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Defense’s turn to flex some muscle at OTAs

A couple interceptions this week are proving that the defense is still bringing it.

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With so much focus on the offense this offseason - thanks to Russell Wilson coming to town - talk of the defense has been quiet by comparison.

But this defense has been showing it’s anything but quiet.

More like stealth.

“Right now, I’m trying not to think about it,” offensive-minded head coach Nathaniel Hackett said about facing the Broncos’ secondary.

Patrick Surtain II picked off Russell Wilson during Monday’s practice, and Justin Simmons did the honors Wednesday.

“It’s a great defense out there ... We’ve gotten after him a couple of times and he made an incredible play last week that was just awesome to see,” Hackett said about Surtain’s pick, the first of OTAs. “We messed that one up. We have to keep running on that. But I thought that was a great reactionary play for him. ...We’re going to be hearing about that one.”

But despite his affinity for coaching offense, Hackett is just as happy to see the other side of the ball dominate too.

“The defense is coming along really well,” Hackett added. “Obviously, they have played together, and they’ve done a nice job. It makes us better, it makes me better, and makes the whole offense better. It’s great to see that competitive nature out there.”

In fact, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked the Broncos’ offseason as tops in the NFL primarily for adding “a bona fide superstar at the most important position in sports,” which he called “one of the biggest upgrades any team made at any position this offseason.”

But then Barnwell noted how the Broncos improved - or stayed strong - on defense. After losing Von Miller mid-season last year and then Shelby Harris in the Wilson trade this year, it felt like the defense could understandably take a step back.

Barnwell doesn’t see it that way:

“After nearly coming to terms with the Cowboys on an extension, Randy Gregory balked at a language change and joined Denver on a five-year, $70 million deal with $28 million guaranteed. Underrated defensive tackle D.J. Jones left the 49ers to take over as an interior lineman on a three-year, $30 million pact. And slot corner K’Waun Williams followed Jones on a two-year, $5.2 million deal, while the Broncos were able to re-sign Kareem Jackson to a one-year deal.”

Though it’s still just OTAs - no pads, no tackling, no rushing the QB - Justin Simmons, Pat Surtain II, Kareem Jackson and the rest of the defensive backs have certainly made their presence known.

“It’s a lot because on Sunday, when you see a guy like [WIlson], it sucks. To see him every day, it sucks,” Jackson said, joking that it kind of makes him mad sometimes. “You can’t mimic that when you have to go play against guys like that on Sunday.”

But Jackson knows the payoff for facing “guys like that” every day in practice will be huge in the regular season.

“Russ has been a tremendous talent in this league for a long time,” Jackson said, comparing it to his years at the Texans playing against Deshaun Watson. “When you see him on a day-to-day basis, you know he’s going to keep the play alive, and you know he’s going to make some off-schedule plays.”

And off-schedule usually means staying in the play longer - so the defense has to stay alert and not let it break down.

“He’s been doing it a lot out here, so for us, the mindset of covering for a couple seconds is out the window,” Jackson sad. “You have to stay latched on to your guy for a little bit longer.”

But if there’s any DB room that can do that, it’s this one.

And just to make it even more realistic - and fun - Hackett has been mixing it up with some of the defense, talking a little trash and getting them going.

Jackson likes it.

“It’s different. I got a little taste of it in Houston,” the cornerback said, recalling the trash talk from then-head coach Bill O’Brien. “He was the same way, and I love it. .... I think it kind of gets everybody going. It gives us something to look forward to daily, rather than everybody just being quiet. Sometimes that stuff gets kind of old. For me, it’s all fun. It’s one of the things I look forward to daily.”

And apparently so does the head coach.

“I love me some Kareem,” Hackett said, noting that he really loves “chirping back and forth” with Jackson. “I love his intensity and competitiveness. I think that’s something that shows up every day....He gets into it. He’s talking nonstop. He plays the game like it should be, and I love that about him. I love chirping back and forth with him. It just brings that energy and excitement to practice because that’s real football.”

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