
Gase actually addressed that specific challenge today saying, "You’re always looking for some wrinkles to make sure that we stay current with what’s going on in the NFL. The hardest thing is, all of your games are on tape. For us, it’s 19 regular-season (and playoff) games, and teams will look at that, and they’ve got a lot of time to prepare for us, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a couple of different things to where you can keep them a little off balance."
Yeah, I do not envy his job one bit. How does he even sleep at night? I'd wake up screaming every night reliving the nightmare that was the Super Bowl just a few months ago. No thanks!
The key is keeping teams off balance just enough to score big on your bread and butter plays, which the Broncos did successfully to the tune of an NFL record 606 points in 2013.
"The defensive coaches in the NFL are very good, and they are quick to adjust to everything you do on offense. That’s why you try to stay one step ahead," said Gase, but noting that is not that easy to do, "The problem is, they’ll catch up quick, and you’ve just got to (say), ‘What’s the next thing that you can do to keep them off-balance,’? That’s what you’re constantly trying to do. They’ll always have ways to stay up to what you’re trying to do."
And finally, the dreaded green football. Having led the team in fumbles over the last two seasons, I do believe Peyton Manning was the first to secure the green football in OTAs, but quarterback fumbles are often due to poor offensive line play more than the quarterback being Mr. Butterfingers.
Then again, it could just be a random deal. Said Gase, "I’ve got a lot of free time at night, so I just kind of walk around the locker room and see who could be the next victim ... But we are going to try to make sure that that’s a point of emphasis for us. I know Coach Fox talked about it. But if we can be a plus-turnover margin team, it’s not going to do anything but help our team win"
Poor Talib appears to have taken a lot of flak for saying Peyton Manning was better than Tom Brady on NFL Network a few weeks ago, but he took things in stride saying, "The question was, ‘Who won last year?’ It was an honest opinion. I mean, who had the better last year? If you throw that many touchdowns and you won the last head to head then you’ve got to say you had the better year last year."
Sorry Talib, the actual question doesn't matter. It's much more fun to gossip and create controversy on the subject, especially when interest in the NFL is at its lowest point of the year. You should have made those comments four months from now and no one would have cared.
Speaking of Peyton Manning and whether him being a Bronco affected in Talib's decision to sign with Denver (oh that and $50+ million) saying, "It definitely was key. I wanted to go to a winning program, whether it was staying in New England or coming to Denver. Part of a winning program is definitely your quarterback. Once Denver came in the picture it was almost like a no brainer for me."
Talib was also asked who was the hardest wide reciever to cover.
"I’ve had my hands full this whole time. One day I’ve got D.T., the big, fast, physical receiver," said Talib, "The next play I’ve got the shorter, quicker, speedy receiver in Emmanuel . It’s great work out there. Just getting ready for all opponents, getting ready for everybody."
Demaryius Thomas is a matchup nightmare for any cornerback, even those on that vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense who could not stop him from racking up 100+ yards and touchdown in spite of being the guy Peyton Manning stared down for the better part of that entire game. Therefore, it was good to hear such high praise again for who I think is the second or third best wide receiver in the entire NFL.
Talib continued, "It’s been good. D.T. took me deep a couple times, him and Peyton. It’s good work. It’s great work going out there with them. That’s going to do nothing but get me ready for the season."
With Wes Welker, he responded to what the biggest difference was between the first week of OTAs and the second, "I think we’re kind of at the early stages of putting the basic stuff and trying to get into some things that can help us through the season. Just kind of putting that stuff together and at the same time bringing some of the new guys along and making sure that we’re all on the same page and understanding the signals and the concepts and everything else we’re doing."
This kind of deal isn't likely as difficult with some other teams, but Welker is probably used to it with both Peyton and Tom Brady being perrenial all-pro quarterbacks commanding high powered offensive juggernauts. The newer additions, however, are probably undergoing some sort of information overload at this point.
The media must sense that Welker's time in Denver is coming to an end, but Welker seems intent on living in the moment. In response to a reporters inquiry over what he thinks about the Broncos targetting some younger wide receivers this offseason, he said, "I don't really think about it like that anymore. I want us to be the best team we can be, whatever that means; that’s what it is. Trust me, I understand. I’m 33 going into my 11th year and everything. I don't know how many opportunities I have. I want us to be the best team possible. Whoever that takes being out here and trying to help for us to be the best that we can be, that’s what I’m all about."
It's about winning Super Bowls for him and asked if he is looking to win his first, Welker responded, "For sure. I think it’s kind of the one thing that’s out there for me that I’m working towards. It’s what pushes me, it’s what motivates me and I think we have a great opportunity and just want to make the most of it."
From my perspective, I think John Elway wants to keep Welker in Denver, but at the end of the day he won't be able to. Welker will rightfully want a bigger deal this time around and the Broncos simply won't be in position to give it to him. It will simply be more important to lock Demaryius Thomas in long term than it will be to lock Welker in for another year or two.
What about that Kentucky Derby?
"It was just a spur-of-the-moment deal," said Welker, "Just having fun. I’ve kind of addressed most of it. So you know, just had a good time and shared it."
As a guy living in Sacramento and having grown up in the far nothern part of California, I live just a stone's throw from Yuba City, home of California Chrome. It would be incredible for us Westerners to have one of our born and bred Throughobreds win the first Triple Crown since 1978, so this wholy Kentucky Derby deal was a pretty awesome day for me as well. Hopefully, Welker win's another gigantic chunk of dough this weekend!