ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Give it to the Denver Broncos defense: The unit made opposing quarterbacks’ lives fairly miserable last season, stymied opposing run games and, when all was said and done, the players did what they said they could -- finish No. 1 in the league in several categories and help get another Lombardi trophy for the nicely appointed lobby at the team’s facility.
But the guys in the group were also good listeners along the way, and they heard everything. And they still do.
“We still have conversations about our respect level -- we still don’t feel like it’s there,’’ Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. “Y’all do all the writing and talking, so there are a lot of questions about our performance. We still have got a chip. We’re going to make it a period instead of a question mark.’’
Some in the NFL believe complacency can arrive on the heels of a Super Bowl victory. And as the Broncos closed out the first week of their offseason program, Talib and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. spoke for their teammates when they said they wouldn’t let the team’s defense rest on any championship laurels.
In fact, they said, the chip on the collective shoulder might even be bigger this time around. That’s because, even months away from a game that matters, the ever-attentive Broncos have heard that the departure via free agency of two 2015 starters -- Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson -- and the uncertainty over Von Miller's contract could take them down a notch or two.
“Just hearing everybody saying we lost Malik, Danny, we won’t be the same, we won’t be good again,’’ Harris said. “That’s our mindset. I think we return nine starters. You can really count [cornerback Bradley] Roby as a starter. We’re really bringing back 10 guys that played a lot.’’
Jackson and Trevathan will be the only starters missing in the coming season from that 2015 defense, a unit that finished No. 1 in yards allowed per game, sacks and pass defense. But Trevathan was Denver's leading tackler in 2015, while Jackson was consistently a disruptive player for opposing offenses to deal with.
Jackson was fifth on the team in sacks, but he played in a variety of situations and his absence will take some adjustment.
“No telling with what we’ll do with the draft with the D-linemen,’’ Harris said. “I still think we have the best D-line in the league.’’
Unlike the Broncos’ offense, however, where the leadership roles still remain undefined, the large group of returnees gives the team’s defense much of the same emotional look overall.
“I’m definitely going to keep that competitive edge on the team,’’ Harris said. “If I’ve got to holler at the receivers, talk mess to Emmanuel [Sanders] or D.T. [Demaryius Thomas] or whoever, try to spark up some competitive nature in our locker room, I think that was huge for us last year. The receivers’ lockers were right by each other, so every day we’re chirping at each other, talking mess. We have to have that same type of competitive nature so that when we get to these big games it’s nothing.’’
They also have spread the word among the Broncos’ new arrivals on the defense, which could include a defensive lineman, safety or linebacker following the draft, as well as quarterback Mark Sanchez.
“Defense wins championships and they showed it,’’ wide receiver Sanders said. “I was talking to Mark and I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got a bad [good] defense behind you. All you have to do is take care of the football and we’ll win a lot of games.’ I mean that. We’ve got nine starters coming back on our defense. Those guys know they’re great. Even before everyone knew they were great.’’