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What will make this Broncos’ secondary ‘elite?’

Hall-of-Fame safety Steve Atwater has some hints on how this young group can reach No Fly Zone-level good.

Von Miller resurrected the idea during his Monday OTA presser that the Broncos’ current secondary could become “No Fly Zone 2.0” while heaping praise on new cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

“This Patrick Surtain II, this ‘PS2’ guy, he’s the real deal. ...up close and personal, he’s the real deal. I’m excited to see what he can be able to do versus all these receivers that we have in our division and all these receivers throughout the league that we’ve got to play [and] have to match up with,” Miller said. “Now we’ve just got a whole room flooded full of top DBs. It’s great, it feels good. ...This feels like the resurrection of the ‘No-Fly Zone,’ the ‘No-Fly Zone 2.0.’”

I think most of Broncos Country recognizes that that’s going to take a minute to happen - and may never happen because that Super Bowl-winning secondary was one of the best ever (the best, in my opinion).

But it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of this currently assembled group, knowing the talent level is there.

Steve Atwater’s definitely excited about it, and he told Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright on Broncos Country Tonight that his key to this group becoming NFZ-level good is basically good old-fashioned hard work.

“It starts with, hey, getting here to camp and working together, learning the playbook, learning all the defenses, learning the depth to get in zone coverages, learning where teammates will be, if you’re a safety knowing where the corners will be, and how deep they’ll be and are they play man-to-man, knowing are they good at jamming guys inside or do they give up outside easily?” Atwater said. “It just takes time on the field, doing it over and over and over again.”

And with that practice comes the communication that is a huge part of a successful secondary - as Aqib Talib noted this winter during a five-year SB50 anniversary podcast reunion of the No Fly Zone.

“It’s the way we did it,” Talib said as he described the chemistry between him, Bradley Roby, Chris Harris Jr., Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward. “We’re out here strappin’. We’re playin’ man, we’re on the line with it. Across the board you see Chris on the line in the slot, ‘Rob’ on that side, ‘Lib on his left. Across the board, you know what time it is, you know what I’m saying? And then we was smart, too. We’d mix it up on you, make you think you’re getting that and then we’d get a pick, go to the crib. I just think the way we did it, we just were a little bit sexier than the way they did it.”

Ward agreed 100%, adding during my podcast that they were so comfortable playing with each other, every game and every practice felt like backyard football.

“In the midst of playing in it, it was just like playing backyard football,” he said. “That’s how close we were; how well we played together; how relaxed we were. This was our family.”

But that doesn’t happen overnight; at least not with a lot of young guys still working on their own craft. And that’s another key, according to Atwater. Each player has to get better and each position within the defense has to get better as a unit for greatness to be achieved.

“We had to get in our meeting rooms and get really good as a secondary; the linebackers had to get better as linebackers, the defensive line same thing,” Atwater noted. “Everybody had to get better individually.”

So that’s where this current defense needs to start - individual players then units - and then build from the inside out, communicating along the way.

“If you can communicate well, understand where everybody is,” Atwater said, “you have the chance to be something special.”

I love this discussion point because perhaps more than any other unit on a football team, the secondary demonstrates the need for all these parts to be in place in order to be something beyond just good, or even really good:

Elite players

Well-oiled machine within the safety and cornerback rooms separately.

Excellent communication among all DBs.

Good synergy with the rest of the defense.

So far, the Broncos seem to definitely have upgraded on that first point, with high-caliber starters across the board and now the best cornerback from the draft to boot.

Within the safety room, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons have certainly developed excellent tandem play. It will be up to Bryce Callahan and his new veteran teammates Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to get up to speed in that department, but three vets should have the tools to do it.

The third and fourth elements will come along if they all do as Atwater says - get in the playbook and learn their assignments as well as their teammates’ assignments.


Which ‘key element’ in an elite secondary is most important for it being ‘great?’

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    elite players
    (126 votes)
  • 32%
    great chemistry among all DBs
    (202 votes)
  • 35%
    excellent communication between players
    (222 votes)
  • 12%
    seeing big picture of entire defense
    (81 votes)
631 votes total Vote Now