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Purcell: Defense looking to improve on momentum at end of 2019

It was a slow start for Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme last season, but Mike Purcell and the other veteran defenders are looking to pick up where they left off - much more on top.

Denver Broncos v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Last year’s Broncos’ defense ended up having a decent year, ranked No. 1 in the red zone among a few other accolades.

Although Mike Purcell won’t take credit, the game against the Chargers in Week 5 when he was moved to nose tackle and Alexander Johnson was put in as inside linebacker proved to be a turning point for Denver’s defense.

“That’s the game it all kind of clicked,” he said Tuesday on KOA’s Broncos Country Tonight. “It’s nothing we (Johnson and Purcell) can take credit for, but as a defense we decided to bring it together.”

Although Purcell is too humble to take much credit, it was still an important turning point as Johnson proved to be a beast alongside the “Great Communicator” in Todd Davis, and kicking Shelby Harris out to defensive end was a far better fit for the 290-pound fifth-year lineman.

Either way, it worked out for everyone as the defense got two interceptions and led the Broncos to its first win of a very long opening month of football.

“We were sick of being 0-4. It was definitely the game we decided to turn a corner,” Purcell acknowledged. “We found an identity and played to that standard.”

And now Purcell is aiming to improve that standard this season as the line said goodbye to Derek Wolfe - a man who has been the heart and soul of the defensive line - and hello to five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey.

“Our defensive line was awesome last year, but two of the three of us are back and what better guy to replace Wolfe than Casey,” Purcell said. “The fact that we can put this together is amazing. We’re looking forward to getting back to it and working together and seeing how we can gel together.”

Purcell said it’s been great getting back to the practice field, and although there is no “social distancing” in the trenches, the Broncos have been “amazing” at keeping them safe. Between testing and masks and trackers that let staff know the maximum amount of time players and coaches can be within six feet of each other, the team is prepared.

“It’s a dirty game in the trenches. You’re so close and beating eachother up. A lot goes on down there, and nothing about that is going to change,” Purcell said of “distancing” while playing. “But as far as off the field, we’re taking every precaution, which is awesome. ...We’re just going to have to roll with the punches.”

Part of rolling with the punches will be possibly playing without fans, which is one of the great advantages at Mile High. But the Broncos’ home field has another advantage - altitude.

“If there are no fans, it will be different,” Purcell said, adding that although they’ll be able to hear the calls better, so will the opposing offense. “A lot of places thrive on that environment and how loud it gets. Mile High City is one of them, so altitude will have a little bit of an effect, and we’ll have to take advantage of that.”

The main goal, however, will be taking advantage of the momentum the defense created last year. After getting used to Vic Fangio’s scheme, and with a lot of players coming back, Purcell sees good things for 2020.

“Last year, we went three or four games without getting a turnover. Getting after that ball, getting turnovers, getting to the quarterback, making big plays - those are things we have to produce on defense,” he said. “It was a slow start last year and we kicked it up at the end; if we can put a full year together and we’ve definitely got the tools to do that, it’ll just be a whole n’other year.”

I’m down for that.