With the addition of Case Keenum on offense, the defense now has some urgency to bring the heat this season. A new sense of urgency has taken hold and it’s still early in OTA’s. Last week, defensive lineman Shelby Harris noted the differences in the locker room to start this season over how it was last year.
“I like the vibe,” Shelby Harris said. “It’s a sense of urgency. Everyone has something to prove. There is competition at every level. At every position, except for finally the quarterback—there’s really not that much of a competition. On the D-Line, our room is loaded. It pushes everyone to be the best that they can be at every practice. You can’t take any days off. You’ve got to prepare and do everything like you job depends on it. Which is does for a lot of guys. I love the atmosphere. I love the competitiveness. And I — that this is OTA No. 5 — am having a great time out there. We’re working and getting better every day.”
Harris noted how competitive the roster is and expressed how important that was. Every position is being driven to excellence. The funny aspect of him comments might be around the quarterback position. It sure seems the team loves competition at every position, except the quarterback position.
In just a few short weeks of practice, Keenum has solidified his role as the leader - and starting quarterback - on this team. That alone should make a huge difference on Sunday’s.
One aspect of this team that will make waves is the pass rush. It was lacking in a big way last season, so getting that fearsome pass rush back is going to make or break the Broncos in 2018. Harris noted that this is a big focus for the defense in OTA’s so far.
“People are playing towards their strengths this year,” Harris said. “We’re going to have guys rushing the passer. We’re going to have guys trying to stop guys from catching the ball and everything. I like what we’re doing this year a lot. I feel like it fits our strengths a lot more. We added a little bit more. So, we’ll see once we actually get to real competition. Because everything was good during OTAs. Everything from OTAs it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! We’re going to win the Super Bowl 100-0 (laughing).’ But we’ve got to wait until we actually start getting some live competition. And then judge it from there.”
As big of a focal point the pass rush is, Harris couldn’t help but not that it’s still just OTA’s. You can be great in OTA’s and have things not work out in the regular season. The important thing is to just keep working at it.
“Remember last year?” Harris said of how long it takes to know what you got on defense. “We looked great during the preseason. Undefeated, the practice against the 49ers—we all did well. It’s a continuous effort to get better during the season. You’ve got to prove yourself every week in this league. You can’t ever thrive off of the Super Bowl they won a couple of years ago. Because most of those guys aren’t here anymore. It’s a continuous effort every week to prove that you’re the best that you can be, and the best in the league. Which I feel like we can do.”
The mention of the Broncos Super Bowl 50 win stings in this context, but he is absolutely right. That team and that moment was a long time ago in NFL-terms. There is no more resting on the franchise laurels from 2015. It’s time for this unit to come together with a new focus and a new identity, because they’ll need to put together another fantastic season for the Broncos to return to contention.
That will happen from growing from every practice and every game. It started with OTA’s and it sure sounds like the players are feeding off each other and are hungrier than they’ve been since that 2015 season.
“The teams that don’t get better are the ones that don’t make the playoffs,” Harris said of the importance of growing as a team. “You have to continuously make improvements throughout the year. You can never stay complacent—you can’t get complacent. You have to be able to work and adjust because that’s what the league is. It’s all about adjustments. It’s all about fixing things. Yeah, you may have a problem here one week, but then the next week you can’t go out and have the same problem or else teams are going to expose it. So, you have to get better in this league or you won’t be successful.”
That’s really what it comes down to. The Broncos defense had to work double-time to help the franchise stay afloat since Peyton Manning retired and in 2017 they just couldn’t get the breaks they needed and the ship ultimately sank.
The mental side of the game is something Shelby Harris is clearly tuned into. He’ll be a huge asset to this defense when the chips are down and the defense needs to a big stop.