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Day 6: Denver Broncos OTAs news and interviews recap

The Denver Broncos wrapped up day 6 of OTAs yesterday. Defensive standouts, Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller represented the Orange Crush, while Julius Thomas covered the offensive unit for interviews.
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As we conclude the second week of the Denver Broncos OTA program, the fans will have to suffer through a 12-day gap between now and the next time the players take the field for the final leg of OTAs. No coaches were interviewed yesterday, but we did get our favorite walking wounded in front of a microphone after team drills yesterday, with both Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller up to bat for the media. On the offensive side, starting tight end Julius Thomas also had some things to say.

Chris Harris Jr.

The first several questions centered around Harris teaming back up with his college teammate, Aqib Talib. It's really not all that interesting other than Harris is super excited to be able to get back at it with Talib just like when they were at Kansas. He was asked how he and Talib would complement each other on the field.

"Just that chemistry. When we go out there and say that we’ve got corners over or if I’ve got to go in motion, I’m able to just tell him something that this is what I like to do. I know Aqib likes to press a lot and I can play off," Harris said of playing with Talib, "So I’ll be like, ‘Qib, you go up there and press and I can play off.’ Just the little different things that we can do within the defense. I knew how DRC liked to play. DRC liked to play off a little more and let me be physical. So it’s just those different types of things that you might get when you’re going against the offense."

It surprised me that Harris mentioned he could play off. He struck me as a physical, in your face kind of cornerback. This is an exciting development, because Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was great at playing off coverage, but also seemed to shy away from the physicality part of the game. The Broncos now have two very physical corners who can fully complement each other's strengths - no wonder Talib got paid.

Asked if he was on schedule to return to the field by Week 1 of the regular season, Harris seemed confident he would be pretty close by then. As for the schedule of his rehabilitation, he said, "I’m pretty much doing everything except defensive back drills, but I’m doing a little bit. They’re working me up to getting to defensive backs drills. I’m running full speed, sprinting, backpedaling, turning, doing all that stuff. I’m just really following the protocol of what they have me do every day. There’s probably more stuff that I can do but they don’t want me to test that. I’m just going to continue to follow protocol. They have me on schedule to be ready. As long as I stick to the schedule, I should be fine."

All I have to say Mr. Harris, is stick to the schedule. That is all. You are too dang good to not be out there helping this franchise hoist another Lombardi Trophy.

I have been using the term "Orange Crush" more and more here lately and there is a reason for it that goes beyond the usual homer Bronco fan living in the past deal. I think this defense has a chance to compete with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers defense of the NFC West in terms of suffocating opposing offenses. There is definitely a different vibe or perhaps a lot of hype. I don't think it's hype though. Hype is when a fan base gets all excited over a guy like Niko Koutivides being signed.

"As a defense, we’re hungry. If you add on a lot of pieces that we’ve brought in (such as) T.J., Ware and Talib, you add those guys on to the already talented guys that we have here, we haven’t really even seen the full defense. Once me and Von come back, that’s two impact players right there that you add on to the field. It’s going to be pretty scary once we get back to 100 percent."

It’s going to be pretty scary once we get back to 100%. - Chris Harris Jr.

From last year to this year, it could be and probably will be night and day between this defense and the one fielded in 2013. Said Harris, "I wouldn’t say we held up because the year before we were a top-five defense. And having the talented guys we put on the team last year, I mean, we had a lot of injuries, but still, our goal is to be top five. So we definitely didn’t hold up."

On whether a defensive turnaround was possible, Harris seemed optimistic about it, saying , "Definitely realistic. We know that we’ve got to put a lot of work in and build up the chemistry, just knowing what Talib is going to do with my eyes closed. So once we get to that point as a defense as a whole, and understanding what everybody’s doing, we have the potential and the talent to be able to do it. So top five is definitely a realistic goal."

Looking at what I think the starting roster will be on defense, provided they all stay healthy, I see no less than seven Pro Bowlers and a possible Defensive Rookie of the Year. And that, is hype, my friend. In any case, the players on defense I consider elite - as in Top 10 in the league at their position - are not quite that many. I see Von Miller, Terrance Knighton, Chris Harris Jr., DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward as truly elite. Ware might be borderline Top 10 at this point of his career, but he is still right around there. However, I also see potential in Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby, Rahim Moore, Danny Travathan and Sylvester Williams. What I see on defense makes me giddy to get football underway in 2014!

Von Miller

Von Miller wasn't too interesting in talking about schedules on his recovering, saying, "I feel good. I don’t think (there's) a schedule to have. You want to meet checkpoints and be able to do stuff at certain points of your recovery. But I’m feeling good. Every day I come in feeling good. It’s not swelling up on me or anything like that. It just feels great."

He is able to participate through walkthroughs mostly and mentioned grinding through it as he has never had an injury quite like this one before. Overall, he is happy with how his recovery is going.

The 2013 season was quite tumultuous for Miller with his six game suspension and then season ending knee injury to cap it off. A rough ride like that could help put things into perspective for a young guy and what his priorities are.

"I’m very appreciative. I’ve been through a whole bunch and to still be here and still have everything that was set out before, to still be able to get it now, this is a true blessing. I come to work every day and it’s just different now. I love coming to work. (It’s) not like I didn’t love coming to work before, but I just have a huge opportunity to come up here and play with the Broncos and being around my teammates. We’ve got a lot of colorful guys in the locker room and I love coming to the locker room and working with those guys. I’m living the dream. I’m in a great spot in my life and I’m enjoying it."

It certainly seems like his priorities are aligned with everything us fans hoped for. The guy is a monster on the field and I think we all could sense his intentions have always been in the right place. People make mistakes. Time to move on and play some football, I think.

The biggest addition in 2014 for Von Miller has to be potential future Hall of Fame defensive end, DeMarcus Ware. Few players have amassed more sacks in their career than he has and now he'll get to play on a defense where he won't be the primary focal point of pass protection. Not only that, Miller looks up to him and wants to be like him on the field.

"The relationship is great. DeMarcus, it’s just kind of hard to explain. He’s just one of those special guys…it’s like DeMarcus already knows what I’m asking before I even ask it. I walk up to him and he’s like a psychic. He already knows what I’m going to ask him when we start talking. He just explains it so well. He’s a great teacher and it’s different from any other relationship that I’ve had with anyone else. I’ve looked up to DeMarcus. I’m not afraid to say it: I want to be like DeMarcus Ware. He’s had a consistent career. To have the guy in the locker room every single day and to be able to see him, it’s a true blessing. It’s crazy how things work out."

Listening to these guys and you get a strong sense of camaraderie in this locker room. If this team has as strong a chemistry on the field as it does off it, we could be looking at something truly special on the defensive side of the ball in 2014.

I’m not afraid to say it: I want to be like DeMarcus Ware. - Von Miller

From there the line of questions got sort of weird, talking about loose screws, tightening screws and magnets in terms that really don't translate well to print. Essentially, Von says he is 'nuts', but its okay because the locker room has a good balance of the crazies and not so crazies. Sounds good to me.

We have all heard about his weight last year being much heavier and if it negatively impacted his game. On that subject, Von said, "Last year, my body, I was great. I liked where I was. But it’s just experimentation. That didn’t work as well as I thought it would. I’ve been working out with the same strength and conditioning coach, eating better. It’s not like I wasn’t eating [well] before, but my body fat has always been good. It’s just experimenting. I think me being able to be lighter is just better for me. My weight still fluctuates now and I like the weight I’m at now. Running around and cutting and stuff, I feel great. I’m just anxious to put the pads on and get ready to go."

Frankly, I don't think it was a bad thing, however, players and fans are notoriously superstitious, so I wasn't surprised to see Von's "experiment" with putting on the weight is not longer something he is pursuing.

Out of all of the things asked yesterday, one question produced the most interesting response of the day. Von was asked what happened when he tore is ACL and his response was very interesting.

"I never talked about that before. I remember it clearly. We were in a 30-front, I had a tight end outside of me. What I should have done, I should have gone outside of the tight end because I knew he was going to chip me. It was just one of those plays where I stayed inside and was trying to work the tackle without giving up the inside, running all the way inside and keeping the outside contained. I still tried to stay firm outside and the tight end came out and he chipped me on my left side. I put my right leg down and my right leg just like buckled. It all happened so quickly. It didn’t really hurt that day. I did all the stuff and it just felt funny. I came in the next day, got my MRI and it still didn’t hurt. But when I got in the room with ‘Greek’ and ‘Greek’ told me I tore my ACL, I was like, ‘Ah, my ACL is killing me.’ It was just one of those things. It’s just part of football. You just have to be able to overcome adverse situations."

We've all been there at some point in our lives where we've injured ourselves or cut ourselves and we don't even realize it, but the second someone tells us we're hurt or bleeding, pain quickly follows. Although, tearing an ACL is definitely something one should feel immediately. Ouch! Von Miller is one tough dude. John Elway was smart to lock this guy in for another year.

"I think it was great," Von said of the Broncos picking up his fifth-year option, "It definitely makes me feel good knowing that the organization is behind me and they trust me and they believe in me, especially through all the stuff that I’ve been through. It makes me want to go out there even more to prove to those guys, not anything on the field, but prove to those guys that I’m the guy that they can trust and I’m the guy that they can believe in. I want to be that guy and I want to show it on the field. Not only on the field, but coaching up the young guys and show them that I can be here and I’m going to be here for a long time."

John Elway hit a grand slam with the second overall pick his first year running football operations for the Denver Broncos. It's very nice knowing your team has one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

Julius Thomas

It must have been getting warm out there after practice, because Julius Thomas didn't answer very many questions before everyone packed up for the day. There must be some kind of time limit in place that Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller ate up prior to Thomas getting his chance.

When asked about the difference between tight ends and wide receivers for guys like Julius Thomas with skill sets that could easily work at both positions, he said, "The way I feel about it is, ‘Does two letters next to your name on the depth chart really determine your value to a team?’ And that’s kind of how I look at it. Does it matter if he’s a tight end, or if he calls himself a slot receiver or a running back? I mean, if you’re going to have double-digit touchdowns and contribute a bunch of yards in the receiving game, I just say that you’re a guy that makes great plays and is a value to his team. So I don’t know why the argument necessarily comes down to either you’re a tight end or a receiver. I think that if you’re a guy that makes plays, that’s how you should be valued."

Money is money and if Julius has another year in 2014 like he had in 2013 while adding more consistency, then I would be hard pressed to argue against dropping a big contract his way. His biggest challenge will be just duplicating his performance from a year ago.

"I hold myself to a very high standard. I’m spending a lot of time going back and looking at last year’s tape these last couple weeks and just seeing so many areas that I can improve in," said Julius Thomas of the pressure to match last season's success, "By no standards was I my best in any aspect of the game and that’s what’s really exciting about these offseason OTAs for me is I really get a chance to work on things and improve. Just trying to become more dynamic, just do more things to help out our offense. Allow our coaches to put me in more positions to make it tough on defenses."

I actually think it may be a bit of a struggle for Julius Thomas to have the kind of season he had during his breakout 2013 campaign, if only because teams will now have tape on him. The key will be consistency, especially in his blocking ability.

"I think by the end of the season, I was decent. I definitely improved throughout that season, definitely got more comfortable with it. And now I think I’m probably starting to get close to that above average range. It’s kind of something that you’ve got to get a feel for. And I’m starting to get a better feel for it. It’s starting to slow down a little bit."

Oh boy, decent? I will go as far to say he improved greatly over the season, but 'decent' in the NFL means you are getting blown up and exploited to the detriment of the team on many plays throughout the course of a game. So in that regard, I sure hope its starting to slow down a bit, because he needs to move beyond 'decent' and into 'competent' by Week 1.

Go Broncos!