ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In some ways for Denver Broncos safety David Bruton Jr., whether he’s being called “awesome" by his head coach these days or getting some live broadcast love during a primetime appearance for the team, he’s an overnight sensation that’s been seven years in the making.
But with the Broncos’ first-year coaching staff has come the kind of playing time Bruton has always hoped for in the first place. And after spending his first six seasons as a special teams ace who could play on defense if needed, Bruton is now a key contributor on the league’s No. 1 defense.
“It's always fresh to kind of break that label a little bit," Bruton said. “I've been heralded as a special teams guy for years and I can't necessarily downplay it. I've been here in the league and here with the Broncos for that reason for so long. Having a fresh set of eyes, going out there and competing and still building on what I started last year, it's definitely great. I'm relishing the opportunity and the moments and taking full advantage of any chance that I get."
Three games, and three wins, into the season for the Broncos and Bruton has made plays to help seal two of those victories. He created the interception opportunity for safety Darian Stewart in the season-opening win against the Ravens and intercepted Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the closing minutes this past Sunday.
For the season Bruton is not only up to his usual business -- he’s tied for the team lead in special teams tackles -- but he’s played 59 percent of the defense’s snaps and has a sack, the interception, three passes defensed and forced a fumble.
“It’s been awesome, hasn’t it?" said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “It’s been special ... We’re only three weeks deep and he has been a factor in every week -- just very proud of David."
Bruton began to carve out some room for himself on defense in last season when he finished with 17 percent of the defensive snaps for the season – 188 plays – those largely on passing downs. It was more than he's had in most of his seasons -- he started two games in 2010 to go with three games (one regular-season and two in playoffs in 2011) -- but not as much as he had hoped to have.
But after Rahim Moore's departure in free agency this past season offseason left plenty of playing time up for grabs -- Moore was one of two Broncos’ defensive players to play more than 1,000 snaps in 2014 -- Bruton said throughout the spring and summer he considered himself to be a viable option, that he considered “myself as a starter."
Bruton started the opener when T.J. Ward was suspended for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy and has played in the team’s dime package (six defensive backs) in the second and third games. But because of Bruton’s versatility in coverage, or lined up as a weak-side linebacker at times in some of the specialty looks, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been willing to play the six-defensive back look on a bigger variety of down-and-distance situations.
Bruton’s interception against the Lions, when he cut underneath Calvin Johnson to first tip, and then catch, Matthew Stafford’s throw, came on a third-and-12 situation. Johnson was beyond the first down marker, in Broncos’ territory, when Bruton intercepted the ball in a game Denver led by five points at the time.
“It was just a formation where we knew what was coming," Bruton said. “They've had a high tendency to show a particular play … We were just alert … It was just a great read and I got just enough depth to be able to get a hand on the ball and control it."
With left tackle Ryan Clady on injured reserve, Bruton, who was a fourth-round pick by the Broncos in the 2009 draft, is the longest-tenured player with the Broncos on the team’s current roster. And in the right-place, right-time department, the team’s defensive staff figures to keep putting him in the lineup given they want to play a long list of players to keep everyone fresh and given the way Bruton has produced when he has played.
The Broncos used 20 different players for at least two snaps on defense in the win over the Lions.
“All of our personalities get a chance to show [on defense]," Bruton said. “Not to say that we're arrogant, but we're very confident players, and the fact that we're playing so well definitely boosts our confidence even more ... I alluded to what coach Phillips mentioned the first day in OTAs. We have our own assignments, but our responsibility is to get to the ball."