ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In their first significant tackle-for-real effort of the 2014 preseason the Denver Broncos scooped out plenty of vanilla on defense, but it was clear they’re going to be able to rush the passer when they get down to business.
And beyond any reckless preseason sack prediction that are often are tossed out in the August sun, the Broncos have a variety in personnel and a defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio who is apt to rotate, switch out and use as many players as he can.
“Our guys know, and I say this to them and to you, if you have a uniform on game day and you’ve shown us you have something to offer, you’re going to play,’’ Del Rio said.
And then Del Rio added, with his best ex-linebacker half smile; “What that means specifically will have to wait. We’ll wait and see. We’ll wait and see until it all shakes out and we’re game-planning for our opponents. But I think we like our possibilities.’’
So, while the Broncos sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks three times Thursday night -- Russell Wilson twice in his 24 snaps, Tarvaris Jackson once -- and they will likely sack the quarterbacks to come here and there over the next three preseason games. But how it’s all going to look and if it really is better than what the Broncos had to offer last season, that will remain under wraps for the most part.
At least until the Colts and Andrew Luck shows up Sept. 7 for the regular-season opener.
“It is still training camp to where you can throw everything out there, you throw the kitchen sink out there,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “And then at the end once you’re done with training camp we have the tool box ready for the season. Now that is what this game is about, that is what each preseason game is about ... to get better each week.”
However it turns out it will be a convergence of returning players, including those who missed out on the Super Bowl because they were on injured reserve, players such as linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end Derek Wolfe and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson to go with those they’ve added. And they added three players -- Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward -- who have all been named to the Pro Bowl in their careers, including seven for Ware.
Former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has always said the defenses that make life the most miserable for quarterbacks essentially have three elements. They have more than one player who can consistently create pressure off the edge, they have a secondary good enough to make the quarterback hold the ball that little bit extra so the front can get there, and they can send players from all over the formation.
Again, while preseason optimism is a rite of summer to be sure, the Broncos would appear to have all three of those elements, even if Miller isn’t yet full speed.
“You don’t really get that chemistry until it’s like third-and-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and you’re down like three points, or you’re up by three points and you need a sack or a big play,’’ Miller said. “You don’t really get that chemistry until you’re in those types of situations. You develop that in those types of scenarios. When we get to that point, I’m confident that we’ll be able to perform to the best of our abilities, and I’m looking forward to getting in those situations.’’
Other than the injuries that eroded the defense as it dropped from fourth-best in points allowed per game in 2012 to 22nd last season, the loss of Elvis Dumervil in the fax fiasco rippled through the defense. Though the Broncos hit on free-agency bingo when late signee Shaun Phillips ended up leading the team with 10 sacks, Dumervil’s presence off the edge was not replaced.
Toss in Miller’s suspension and that even he admits he wasn’t quite himself when he returned, heavier by design.
“We never sort of replaced Elvis … I think we’re closer now to what we want to do on defense,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “ … I always say we’ll get what we earn, but we like where we are.’’
Where they will go will depends plenty on Ware’s health -- he battled elbow and leg injuries last season as he missed the first three games of his career -- and Miller’s ability to bounce back to something close to his 2012 form when he finished with 18.5 sacks. The Broncos have the kind of options Del Rio likes in the team’s specialty rush packages, which at times feature a swirl of players moving all over the formation, often with just one or two in a three-point stance.
It also creates competition to get snaps. Del Rio will use as many players as are in uniform on most game days, but the battle for playing time figures to be spirited. A group that will include the high-profile guys like Miller and Ware as well as Quanterus Smith, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, Malik Jackson and Ward having moved down from safety to linebacker in some of those looks.
“At the end of the day, everybody knows their job,’’ Vickerson said. “At the end of the day, everybody knows what their responsibilities are and where they’re supposed to be at on each call. With everybody doing their job and playing fast and physical and violent and doing the things on this side of the defense … that’s when you get done what you need to get done.’’