ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the Broncos' Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears, Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper were among the primary reasons Denver mounted a 21-point comeback.
The two young players — Bonitto in his second season and Cooper in his third — combined for 3.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss in Denver's 31-28 win.
As the Broncos move forward, both players should have plenty more chances to make an impact.
Head Coach Sean Payton said the play of Denver's young players made it "best for our team right now, timing wise" to move forward from Randy Gregory.
Payton said the Broncos "want the best players possible" and that Bonitto and Cooper had been playing at a higher level.
"Those other guys stepped up," Payton said, "and we felt like they're playing better."
Bonitto (3.5 sacks) and Cooper (3 sacks) have each already set career high in sacks, and Bonitto has already blown past his tackle for loss total from 2022. Last year's second-round pick has six tackles for loss and five quarterback hits in four games after he posted one tackle for loss and three quarterback hits in 15 games last season.
Bonitto said the game has slowed down for him in Year 2, and he used his performance as a rookie to fuel his preparation for this season.
"I knew the type of player I could be, but obviously I felt like I could have done a lot more last year," Bonitto said. "[I was] just carrying that chip on my shoulder the whole offseason, working on my weaknesses and building more on my strengths. Just trying to be a guy that can come in and contribute was the main thing this year for me."
Defensive lineman Zach Allen credited Bonitto earlier in the week, saying he "has all the athletic ability in the world" and comparing him to Philadelphia's Haason Reddick. The former Cardinal posted at least 11 sacks in each of the last three years and earned a Pro Bowl berth last season.
"I haven't at least played with someone like that since Haason Reddick," Allen said. "I think they're very similar players. [Bonitto is] still growing, still learning and I'm excited to see where he'll be."
Outside linebacker Frank Clark, who has credited both Bonitto and Cooper in recent weeks, could also soon be back for Denver. He returned to practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday for the first time since suffering an injury ahead of Denver's Week 2 game vs. Washington.
"Man, I've got to focus on getting healthy," said Clark when asked if he could play this week. "That's my number one priority right now, to be at 100 percent healthy. I'm sure everybody knows what I can do when I'm 100 percent healthy."
The Broncos could also regain third-year edge rusher Baron Browning, who started his 21-day practice window on Wednesday. Still on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform, Browning is eligible to play as soon as Sunday for the Broncos and could bring another dynamic element to the group. In 14 games of action last season, Browning recorded an interception, five sacks, a forced fumble, eight tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hits.
Regardless of when Clark and Browning return, the Broncos' young pass rushers are focused on building on their success in Week 4.
"Just continuing to hone in on the little details, continuing to play fast, play hard and things of that nature," Bonitto said of his goals moving forward. "Don't just have one good week and be OK. Just continue to build on it."