What better way to kick off the month of June than with a little optimism.
The Denver Broncos finished their OTA program last week and will head into their mandatory minicamp this week. After that, we’ll have a long six weeks of nothing until they start training camp on July 17, 2019.
OTA’s have been our first real look at the 2019 Broncos with their new head coach, their new quarterback, their new free agents and draft picks, all together for the first time. However, the voices that really matter right now are the ones we’ve all known and covered for the last half decade.
Guys like Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, and Chris Harris Jr. All three made it clear that head coach Vic Fangio and his staff know how to get a defense ready to compete.
The first day Harris returned to the team after a short contract dispute, he mentioned how Von Miller had already told him how he was going to enjoy the changes Fangio was making on defense. They were changes Harris had wanted all last season.
“He was really explaining to me about the defensive scheme and everything that we’re doing,” Harris said of his conversations with Von. “How this is everything that I’ve been kind of crying about doing. I like it. I love it so far. I think it’s going to fit us well.”
A day later, both inside linebacker Todd Davis and Wolfe added their praise to what Fangio is doing. Davis, especially, is relishing his role in the middle of this new scheme.
“I like it a lot,” Davis said of Fangio’s defense. “I feel like it’s a great defense for linebackers. It allows them to roam a little bit, allows them to make every tackle on the field. I really get to play sideline to sideline, so I’m really excited about the defense. Not only that, I feel like the things we do on defense are going to be hard for the offense to try and figure out or really get a key on what we do. We change up a lot, so we have a lot to throw at people.”
Meanwhile, Wolfe is feeling more nostalgia for this defense. He noted he was falling in love with this scheme saying it was the first time he’s felt that way since he was first introduced to Wade Phillips’ defense.
It was his detailed comments on how the defense will enable him to create more plays for the defense’s playmakers.
“It’s just, alignment-wise it’s like it’s like it’s old school defense where you line up and you beat the guy in front of you,” Wolfe said. “We’re going to be moving. You beat him, beat him, beat him, and then next thing you know we’re slanting somewhere and moving around and misdirecting.”
Wolfe’s chemistry with Miller is one of the most underrated characteristics of this unit since the two began playing together in 2012. He dug into how that chemistry fits perfectly with the changes Fangio has brought with him this season.
As far as the pass-rush game goes, we have some really fun pass-rush games that are just different,” Wolfe explained. “Things that aren’t just me setting things up for everybody else. It’s actually a little bit of the opposite. I can actually get to get back there and make some plays and vise versa. Taking guys like me and Von [Miller]—how many guys in the league have been working for eight years, working right beside each other for eight years? The kind of chemistry that him and I have, they could just mix and match so many different things because a lot of the times we just use hand signals and just looks. He looks at me a certain way and I know he’s like, Hey, go. I’m like, Alright, I’m going to hit this B-gap. There’s no way for an offensive lineman to be preparing for that. Then when we have all this other extra stuff that we have its going to really switch things up.”
That is something coaches can’t really coach into units. Chemistry is built more between the players than anything and the way Von and Wolfe work together is an incredible asset for the defensive line.
Fangio’s biggest contribution so far could be how attentive he is to the details and how everyone - players and coaches - are being held to that standard.
“He knows everybody’s job no matter what the play is and what the route is or a route concept,” Davis said. “He knows what you’re supposed to be doing. The thing I love about him is in meetings he’s not afraid to call anybody out no matter who you are—Pro Bowl or not, All-Pro, it doesn’t matter. If you’re not doing something or not doing your job, he’ll call you out in front of everybody, and I love it. I think everybody is held to a higher accountability level and keeps us all where we need to be.”
The accountability part goes beyond just the practice field. Nose tackle Shelby Harris noted on Friday that one of the biggest changes in defensive meetings is that the whole unit meets first and goes over every detail.
There is no finger pointing or confusion. The entire unit sees the big picture before breaking out into individual position group meetings.
“This year we’re doing things a little differently,” Shelby Harris said. “We’re meeting as a defense at first and then going over the plays. It kind of keeps everyone on the same page because, Alright, I thought someone else was supposed to have this hole. Then Vic can be like, no, this is actually your hole. You’re supposed to be here, you’re supposed to be here. It works out because then there is no finger pointing. ‘This is your fault.’ ‘This is your fault.’ No, everyone is on the same page and everyone is working to the same common goal. It really just helps us stay accountable to each other the way this is all going on. Last year, I felt like accountability was a word that was thrown out a lot and a lot of people felt like a lot of people weren’t being held accountable. This year, there is none of that. I feel like this is going to be really good for our defense to be in those meetings, meet together and work together.”
The way Harris explained it summed everything up nicely. It’s about accountability, but also responsibility. Players are not being blamed, they are expected to go back out there and improve.
It took Fangio four years to build the Chicago Bears defense into a contender, but he started with one of the worst defenses in the NFL. In Denver, he is starting with a defense that has been coached into poor positions. The talent is still largely there and the difference between a middling rank and a top five rank could just be how well the unit is coached in 2019.
So far, it is looking like they’ll be coached well and teams expecting to come in a roll the Broncos defense like its 2018 are going to find themselves having to fight for every inch of ground instead.
What’s not to like about that?