Wade Phillips finds Broncos' defense is well-stocked

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Talk about a housewarming gift.

Wade Phillips, with his four decades of NFL experience, has arrived as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator to find the cupboard, talent-wise, pretty full.

"I’m pretty good at what I’m doing; I’ve done it a lot of times," Phillips said this week. "This is probably the best situation, defensively, that I’ve come into -- or way better than any other situation I’ve come into. Normally they’ve had a bad year and they’ve brought me in as defensive coordinator. This team has a lot of talent on defense, but we’re going to do better. That’s what I do, is improve them."

The Broncos were third in total defense this past season -- surrendering 305.2 yards per game -- tied for 16th in scoring defense at 22.1 points per game, tied for ninth in sacks (41) and have five Pro Bowl defensive players who are all under contract for 2015. This is not an extreme makeover.

Or as cornerback Chris Harris Jr., one of those Pro Bowl participants, said before Phillips was hired: “Whoever comes in is getting a defense ready to go. We can do big things."

The Broncos will do those things with a different scheme on defense. Phillips said Tuesday what most thought when he was formally announced as Jack Del Rio's replacement, that the Broncos will move to a 3-4 look on defense.

Former Broncos coach John Fox, first with Dennis Allen at defensive coordinator and then Del Rio, used plenty of hybrid fronts and often lined up in a 3-4 look in situational work over the past four seasons, including using a traditional 3-4 look when they faced teams who worked comfortably out of two-tight end formations or had a read-option quarterback.

But while Phillips’ scheme will be a far more traditional 3-4 look, he believes, especially with the ability to line up Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware as the team’s outside linebackers, to go with three Pro Bowl players in the secondary -- Harris, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward -- the personnel on hand will make it a smooth transition.

"The outside ‘backers, you want them to be the rush guys," Phillips said. "I’ve been lucky to have a lot of really good ones. Simon Fletcher here had (16) sacks and I think he set the sack record here for a long time. So we can utilize the guys that have talents to rush. I’ve always said, ‘Hey, if he can rush well, if he’s a really great rusher, let him rush.’ It seems simple but sometimes people want to drop them in the pass and all that stuff. It’s also the cornerbacks, what they can do. It’s what Harris can do, what Talib can do. It’s whatever they can do really well, then we’re going to utilize that."

Miller, who has had at least 11.5 sacks in three of his four seasons with the Broncos, offers Phillips the kind of starting point he had in 2011 when Gary Kubiak hired Phillips to be the Texans defensive coordinator following a year when they finished 30th in total defense.

Ware played for Phillips in Dallas from 2007-10 and had 14, 20, 11 and 15.5 sacks in those four seasons. Also at linebacker, Brandon Marshall is expected to be a quick fit into one of the inside spots, as would Danny Trevathan if his recovery from an injury-marred 2014 -- three separate injuries to his left leg -- goes well.

“That’s what a defensive coordinator is in the NFL, you take the talent of the players you have and the really talented ones, you do what they do well and let them do it,’’ Phillips said. “It’s not the scheme itself, it’s the players … Utilize their talent, and that’s what we try to do and we’ve been pretty successful with that.”

In terms of the players on hand, the Broncos will have to answer the roster question at nose tackle. Terrance Knighton, who would be the most likely candidate there, is an unrestricted free agent who would be a coveted player for Del Rio in his new job as Oakland Raiders coach.

If Knighton isn’t re-signed -- and he is likely to get the biggest offer elsewhere -- then Sylvester Williams would get some work in the middle of the defensive line. The Broncos also have two players on the roster who project to be productive players at the two defensive end spots in a three-man front in Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson.

So, given all of that, Phillips was asked this week if there would be added pressure with the new gig.

"I don’t think there’s pressure not to mess it up, I think it’s to get them better," Phillips said.

"I’ve been lucky to get into the right situations with good players and I think we have them here."