ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The “No Fly Zone” gets to keep its pilot.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph on Tuesday promoted secondary coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator, replacing Wade Phillips, who left for the Rams.
Woods, 46, was in charge of the Broncos’ stellar secondary that led the league in pass defense each of the last two seasons behind All-Pro cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., hard-hitting safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart and nickel back Bradley Roby.
Three of them – Talib, Harris and Stewart – will join linebacker Von Miller in the Pro Bowl next week in Orlando after Stewart was named as Eric Berry’s replacement Tuesday.
“If we had to lose Wade, at least we get to keep Joe,” Harris told The Associated Press. “We were all afraid that he was going to become a defensive coordinator somewhere else. We’ve seen him work so hard. We were sure he’d be getting a lot of interviews in the next year and leave us. I’m so excited to see him get this opportunity.”
Woods has a quarter-century of coaching experience including the last 13 seasons in charge of defensive backs in Denver (2015-16), Oakland (2014), Minnesota (2006-13) and Tampa Bay (2004-05).
“Joe Woods is ready for this opportunity,” Joseph said. “… No one will outwork Joe. He’s got tremendous attention to detail as well as a lot of familiarity with our players. It’s his time, and he’s ready for it. I’m very excited to watch Joe grow as a coordinator.”
During his two seasons in Denver, the Broncos allowed 199.6 yards passing in their Super Bowl season and 185.8 yards last season. During that stretch, they held opponents to the lowest completion percentage (57.8), yards per attempt (5.99) and passer rating (74.3).
No secondary in the NFL scored more defensive touchdowns than Denver’s seven during the last two seasons.
Woods spent a dozen years working his way up the college coaching ranks after a stellar career as a defensive back at Illinois State. He enjoyed immediate success in the pros, coaching a Buccaneers secondary in 2004 that featured cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly and that led the league in pass defense.
Woods takes over a stout defense from Phillips that featured the league’s best secondary and pass rush but that was unable to replicate its successful run defense that proved so crucial to their Super Bowl-winning 2015 season.
The Broncos thought they could withstand losing free agents Malik Jackson to the Jaguars and Danny Trevathan to the Bears. But the loss of run-stuffer Vance Walker to a torn right ACL in training camp proved too much.
Their run defense nosedived from third in the NFL to 28th as they went from allowing a franchise-fewest 83.6 yards a game in 2015 to 130.3 last season.
That, along with spotty play in the trenches on offense, neutralized their pass rush and strong secondary as Denver slipped to 9-7 and missed the playoffs a year after winning Super Bowl 50.
Afterward, Gary Kubiak, 55, stepped down as head coach with two years left on his contract, citing health concerns, and general manager John Elway hired Joseph, the Broncos’ third head coach in the last four seasons and fifth in the last 10.
Joseph made a big splash with his offensive staff makeover, replacing coordinator Rick Dennison, QB coach Greg Knapp and O-line coach Clancy Barone with Mike McCoy, Bill Musgrave and Jeff Davidson, respectively.
Now that he’s promoted Woods, he’ll turn his attention to hiring a new secondary coach and filling his special teams coordinator vacancy following Joe DeCamillis’ departure to Jacksonville.
PRO BOWL FOURSOME: While Miller (five), Talib (four) and Harris (three) have been named to the all-star team before, Stewart is a first-time Pro Bowler.
“I think it’s awesome. I’m so proud for him,” Harris said. “Stew works so hard, he had a great season – and he’s another undrafted guy. When you see an undrafted guy like you make it to the Pro Bowl, it’s definitely cool.”
Stewart, a seven-year pro who went undrafted out of South Carolina in 2010, is coming off his best season, one that earned him a four-year, $28 million contract extension and AFC player of the week honors for his three-takeaway performance at New Orleans on Nov. 13.
– By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Sports Writer
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