Denver Broncos need Randy Gregory, defense to build on positive moments from loss to Seattle Seahawks

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Somewhat lost in the pile of penalties, turnovers, clock management problems and a missed 64-yard field goal that comprised the headlines of the Denver Broncos' loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday was the appearance of Denver's biggest free agent acquisition, Randy Gregory.

Gregory, the former Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher who signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Broncos this past March, had shoulder and knee surgeries after the 2021 season. As a result, the Broncos held him out of all of the offseason football functions and kept him on a limited snap count in training camp, as well as the preseason.

First-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett kept saying all that mattered about Gregory’s recovery was readiness for Week 1.

“[Gregory] was huge,” said Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who had two sacks. “You saw him on the first drive, he pushed [rookie tackle Charles Cross] back and got into the lap of Geno [Smith] and kind of set the tone for me and for us as edge rushers.

“When you have a guy like that rushing on the other side, you just want to beat him to the quarterback. You want to be the first one there. He pushes me, he pushes everybody on that defensive line. It’s great to have him back.’’

Gregory played 26 snaps and flashed some of the impact in the pass rush the Broncos want to see on a consistent basis. He also stripped receiver DK Metcalf of the ball and positioned himself to keep upping the snap counts as he goes.

But Gregory’s first step back was overshadowed by quarterback Russell Wilson losing in his return to the city he called home for his first 10 NFL seasons, and by overall sloppy play.

“First half, we didn’t stop the run like we should,” Gregory said. “Penalties, a lot of mental errors, alignments, assignments, things like that.

“We knew what we have as a unit, we just didn’t capitalize like we should have … but it gives us an idea of where we’re headed ... and yeah, I feel good about how I felt in the game. Just want to do more, but I felt good physically all the way through.’’

The Broncos took a measured approach with Gregory throughout the preseason. Like most of the team’s starters, Gregory did not play a snap in the three preseason games, and as Monday’s opener approached, Hackett took a public “we’ll see’’ stance on how much Gregory would play against the Seahawks.

The rush on Cross was an early glimpse of what the Broncos hope Gregory can bring more of in the weeks ahead. Gregory, because of suspensions or injuries, has never played more than 14 games or had more than six sacks in a season -- he had six last season as well as in 2018.

But Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero was succinct when asked about Gregory days before the opener: “He looks great.’’

To be all they hope to be on defense, the Broncos need as much as they can get from Gregory and Chubb.

“We think those guys can be big for us,’’ said Broncos safety Kareem Jackson. “They can disrupt, and if we hold up our end in the back and they disrupt -- all of the rushers -- then that’s what you need.’’

The opener was just a snapshot of what the rotation on the defensive edge will be, especially if Gregory gets closer to the 46 snaps Chubb played in the game. Baron Browning played 33 snaps and Jonathon Cooper played six. Rookie Nik Bonitto, who was the only defensive player in uniform who did not play a snap on defense or on special teams against the Seahawks, also figures to work his way into the mix at some point.

After that shaky start to the game when they couldn't slow Smith enough, the Broncos held the Seahawks to just 34 yards in a scoreless second half.

“We’re just trying to stay on one accord, whether it be in the run game or the pass game,’’ Chubb said. “Trying to make sure we’re all on one page.’’