But if you ask many among the team’s faithful, those who see the world through the most orange-colored glasses would say the team’s biggest loss this offseason was not any of those players, but rather a silver-haired, almost-70-something with a sharp wit and an unwavering devotion to preventing touchdowns and making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
Yes, when the Broncos and Wade Phillips went their separate ways this offseason, there were varied levels of panic among the folks who spend their hard-earned dollars on season tickets. And Broncos coach Vance Joseph has since made two things very clear:
The spirit of Phillips will remain in the defensive playbook as the team's base formation will remain a 3-4.
And Joe Woods is more than ready to call plays in the Broncos’ defense.
“My system comes from Wade," Joseph said last week at the league meetings. “I was with Wade in Houston. I was with Mike Nolan, who learned from Wade, in San Fran. I was with Billy Davis in San Fran who learned from Wade. I was with Greg Manusky in San Fran who learned from Wade. So my belief system is Wade’s. So I’m walking into a defense that I’m very familiar with. We’re not going to change the structure of the defense."
Joseph was the Texans’ defensive backs coach during Gary Kubiak’s tenure as Houston’s coach when Phillips was the team’s defensive coordinator. Woods was the Broncos’ defensive backs coach in each of the past two seasons, on Kubiak’s Broncos staff when Phillips was the defensive coordinator.
Joseph has been adamant the players won’t see much difference in the overall philosophy on defense when the team begins its offseason program next week and moves through the workouts toward training camp this summer.
“Players love playing for Wade, he’s an easy-going guy," Joseph said. “He’s the same every day whether you won or lost. Wade is always the same guy. But in my past, players have also loved playing for me also. I’m a different style than Wade but I’ve maximized players also. But again, Joe [Woods] is the coordinator. Joe has coached the secondary, which has a lot of personalities back there. Those guys believe in Joe. So I don’t see any issues with those guys playing for Joe Woods."
The backdrop to all of this is when Kubiak elected to step away from coaching after the 2016 season and the Broncos were in the process of hiring Joseph, none other than the team’s top football decision-maker, John Elway, said the top “priority" this offseason didn't have anything to do with how quarterbacks throw the ball or how the Broncos block in the run game, but rather to "stay great" on defense.
Joseph and Woods say a secondary with four starters who have each gone to the Pro Bowl at least once during the past two seasons to go with a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Von Miller is the most enviable of starting points for any staff.
Overall, the Broncos retained Woods, defensive line coach Bill Kollar, linebackers coach Reggie Herring and outside linebackers coach Fred Pagac from Phillips’ staff. As a result, the expectation, Joseph said, is the Broncos players likely won’t see any major differences between how things went in the previous two seasons and how they conduct their business in the weeks and months to come.
“The system is not going to change," Joseph said.
The Broncos have finished among the league’s top five in total defense and scoring defense in each of the past two seasons, and have been the league’s top passing defense in each of those years. Joseph did say there will be some schematic tweaks made as he and Woods add things they’d like to see in the playbook and as they try to repair a run defense that finished 28th last season.
“We can add some things to make us better in my opinion," Joseph said. “... That won’t be different from any season when you go from one year to the other. You’re always going to look at what you did and what needs to be addressed. That’s just part of it, too. But I feel good about where we’ll be on defense."