ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Every offseason since 2007, Champ Bailey returned to Dove Valley headquarters and had to learn a new scheme under a new defensive coordinator.
Not this summer.
Jack Del Rio is back for a second straight season with the Broncos.
That’s no small thing in Denver, where even the hottest of coaching seats in the league were downright cool compared to the Mile High musical chairs at defensive coordinator.
Starting with Jim Bates replacing Larry Coyer in 2007, and followed by Bob Slowik (2008), Mike Nolan (2009), Don Martindale (2010), Dennis Allen (2011) and Del Rio, the Broncos were always under the hood with a new mechanic.
Now, Bailey said, they can finally see how fast that baby can go.
“That’s pretty much it. You can really build on what we’ve done well in the past. When you get a new defense, coaches are kind of afraid to put in too much, because it’s all new,” Bailey said. “But now we can expand from what we’ve done good and hopefully get even better.”
The Broncos were very good under Del Rio a year ago, ranking second in the league overall, third against the run, third against the pass, first in third-down percentage, first in yards allowed per play and tied for first in sacks.
This year, they’re faster after a much smoother and more productive offseason, and not just because they’ve added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips to the mix, either.
They hounded Peyton Manning on the first day of training camp and really flustered his backups and the rest of the Broncos’ high-octane offense featuring speedsters Demaryius Thomas and Ronnie Hillman.
“Yeah, playing fast,” Del Rio said Saturday after the Broncos’ first padded practice in six months. “Regardless of the timed 40 speed of each guy on the field we want to look like a team that plays fast because we want to be certain where we’re going, trust each other, be accountable, be reliable and let it rip.”
With more speed at his disposal, Del Rio can contemplate add-ons rather than another refurbishing that’s been the norm in Denver through three coaching regimes and the better part of a decade.
Sure, the Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil to free agency and are facing the possibility of being without All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, the fulcrum of Del Rio’s defense, for the first month of the season pending his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
But for the first time since Mike Shanahan was stalking the sidelines in Denver, the Broncos have stability at the top of their defensive coaching staff.
“It means a lot,” said Bailey, the longest tenured Bronco, who’s been here since 2004. “For a corner specifically, it doesn’t change a lot for me personally, but I can definitely see the difference in the guys around me, and that makes a huge, huge difference in what we can do up front and on the back end with the safeties.”
Too often over the years, the Broncos were at times their own worst enemy, with players learning new positions on the fly and making their mistakes on the field, draft picks under one coaching staff being moved into entirely new positions and roles under another, and just when they got it all down, in came a new boss unfurling yet another set of blueprints.
“It’s difficult learning new systems year in and year out,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “So, it’s something good to have this year, that consistency and that familiarity around our team. Everybody knows what we did last year. It’s fun. It’s fun having the same coordinator around.”
Defensive end Robert Ayers said he thinks he can finally live up to his first-round billing this year with Del Rio back.
“This is my fifth year here and this is the first time where I’ve had a defensive coordinator come back for a second year,” he said. “When you get that familiarity with a coach and he understands what you can do and you don’t have a new coach coming in and trying to figure you out, that’s always a plus.”
Notes: The Broncos signed former Chiefs TE Jake O’Connell and waived TE Lucas Reed, who pulled a hamstring Friday. … C/G C.J. Davis sprained his left ankle Saturday. … S Rahim Moore, the biggest goat in Denver’s playoff loss to Baltimore, began winning back fans with an interception that garnered a rousing ovation. … The crowd of about 3,000 fans sitting hillside stretched along with the players before the morning practice. “It was a great moment,” Moore said. “It was very funny.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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