DENVER (CBS4) – The Broncos defense is playing with more of an edge during training camp so far, and the team expects defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s squad will put in a better performance than last season.

While the Broncos offense was flying high and breaking NFL records right and left in 2013, the defense was crippled by injuries to several key players and wound up with a team defensive rank of 19.

Here are the top five reasons the Broncos defense will be better this year.

1. T.J. Ward – The Broncos defense took a licking in the Super Bowl, and one observation many Broncos fans had about the game was that the Seahawks just hit harder on defense. With the pickup of safety T.J. Ward in free agency, general manager John Elway showed that he is serious about turning up the nasty factor on this defense. “He’s going to bring some toughness to our defense,” Del Rio said.

T.J. Ward (credit: CBS)

T.J. Ward (credit: CBS)

During an early training camp practice at the team’s Dove Valley headquarters, CBS4’s Tom Helmer observed that it’s clear Ward is going to set the tone for the D. “He hit everything that moved. He may have even hit a couple of ball boys,” Helmer said.

CBS4’s Gary Miller agreed. “They had to get somebody playing center field, and they did in T.J. Ward. He is going to shake some guys up.”

2. Return from injuries – An injury epidemic sidelined some of the biggest names on the Broncos defensive roster last season. The following defensive players all missed the Super Bowl: Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. Now they are all back, and all of the players who stepped in while they were gone have not just valuable regular season game experience, but playoff experience too.

Harris said upon his return to the practive field last week that he and Von Miller were competing to see who could recover faster from their surgeries. “Just competing with him and him being ahead of me helped push me to get to where he was faster. Actually, I came back faster because he came back at seven months and I came back at six months. It’s really not even six months yet for me so for me to be back out here this quick is really incredible,” Harris said.

“We’ve got our guys back now,” Del Rio said.

3. Pass Rush. In his third NFL season Broncos defensive pass rushing specialist Von Miller will get to play with a veteran whom he idolized while he was growing up in Texas. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio says Miller, who is returning after season-ending knee surgery, will “be at his best this year.” CBS4 columnist Brett Heinzerling says Miller is still nowhere near his ceiling.

Everyone is itching to find out how opposing offenses will stop the dual threat of Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Ware, who the Broncos signed in free agency, clearly knows how to get to the quarterback — he currently stands at No. 18 on the all-time career sack leaders list with 117. Opposing quarterbacks: look out!

4. Danny Trevathan emerges as a leader Weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan had a huge year for the Broncos in his second year as a pro and wound up leading the team in tackles. The coaches expect big things out of Trevathan in his third year.

Danny Trevathan (credit: CBS)

Danny Trevathan (credit: CBS)

Trevathan already sounded like a confident leader in the first week of training camp. “When I’m in there it’s my defense, and it’s my job to make sure we play our type of football that we’re capable of,” he said.

5. The D wants to be compared with the best. The Broncos defensive players want to be compared with that crushing defense the Seattle Seahawks brought to the Super Bowl. “I think we’re coming along real nice,” defensive lineman Malik Jackson said. “We’ve still got to get out there and play some preseason games against competition, but right now we’re looking real good.”


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