ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's the relentless optimism that fuels the annual fresh start that is training camp, but let's just say the Denver Broncos are excited about the potential of their defense. And that might be an understatement.
Because, oh, how the Broncos are pumped about the new scheme and the personnel they have to play it. The reality will unfold in the coming months in how, or if, the Broncos can close the deal on the field to be in the Super Bowl conversation.
But in the sun-baked days of training camp, the players have consistently lauded the get-after-it simplicity of Wade Phillips’ scheme and how it fits the team’s personnel. So much so that when cornerback Aqib Talib was asked if the Broncos have the best secondary in the NFL, he said “definitely.’’
“I don't feel like we were too far from the top last year,’’ Talib continued. “I think we graded out at the end of the year, we graded out pretty good. We want to grade out as the top secondary in the league this year as far as interceptions, yards, all that. With this defense, we definitely have a chance to do that.’’
The Broncos have five players on the depth chart this year that played in the Pro Bowl this past January. And four of those players play positions (edge rushers and cover corners) that many in the league say lay the foundation for the best defenses.
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware give the Broncos plenty of potential on the edge. Toss in rookie linebacker Shane Ray and defensive end Malik Jackson, who was second on the team in sacks in 2013 with six, and the Broncos have the ability to create pressure.
But the Broncos haven’t met their Super Bowl potential over the past three seasons, and that includes a defense that had one sack and no interceptions in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, no sacks and no interceptions in the Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and no sacks in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts last January.
The Broncos were No. 3 in total defense last season, at 305.2 yards allowed per game, but they were tied for 16th in scoring defense (22.1 points allowed per game). The Broncos defenders say they’ve been good, but they want to be better, more impactful, more game-changing. They recovered just five fumbles all last season, for example, and only three teams recovered fewer.
“It's been wonderful,’’ Talib said of Phillips’ defense. “His defense is straight to the point. Not a lot of thinking, but a lot of playing. It helps out our whole defense. It allows us to play fast.’’
Talib and Harris have been, unquestionably, the team’s top two cornerbacks thus far (Bradley Roby is No. 3). Talib returned an interception for a touchdown in Saturday’s practice. The Broncos have plenty of speed at the position after those three as well with Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter and rookie Lorenzo Doss.
“From first to third group, I think we have a good depth at cornerback -- maybe the best in the league, actually,’’ said safety Darian Stewart.
“Well, we can play man [and] boy, that's a great sign,’’ coach Gary Kubiak said. “When we're pressuring people being in zone-type blitzes or man blitzes, we can lock up on the back end. That's just very encouraging … I think we're going to have a lot of flexibility on the back end. We're a man-under football team. If you're going to beat us, you're going to have to beat man coverage. They're not going to let you dink and dunk the ball around.’’