After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In just a few days, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at the Broncos' defense.
CAN THE BRONCOS' DEFENSE KEEP PLAYING TO THE SAME STANDARD?
As Russell Wilson and Denver's offense presumably take a massive step forward, it's critical the defense doesn't regress.
While the Broncos did not reach the postseason under former head coach Vic Fangio, their defensive prowess is hard to debate. The unit wasn't perfect — there were times when the secondary allowed too many deep passes and the run defense struggled in 2021 — but it was the strength of the team.
In 2021, the Broncos posted the third-best scoring defense in the league, and the unit boasted the league's top red-zone defense in both 2019 and 2020.
As far back as 2016, when the Broncos' playoff drought began, Denver had the best defense in the NFL under former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
If the Broncos are to battle their way out of the tough AFC West and into the postseason, they cannot solely rely on a new-look offense.
"It's going to be extremely crucial," safety Justin Simmons said in February of maintaining the standard of play. "If anything, [when the] offense gets going, we're just going to have to be better. Once we're able to score more points, whatever that looks like, we're going to have to be able to go out there and stop teams giving their best shot. We're going to get their best plays, we're going to get their best drives. We're going to have to go out there and get those stops. … Those are the types of things from a defensive standpoint, you want to get into the big game and you want to get into the postseason, you've got to be able to make those stops and win those games."
Three factors suggest the Broncos should be able to maintain — and perhaps elevate — their defensive standard:
The team retained nearly every key defensive player, barring perhaps Shelby Harris along the defensive line and Bryce Callahan in the secondary. Simmons, Pat Surtain II, Bradley Chubb, Dre'Mont Jones and Ronald Darby all remained under contract, and the Broncos brought back Kareem Jackson, Josey Jewell and DeShawn Williams, among others.
Denver filled its remaining voids with top-notch free agents. Defensive linemen D.J. Jones was one of Pro Football Focus' top-ranked free agents, Randy Gregory was among the best available pass rushers and defensive back K'Waun Williams may be among the league's most underrated slot cornerbacks.
Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero has installed a similar system to the one Fangio ran in Denver. The terminology is different in some situations, but Broncos players have discussed the ease of transitioning in the system.
During the offseason, there were early signs that the Broncos can maintain a top-10 defensive unit. The veteran-led defense held its own against Wilson's unit, and there were days when the Broncos' secondary possessed the edge. When training camp arrives and the pads come on, it will become easier to evaluate the team's run defense.
There are undoubtedly still some questions to answer, as the Broncos must prove they are stouter up front and that they possess a dominant pass rush. Evero must also show he can succeed as a first-time play caller. The pieces, though, are in place — and the margin for error may be greater.
In previous seasons, the Broncos' defense needed to be nothing short of perfect for Denver to be competitive in some games. In 2022, with an improved offense, the unit must simply capitalize on its opportunities.
For years, the defense has turned in elite play. There's no reason that has to change in 2022.