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Broncos promote Joe Woods to defensive coordinator

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A look back at Joe Woods' NFL coaching career, from his early days with Tampa Bay through his time with the Broncos as a defensive backs coach and now, defensive coordinator.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos didn't have to look far for their new defensive coordinator -- just down the hall, actually, to Joe Woods.

Woods, who first joined the team as defensive backs coach in 2015, will replace Wade Phillips, who moved on to the Los Angeles Rams last week. It will be the first NFL coordinator position for the 46-year-old Woods, who spent the last 13 seasons as a defensive backs coach with the Buccaneers, Vikings and Raiders before joining the Broncos for the 2015 season.

"Joe Woods is ready for this opportunity," Head Coach Vance Joseph said."He's been a long-time NFL assistant coach and has done great work at the secondary position. 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."

It was new Head Coach Vance Joseph who helped recommend Woods to Gary Kubiak in 2015 as the former Broncos head coach cobbled together his first staff.

"When I came here, one of my very close friends in this business -- [Joseph] -- told me, 'You go get this guy.' I didn't know Joe," Kubiak said last month. "Boy, was he right. He's been special."

Kubiak said he often let Woods speak to the entire team, which set him up for the leadership role he now assumes.

The challenge for Woods is clear: maintain the defense's elite status. In the last three seasons, Denver's defense ranked third, first and fourth in total yardage allowed.

His task will likely start with maintaining the excellence of the "No-Fly Zone" defensive backfield, which has helped the Broncos have the league's best pass defense in each of the last two seasons. This past season, it produced the first All-Pro cornerback tandem in NFL history when Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. each earned first-team All-Pro honors.

Talib and Harris earned Pro Bowl selections in each of Woods' three seasons as defensive backs coach. T.J. Ward also garnered a Pro Bowl nod following the 2014 season, while Darian Stewart, a 2015 free-agent pickup, blossomed and warranted a four-year contract extension.

"It's a special secondary with Talib and Chris and those guys, even the safeties, with Stewart and T.J.," Joseph said Thursday. "It's rare that you have four guys of a Pro Bowl level in one secondary. That's rare, and they're all fully-engaged guys."

Woods played a key role in that.

"You watch them play on defense, that's the spearhead, the back end, because they're engaged, and they're physical and they love to play no matter where we're in or what we're playing for," Joseph said. "So that's where it starts, in the back end."

Added Kubiak last month: "That [the secondary] is a group of characters. They have strong personalities and Joe does a great job with them. They play extremely hard. He has a way of getting them ready to play every week. They have really gravitated to him."

But Woods will also have to work at fortifying the run defense, which struggled last year, dropping from third in rushing yardage in 2015 to 28th in 2016. A big part of the task will be creating more negative plays from opposing running game. The Broncos forced runs for losses on just 8.5 percent of the rushing attempts against them, the third-lowest figure in the league.

If Woods can maintain the proficiency of the pass defense while improving the unit's work against the run, the Broncos' elite run should continue. And perhaps no one believes in Woods' ability to run an entire defense more than Joseph and Kubiak.

"He's tremendous," Kubiak said of Woods last month. "Joe has a bright future. He's a heck of a coach and a great communicator."

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