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Broncos' Darian Stewart: No Fly Zone will be better than ever

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The "quarterback" of this No. 1 defense isn't listening to all this nonsense about the Broncos not being able to repeat. If anything, No. 26 believes the Broncos will be better.

Sean O'Brien

It has been 100 days since the Broncos proved to all the doubters - and there were many - that the NFL's No. 1 defense was no joke, that it hadn't just gotten lucky for 14 games prior and that it was good enough to absolutely dominate the league's most unstoppable offense and take the Lombardi.

Like his teammates, Darian Stewart thinks back to that storybook ending "all the time."

"That season was like a movie, man," says the veteran free safety who joined the Broncos last offseason in free agency. "So many guys making big-time plays at a crucial time in the game...it was amazing."

We were just hungry last season. This year I see it working the same way. -Darian Stewart, free safety

But don't worry that Stewart and the rest of the Broncos defense - or the team for that matter - are resting on last season's laurels.

Often postseason losses are the motivation to be better the next year. But for Stewart and his No Fly Zone partners, winning the Super Bowl - and with such improbable fashion game to game - is actually fueling Stewart's offseason fire.

The free safety - who garnered one interception, one forced fumble and one sack in just the playoffs - wants it again.

"We were just hungry last season, and this year I see it working the same way," Stewart said, adding that the losses on defense through free agency - namely Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan - won't be a problem. "The guys replacing them can come in and step up."

Wade Phillips said as much last week, pointing out that the defense lost just two out of 12 starters.

"In our base defense we lost two, and in the other one we lost one. We feel good about the guys we have," Phillips said. "We feel good about our team. We feel good about our players."

So when Stewart says he sees the defense working the same way this year - with big plays by big-time makers at exactly the right time - he's not just talking. He's prophesying.

"We've got what it takes on this side of the ball to make things happen," No. 26 says matter-of-factly. "We have all the pieces of the puzzle in place."

Not to be overlooked on this defense - even though the supposed "experts" undoubtedly will - is the fact that the Broncos' secondary is the one defensive unit completely intact since last season. While David Bruton Jr. had been a key substitute in certain packages, he was out the latter part of the season through the playoffs, and the No Fly Zone continued to dominate offenses.

Coming back for a second year together is only going to make this unit even more terrifying for offenses.

That's right - Stewart sees this defense being even better.

"It's gonna be scary for teams again," Stewart notes.

We've got what it takes on this side of the ball to make things happen. It's going to be scary for teams again. -Darian Stewart

And that's what has Stewart completely motivated to win the Super Bowl all over again.

Sure it's tough to win back-to-back.

Sure it's a long season.

Sure the Broncos have a new quarterback.

Sure virtually none of the odds-makers give the Broncos - or its defense - a chance.

Sound familiar?

So should this - Who cares?

Stewart and his comrades certainly don't.

They are unconcerned about such challenges because if he and the Broncos learned anything last season, it was to ignore the multitude of nonbelievers - and then prove them fabulously wrong over and over again.

"Without a doubt we knew we would win the Super Bowl," Stewart says. "If you were with us out at practice every day, if you were in the locker room, you would know. It was destiny."

Stewart hasn't watched any of the Super Bowl highlight videos - just game film - but he doesn't really need to. That game, that season are constantly in the back of his mind. And when he sees the championship banner hanging at Dove Valley, he is reminded what he and his teammates did ... and what they did together.

"That's why I'm so excited about this season. We trust each other a lot more," he said, adding that the first offseason workouts were energetic. "We got after it. There's a focus within the team that we want to repeat."

Since the Super Bowl, Stewart has spent time resting, getting healthy and enjoying his nearly 6-month-old daughter Hayden Raye with wife Whitley back in North Carolina. He's also gearing up for his third annual football camp in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., sponsored by his foundation, Stewart Standouts.

The former South Carolina Gamecock loves going back home and playing football with the young kids because it reminds him of the days when football was only just a game in the back yard.

"I just love encouraging the kids," Stewart says. "They take it all in, always so eager to learn. It humbles you and helps keep it all in perspective."

Humility and perspective will be necessary for the defending champs next season as every team will be gunning for them.

But Stewart says bring it on.

Anytime you play the Patriots at home, you gotta love it. And we got Brock coming to town so that should be a good welcome home. And the fact that we play the Panthers in our house on opening night? I love it.  -Darian Stewart

In fact, when he saw the Broncos' 2016 schedule a month ago, he got excited all over again.

"Anytime you play the Patriots in your hometown, you gotta love it," Stewart said. "And we got Brock coming to town for a Monday night game, so that should be a good welcome home for him. A lot of big games on that calendar - you get up for it, man."

Such as the Panthers on opening night?

"The fact that we get to play them again, in our house, on opening night?" Stewart said. "I love it."

Known as the "quarterback of the secondary" - a moniker Stewart wears with pride and not without big responsibility - has no problem with the "revenge factor" the Panthers will be bringing to Mile High.

"Shoot, it's on them," he notes. "We'll definitely be ready."

Being "ready" has already started, and Stewart is looking forward to the new guys like Justin Simmons and Will Parks coming in and contributing right away.

"They're walking into a great situation," Stewart says, noting that he and fellow safety T.J. Ward are excited to help the young guys out. "Our defensive backs coach is the best in the league, so we've got great coaching and great players helping. We have no choice but to excel again."

And by "excel again" Stewart is talking about the Broncos not only producing the NFL's best defense for another year but doing so in the same improbable but spectacular fashion.

"Why not No. 1?" Stewart asks when presented with the notion of calling the Broncos' 2015 defense among the best ever. "From Week 1 to the Super Bowl, we made those plays to win, whether it was a forced fumble or an interception...it didn't matter how it was done, we always found a way."

And Stewart and his fellow defenders plan to keep finding a way, no matter the odds against them.

In fact, they prefer the odds being against them.

"Nobody believed in us, nobody gave us a chance," Stewart said of last season. And look how that turned out. "I don't mind working for my respect. We did it last year. We'll do it again."