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Chemistry a critical interaction for championship teams

There's an X-factor when it comes to winning championships that is intangible. It cannot be drafted, acquired or taught. It must be made organically by those involved.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Offense wins games; defense wins championships.

Ok, it's kind of true (at least, it was last year for the Denver Broncos unfortunately).

But there's an X-factor when it comes to winning championships that is intangible and cannot be drafted, acquired or taught. It must be made organically by those involved.

Team chemistry.


Obviously, you have to have a strong offense and defense, a great QB, playmakers on both sides of the ball, and strategic thinkers on the sidelines.

But those are givens when you're talking about any elite-level football team.

A crucial component for going beyond just winning games and being able to sustain a championship-level mindset an entire season comes back to team chemistry - the ability to communicate without even talking, to understand when a teammate needs a little room to screw up and when he needs a kick in the ass to get motivated and be better, to know what triggers better performance and what will tailspin into self-loathing.

"As coaches, we provide a blue print, but then they have to take it and make it their own," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase last week. "So the interaction they have, the time they spend lifting weights and running, different guys emerge. Guys earn the respect of their peers and I think as you play and you're here and as you show you're a guy that can be counted on, then your voice becomes a little more important."

It's a tricky thing to get right but a beautiful thing to watch when it happens. Like 55 touchdowns beautiful.

But as good as last year's team was, chemistry was difficult with so many injuries and new guys coming in late in the year.

And in today's NFL with free agency and salary caps, getting it and maintaining it are near impossible.

That's why the early workouts are so important - and luckily for Broncos fans, our players get it.

More than learning the playbook, OTAs are about getting the right feel for players, their personalities, their triggers and their fit in the locker room.

Two veterans who are new to the Broncos this season - defensive end DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders - understand very well how important those connections are, which is why it's one of the things they are concentrating on in these early weeks.

"The defensive line, they're really a close-knit group," Ware said, adding that he's still getting to know everyone's personalities and what he can say and can't say. "But that's what this game is about. Going into a new environment, how well you accept change.... But [the defensive line] really just brought me in. I feel really comfortable here."

Sanders, a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, knows a thing or two about chemistry with a quarterback and why it's critical for a team wanting to make a run at the February game.

"Because if this game was easy, anybody could do it," Sanders said Friday. "So after every single OTA practice, you'll see me and Peyton out there trying to work on chemistry, work on plays and things of that sort," he said. "If you put the work in, I feel like the goal will be a key and that goal is to complete every single pass that's thrown to me. Right now we're putting the work in and hopefully it all pays off."

Petyon Manning certainly believes the extra work with Sanders will pay off.

"We've worked hard," Manning said of the first week of OTAs. "Like I said, this is important work for he and I to get on the same page, going against top cover guys like [Aqib] Talib, trying to execute a timing pass pattern with DeMarcus Ware rushing in your face."

"I don't think Wes catches two touchdowns in the season opener if not for the offseason work."   -Peyton Manning

Last year at this time Manning and Wes Welker were in the same position, and with OTAs and Manning's passing camp at Duke, the extra work certainly showed on the field.

"I don't think Wes catches two touchdowns in the season opener if not for the offseason work," Manning said. "He obviously had a great year for us last year. He's still a difficult matchup problem for teams, and I know he'll be even more comfortable here in year two, and I'm looking forward to playing with him. He's a fun guy to play with."

Part of the team chemistry that builds in the offseason is not just useful on the field but in the locker room too. Manning added that Welker is one of those guys who can really make others feel comfortable, and that's an important role.

"Wes is a great guy to have in the locker room. He's always upbeat, in a good mood," Manning said. "That's a great quality to have. I think it's kind of contagious. If you're in one of those grinding mode mentalities, he can find a way to get a smile on everybody's face."

Demaryius Thomas remembers putting in extra work with Manning to get on the same page, and we all know how awesome that turned out. The great thing is neither Manning nor Thomas is letting that be the end of it. Thomas is still aiming to get better than he was last year.

And if you're curious about how that chemistry work between Manning and Thomas is impacting the team, ask defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who has found Thomas' improved route running to be a great asset for his defense to play against.

"There are a lot of big talented guys, but not everybody can run precise routes and understand how to get off press and get off jams and read coverages and all those things," Del Rio said. "So I think that's the area where he's really improved with working with Peyton and the timing of it, but that's what allows you to be special. He's a really good player for us to go against every day."

As for the new guys - Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer - Thomas sees great chemistry in the works.

"Even though [Latimer] can't be on the field, I can tell that he wants to learn quickly, and you've got Emmanuel doing the same thing...doing some of the stuff we did when we first got with Peyton," Thomas said. "I think it will be quick. We've got quick learners, so I think everything will be fine."

Quick is good and will help make that championship run even more promising as the season rolls along.

"We just kind of vibed off each other's movements on the field. I think we're just going to get better with time." -T.J. Ward

Newcomer to the Broncos T.J. Ward is already clicking with safety Rahim Moore, who's back from injury.

"It's coming very well. We're starting to get to know each other," Ward said. "There were some times where things didn't necessarily have to be said, we just kind of vibed off each other's movements on the field. I think we're just going to get better with time."

Moore noted that the best part is that every player seems to understand this benefit.

"You would think these guys have been in here since we all came in as rookies. Our communication is great. There are no egos," Moore said. "Each and every one of us can be a teacher. Each and every one of us can be a student. So I believe we're going to be very special, but we've got to put the work in."

I don't know about the rest of Broncos Country - homer admissions aside - but I'm with Moore and Del Rio:

"I feel good about our group," the defensive coordinator said. "We have a good group."