Good morning, Broncos Country!
Panic seemed to set in.
It wasn’t so much over the news that Joe Woods was the Denver Broncos new defensive coordinator. It was more over the news of who he replaced to get that job. Wade Phillips is our football-loving goofball grandpa. The wry, southern humor. The drippin’ with Aqib Talib. “And we got to see Lady Gaga.” More than that, he was the leader of perhaps the best defense in NFL history en route to a Super Bowl victory.
When it became official Phillips wouldn’t return to the Broncos, it was akin to a family member moving across the country. It was the end of an era, and it happened in a flash. Fans had no idea how to respond to it. Some still don’t. Yes, it’s part of the business of the NFL but it doesn’t lessen the sting.
The pressure is always there in the NFL, but the focus is on the man who now leads the best defense in the NFL while trying to replace a beloved icon.
“It’s definitely awesome,” Woods told the media earlier this week. “It’s something that has been a long time coming for me. I’m definitely excited about the opportunity. All of the players know me. They know what I’m about. I have a great defensive staff; a bunch of coaches I’ve been with. So everything has been going great for me.”
Joe Woods: "I don't want to change the foundation of our defense. All I said is that I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it."— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) May 24, 2017
If Denver sees any drop off on defense, the chorus from the cheap seats will ring down. The questions and the second guessing will flood social media and the comment section faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash. The benefit is you have a man who knows the expectations and wants to conquer them. Woods knows if the Broncos don’t win a Super Bowl, it’s a failure. It doesn’t get any more pressure packed than that.
“I want our guys to be smart and tough, and play fast,” Woods said. “The biggest thing when you play defense - offense it doesn’t matter - it’s about what you do. It’s not about what the other team does. You have to do what you do schematically better than what they do. That’s really the challenge to get. I talk to the guys and I tell them, ‘We need to win with 11.’ We need 11 guys doing their job, executing, playing physical and playing fast.”
Woods has waited his entire coaching career for this moment. He’s put in the work for 25 years, 13 of those as a defensive backs coach in the NFL. The challenge is making the leap to defensive coordinator. Now instead of leading a unit, he’s leading the whole defense. The adjustment and transition is far from easy, and there are no guarantees success will follow.
What aids Woods in his new role is he’s been with the team for two years. He was hired in Feb. 2015 as the defensive backs coach, and with it came the No Fly Zone. Over his two years in Denver the secondary became the best in the NFL. As Phillips did with the defense as a whole, Woods took his players and got their best. The expectation from Vance Joesph is Woods does that again.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment because I’m on the field,” Wood said. “I’m used to being down with the DBs, and I want to gravitate over there. But at the same time, I want to make sure that our new secondary coaches create a relationship with our secondary. And I don’t want to be in the background and they’re like, ‘Hey Joe, what’s - remember we did it this way? Remember we did it that way?’ I’m trying to stay away from those guys. I’m finding my own way around the field. I’m bouncing around, getting from place to place. It’s been a little different, but so far I’m adjusting.”
When you watch him work with the players on the field, it’s clear they have immense respect for Woods. When you listen to the players who have worked with him on the field and in the meeting room the last two years, they know Woods makes them better. As a player that’s all you can ask for. What also helps is the defensive staff is pretty much intact from the last two years. That allows for the continuity to remain for the players and coaches. In other words, the foundation is still in place it’s the alterations that need completion.
“He has a great mind,” Von Miller told the media this week. “He knows how to relate to guys, especially the secondary. That’s the strength of our defense. He brings a calm voice. (Outside Linebackers) coach ‘Pug’ (Fred Pagac), that’s my coach. Me and Coach Pug have had a special relationship from Day 1. It’s just a special environment here, especially on defense. We’ll come out here and work hard. Whatever happens, we’ll be OK with.”
But my big deal is, I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense. All I said is I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s something that will give us a little change up, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That’s all we’re doing.
Added T.J. Ward: “He just wants to get back to playing relentlessly. Wherever the ball is, everybody has to get to it regardless of where you are on the field. At the same time, you’re going to be smart and disciplined. You don’t want to be out of control. You want to be patient but ferocious at the same time. He brings that. He’s not a rah-rah guy but when he does get like that you definitely feel it. You get goosebumps and feel it from the inside and know it comes from his soul. That’s the type of players we have and that’s the type of defense we’re going to have. That’s what he expects.”
Time will tell if the Broncos made the right move to go with Woods over the legend. But the hope is that initial panic has given way to excitement.
“The foundation of our defense is going to stay the same,” Woods said. “Our first two years, we played a high level defense. We did a good job. There’s a few things that we definitely need to improve on. But my big deal is, I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense. All I said is I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s something that will give us a little change up, make offenses work at the line of scrimmage. That’s all we’re doing.”
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