Yesterday, day one of Denver Broncos minicamp wrapped up with interviews from John Fox, Peyton Manning, Bradley Roby, Kevin Vickerson and DeMarcus Ware. Plenty of good things were said by those players and good impressions received by us fans from everything that came from that presser. The good vibes just keep on flowing too as the media met with John Fox, Jack Del Rio, Adam Gase, Malik Jackson and Manny Ramirez after the second day of minicamp.
The Broncos PR staff released a notice that the team will be hosting joint practices with the Houston Texans in the week leading up to their August 23rd preseason matchup. The last time I remember the Broncos holding joint practices with another team was in 2008 with the Dallas Cowboys. I remember well because I went to the Monday Night Football opener at the Oakland Raiders where Jay Cutler and company promptly embarrassed the Raiders in their own stadium. It was awesome.
Anyway, head coach John Fox had this to say about the joint practices, "We’ve been setting that up. We’ve done it before. With the new camp schedule and whatnot, we tend to like a little bit more competition so they’ll come in and we’ll get three good days of practice with the Texans leading up to our preseason game."
A followup about what the team will do differently during these joint practices, Fox said, "I think you spend a lot of time working against each other and I think it’s kind of a good break for both sides to compete against a different style of offense and defense, as well as different players."
It will help Peyton Manning for sure to face a stout defensive line not wearing orange jersey's. Given the Texans also play a 3-4 similar to the Kansas City Chiefs, it should give the offense a little extra preparation for those key divisional matchups during the regular season.
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are looking to obliterate opposing quarterbacks in 2014, with an emphasis on sacks. Sacks are a sexy stat, but what Ware was eluding to more than anything was his and Miller's desire to harass and assault quarterbacks for 60 minutes week in and week out.
"You really just try to affect the quarterback," Fox explained when asked about the significance of pressuring the quarterback, "Sometimes people read too much into sacks and sometimes it defines the type of season, which in actuality you can have a very good year without huge sacks numbers. We’re just looking for affecting the quarterback and making them uncomfortable."
In my opinion, Von Miller's suspension set the tone of a dysfunctional defense last season. He and Shaun Phillips could never become a quarterback harassing tandem that Miller was when Elvis Dumervil was a Bronco. This issue of chemistry appears to have been solve with Ware's presence on the roster. It even appeared to be John Elway's primary goal this offseason.
"We went way out of our way to get that tandem," Fox said of Ware, "Again, time will tell how they work. They’re working very hard up to this point and they’re both very, very talented people"
Jack Del Rio
I should break this up by question instead of by the person being interviewed, because it seems like everyone is asked the same exact line of questioning. Regarding the joint practice in a few months with the Texans, Del Rio said, "It’ll be good. It’s always good to do that when you can, to practice with another team, especially after a couple weeks of camp. You see the same things from your offense and they’re seeing the same things from us, so it’s a good changeup."
Bradley Roby has been making a name for himself this week and when asked about his progress, Del Rio had only good things to say.
"He is making plays, an aggressive guy who can run. Bright guy. And he’s going well right now. So you know Roby is going to be a good player for us and right now he’s just earning his way."
Roby is sounding exactly like the kind of player we all knew this defense would need in the secondary in order to compete with the style of defenses played in the NFC West. The only question is now is how quickly does Roby become an every down starter?
The more I hear, the more I think Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams have great chemistry when they play together, which will make it difficult for Kevin Vickerson to earn back his starting job. If you were a fan back when Mike Shanahan was doing everything he could to try and plug the gigantic gaping hole in the middle of the defense, you likely appreciate the depth the Broncos now possess on that interior line. Even Marvin Austin is impressing, which gives the Broncos more depth at the position than they know what to do with.
"It’s harder to judge the big guys but Sly has come back in good shape," Del Rio said of Sylvester Williams, "I think him and Terrance, they have a real good relationship. I think it grew at the end of last year and I think they’ve tried to kind of pick up where they left off as they finished the year"
All that depth should translate into fresh legs and plenty of pressure up the middle and on the outside. Truly a quarterbacks nightmare. Asked about it, Del Rio said, "I think it helps if you get some interior push when you have guys on the outside as dynamic as they are. If the quarterback can just step up and allow the tackles to push those guys by, then obviously that can be good for them, not good for us. So getting that interior push is very beneficial and we’ve got some guys who can do that."
When asked about defensive creativity, Del Rio said, "We’ve got plenty of creativity. What it really comes down to is getting on the same page, selecting from the packages the things that we can do the best and play fast with that. We’ve got a large library of thoughts and ideas and different schemes and things we can do. At the end of the day, we want to be able to stop people from running the ball at us and harass the quarterback and get off the field on third down. I think not allowing explosive plays will be a big emphasis for us. We had far too many last year and that’ll be something that will be at the forefront of everything we’re doing. But having good players helps. And we’ve got some good players. And so we’re going to utilize those guys, put them in position."
T.J. Ward was mentioned as well, since the media noted he was playing down in the box at times during practice. It's good to have players talented enough to play a wide range of roles in a defense and this defense has a lot of good players.
"I think you do what you can," Del Rio elaborated when asked about last season's defense, "I think last year, I would suggest if you go back and review last year, that we were very good down the stretch when it mattered. That didn’t help our rank for the regular season but we were effective in the home win against San Diego and we were effective in the home win against the Patriots. And we helped our football team get to the championship game. So we did things that we’re very proud of. And we did them shorthanded. So we look forward to getting a full squad back, the healthy guys back, and some of the guys that we’ve added, and working together and building the chemistry and the cohesiveness that’s necessary to play at an elite level."
The mastermind of this defensive said it perfectly when he pointed out that the defense came together down the stretch when it mattered. And yes, he is the mastermind. His first year with the team, the Broncos became a top 5 defense after a half decade of some of the worst defenses the Broncos have ever fielded. As far as last season, I see plenty of reasons why the defense struggled early and few had to do with Del Rio's coaching ability - other than putting Paris Lenon in over the likes of Nate Irving or Wesley Woodyard. I complain about that even, but ironically, the defense played better with Lenon in the middle than it did with the other two earlier in the season.
Not that it matters now, because this defense is much better in 2014. When asked about that 2014 paper tiger, Del Rio responded, "This is a time of year when people rank how good you are on paper. And certainly on paper it looks real good. But I’m not really concerned much with that. I’ve talked to our guys about it. It’s about going to work every day and really building that trust where you know where your buddy’s going to be. And you’re doing it for the guy next to you and you’re doing it at a really high level. There’s just a price you have to pay, a sacrifice you have to make. What I like most about all of our additions is they’ve come in here and they’ve been good teammates. They’re coming in here with the right attitude, eager to learn, eager to be good teammates, and they’re working hard. So approaching it like that gives us a chance. But with our group and the way we are and our expectations anyway, we expect to be a special unit."
And boy this defense sure does look good on paper. Bring the nasty!
The first question out of the box for Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase was about the lightning that prematurely ended practice. In response, Gase said, "We felt like we were off to a good start that period and we ran the ball a couple times and we had some good runs so we were kind of looking forward to seeing what was going to happen the rest of that period. But our twos didn’t get to go and we were kind of working on some of our up-tempo stuff. It would have been nice to have been able to finish that period."
Based on some reports from Cecil Lammey, it does sounds like Brock Osweiler could have used that extra work. Especially given that he appeared to finally be out there having a good day before practice was prematurely ended.
It also sounds like the Broncos may just have an elite secondary coming together. Gase almost lamented the fact when asked about how important it is to work on timing in the passing game, saying, "It’s tough right now, especially with the corners we have and the way they’re playing and the safeties, how fast they’re closing. There are not big windows right now. D.T., Emmanuel, Wes, Julius and Bubba, they’ve done a good job of trying to create separation and he’s throwing them open. It’s just the windows are closing quickly. Our DBs are very good and it’s a tough matchup for us every day."
Considering this passing offense shattered records in 2013 and the only NFL defense that was able to slow them down was the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, this makes me even more excited about this defense. The Continental Divide baby! Or whatever...
For a young guy like Jackson to go up against some of those all-pro lineman on the offensive side of the ball, it's like a double whammy of learning and improvement. Great teams get better because of the great players making each other better (or something like that).
"It’s good to practice against the best O-Line (in the NFL)," said Jackson, "You’ve got Louis Vasquez and Clady. Clady is finally back. So I think it’s pretty good for me because I get to work against them and then hopefully when I go in the games, it’s a lot easier."
Then when you have a future Hall of Fame player like DeMarcus Ware in the locker room, one would be a fool not to try to learn his craft. On that craft, Jackson explained, "Just how to use your hands better. Keep them in tight. Just rush at him, things like that. (There're) more things I could probably show you than tell you. He’s a great guy and a great teacher and always willing to teach you. It’s just a blessing for me to have him so I can learn from him."
If you are wondering how much Ware might have left in the tank, rest easy for Jackson thinks he is a beast, saying, "He looks like a beast, like he’s 24 or something. I think he’s going to be ready, healthy and with the strength coaches and the defense that we have, I think he’ll be real good."
Chemistry is a huge on defense and its something that us fans have consistently been hearing about with each post-practice interview. Sure some of that could just be diplospeak, but based on the various responses to the same question, I am leaning towards it being genuine. Just another reason to be excited people!
"We come in, we always hang out with each other, whether it’s going out or just being at the house," Jackson said of team chemistry, "So I think this is the best time for it and I think we’ve gelled a lot since we got here. Even when the new guys came in, they just meshed right in with us. So I don’t think we missed a beat. I think everybody trusts each other on and off the field and I think we’re a great team."
Manny Ramirez has not let go of his stranglehold over the center position since becoming the starter last offseason and in spite of one really bad play in the Super Bowl, he has been stellar. Still, that one bad play is going to bring some questions about his position. Asked if he feels like the starter, Ramirez responded, "It’s my position to lose. I’m still focused on getting better every day. I want to go in there like in previous years, trying to work my butt off to make sure that I will be the guy in there. But I know that Coach ‘Mags’ and the coaches are going to put the best guy out there."
Manny talked about offensive line chemistry and continuity, but it was mostly stuff already covered in previous questions. One comment did stick out some and it had to do with there being more of a ground game in 2014, which Ramirez responded saying, "I hope so. Just because the way we’re built. The front five, we like to run the ball. But, at the same time, we’re going to do what’s best for the team, whether it’s passing or running. So hopefully we are balanced, just because it will help out as far as what we can do."
Then naturally, things turned back to the Super Bowl. Did Ramirez even watch the tape yet? That includes the first play, you know.
"I have. Just for the simple fact of I like to know what went on. You don’t see the whole game when you’re out there. We have to focus on certain things as far as what the O-Line can do. The better team won that way. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We just have to make sure we use that as motivation that we’ve been there before and now we’re able to go back to finish it. At the same time, it doesn’t guarantee that we’re going to make it back but we’ll take it one game at a time."
Oh no you don't... Own it! Look at it! See it! Remember it!
"Truthfully, it’s just like any other day," said Ramirez of that infamous first play, "Unfortunately it happened on the first play of the Super Bowl. But it’s just a play you have to let it go and continue to move forward on. I used the whole game as motivation, not just that one play. That’s in the past."
Okay, that's better. Your body of work makes it easier for a fan like me to let go of the past and move forward. If you needed my absolution, you have it.
The biggest news on the offensive line this offseason was Orlando Franklin being moved inside. I obviously hated the idea, as I am to most change, but the move is starting to look smart as we have some good competition at right tackle now.
"Everything happens a lot faster inside and you get your hands on people a lot quicker and all that stuff," Ramirez explained, "So on the outside it takes a little bit longer as far as getting off the ball, getting depth and are they going to go outside or inside or down the middle. When the inside is more getting your hands on them and locking them down and being able to pick up the twists that they’re trying to throw at you and what we’re working with right now, our defense is doing a lot of stuff, which kind of helps us in the long run, just getting that comfort level as far as how we’re going to look at things."
It helps that Peyton Manning gets the ball out of his hands faster than any quarterback on the planet, so the transition for 2014 should be fairly smooth of Franklin. Hopefully he will be a pro's pro by the 2015 offseason.