By Chad Jensen
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (247SPORTS)– The Denver Broncos planned on their third safety this year being the recently-acquired Su’a Cravens, but a knee injury in camp derailed his first eight games of the season. Cravens was activated to the active roster ahead of Week 9, and he’s received some snaps, but he hasn’t been able to wrest the third safety job away from Will Parks.
Parks, in his third year, has been quietly productive for the Broncos through 11 games. Last season, Parks, along with many of Denver’s young players, took a step backward developmentally. The colossal, crushing weight of a 5-11 season will do that.
But Parks has followed up that disappointment with a solid 2018 campaign, and in Week 12 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, he made arguably the biggest defensive play of the Broncos’ season. On the first play of the second quarter, Pittsburgh ran some trickeration — a stretch to the right play-fake, that saw tight end Xavier Grimble leak out the backside wide open.
Ben Roethlisberger hit Grimble quickly, and the 6-foot-4, 261-pound tight end proceeded to rumble downfield with nothing but green grass — and Will Parks — standing between him and the end zone. As the single-high safety, Parks covered ground quickly, closing the gap between he and the ball-carrier.
It was at that very moment that Parks had to make a decision, which he thoughtfully narrated after the game.
“When I was running to the ball, I slowed down to see if he was going to try to cut back,” Parks said. “There was a play against the Jets where I could’ve—a 7-yard gain turned into a 30-yard gain , but I took a bad angle. I’ve been working on my angles in practice and it showed up. Either he was slow or he let up, I don’t really care. I just had to make the play for team. It was all for the team.”
The collision could be felt through the television, as Parks rocked Grimble, knocking the ball loose just before it broke the plane, tumbling out of the end zone. Touchback. Parks’ hit negated what would have been a 24-yard touchdown, taking seven Steelers’ points off the board.
The margin by which Denver beat Pittsburgh? Seven points — 24-17.
For his part, Grimble knows he made a grievous error, as he described his thought process in that moment after the game.
“He didn’t surprise me at all. I saw him coming,” Grimble said via Mark Kaboly of the Athletic. “I could’ve cut back and scored but I wanted to run right through him. I was probably too aggressive. That’s what happened. Unfortunately.”
Unfortunately, indeed. While the stakes can’t quite be compared, Parks’ forced fumble — along with his speed, effort and angle to the ball — is up there with Von Miller‘s first Super Bowl 50 strip-sack as the most impressive defensive play I’ve seen a Bronco make since I began covering the team in 2013.
The respective quotes from the two players involved in the collision illustrates a similar mindset. It all came down to will — in more ways than one.
Parks has ‘heart’ in spades. He could have slowed down, knowing that by the time he arrived at the point of attack, Grimble was a shoe-in to score. But he didn’t. Parks finished the game with six tackles (three solo) and that crucial forced fumble.
The Broncos were fighting for their season vs. the Steelers, and Parks put his 6-foot-1, 208-pound frame on the line and it paid dividends, sparking excitement and belief in his teammates. Its that type of tenacious mindset that could see the Broncos make an odds-defying run at the postseason, after starting the year 3-6.
“You say ‘Alright, what can I do?’” Parks queried after the game. “Coach [Vance Joseph] preached turnovers all of the time to the offense. He said, ‘Hey man, we need points.’ to special teams ‘Hey man, [P] Colby [Wadman] we need to punt the ball. B-Mac (K Brandon McManus) make the kicks when it counts. And everybody else do your job, play your role and I’m just playing my role right now and trying to do everything I can to help this team get a win.”
Parks is known as a Vance Joseph guy. The third-year safety out of Arizona — like the other 52 guys on the roster — have completely bought in to what Joseph is selling. And if recent results are any indication, that belief is more than working for the Denver Broncos.