ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just hours after Vic Fangio became the Denver Broncos' head coach, he was asked what he would be able to do with the team’s defense.
Fangio acknowledged what he inherits with the Broncos is something of an embarrassment of riches. Perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller pairs with a guy who led all rookies in sacks this past season in Bradley Chubb.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
“Those are the kinds of players you always want to have," Fangio said. “I’ve said already Von Miller can be one of those rare players in this league, and I do really believe as good as Von as played in his career -- and he has done some really, really good things -- he can play even better."
When the Broncos selected the 60-year-old Fangio, they wanted his ability to assemble a top-shelf staff, his 30-plus years of NFL experience and his attention to detail. Perhaps what they wanted most is to see what a longtime linebackers coach could do with two of the team’s most intriguing players.
“That’s my position of expertise when I’m coaching a position, and those guys are going to get coached by their position coach, but they’re going to get a little extra from me, too," Fangio said. “We’re going to try to take them both to bigger and better levels."
Miller was in the room the day Fangio was introduced, one of many Broncos players who wanted to see for themselves what the new guy was about. Miller heard Fangio say he believed the seven-time Pro Bowl selection could still lift his game and find a little more.
And it was Miller who introduced himself to his new boss with, “Coach me, coach. Coach me."
The math is pretty simple, really. Through the years, Fangio has worked with the likes of Hall of Fame pass-rushers Rickey Jackson, Kevin Greene and Ray Lewis as well as Pat Swilling, not to mention what he did this past season with Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd and rookie Roquan Smith as the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator.
The Bears led the league in scoring defense, interceptions and takeaways while finishing tied for third in sacks. Mack, a former Defensive Player of the Year, had what many personnel executives in the league considered his best all-around season.
“We had a lot of great statistical numbers this past year in Chicago," Fangio said. “One that gets overlooked by most, but not by me, is that we were the second-least-penalized defense in the NFL this past year. ... What we’re really talking about is execution. Discipline is a broad term that people use too loosely. If you play with good technique, you will avoid being penalized too many times."
Mack has called Fangio an “evil genius," and Miller certainly noticed Mack’s work with the Bears this past season -- 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown in 14 games. To that end, two of Fangio’s first additions to his Broncos staff were naming his defensive-backs coach with the Bears, Ed Donatell, as defensive coordinator and Brandon Staley, another former Chicago assistant, as his linebackers coach.
“Khalil, when he got to us, he didn’t know what to expect," Fangio said of the September trade of Mack from the Raiders to the Bears. “I think what he was alluding to in a little way was how quickly he was able to learn our system, be able to play immediately, play effectively and not hurt the team because of his lack of exposure to training camp, etc. I think, not to put words in his mouth, how easy it was to transition into our system that we believe is easy to learn."
Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway, who also thinks Miller can do more, said he expected Fangio to use a 3-4 scheme, at least as the team’s base defense.
“You look at the whole defense, obviously, Khalil Mack is a great player," Elway said. “But you look at the whole defense and what he did with everybody that he had there. They have some great players there, but you know, we have some very good players here, too, that I think mixes very well in this system. ... What he does fits our personnel and what he’s done -- I just look forward to see what he can do for us."