Denver Broncos | News

Defensive transition largely dependent on understanding personnel


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** Earlier this week following the first day of the OTAs, Head Coach Gary Kubiak said he thought the defense's adjustment to a new scheme was "a little ahead" of the offense's with their schematic change.

Kubiak chalked it up to it incorporating some shared elements the defense used previously, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips' prowess as a teacher and the simplicity of the defense.

On Friday, Phillips discussed how that transition has been implemented, and how it all starts with understanding personnel and how they would play together. Initially that began with the edge rushers, which was probably a pretty quick thought process when it came to Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

"It's not just going to the 3-4, it's really the personnel involved in the 3-4 and what you want to do with them," Phillips said. "We're still in progress with those things, but we knew we wanted some outside rushers, and when you go to the 3-4, the two guys who are outside are exceptional. So that's a big start for us."

From there he delved into the outer reaches of the defense, defending the sidelines and the backfield. With three Pro Bowlers—Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward—there are plenty of options for Phillips and the coaching staff.

"You have to see the secondary — what they can play," Phillips said. "If you're a really good man [defense] team, you play more man; if you're a zone team, play more zone. Each guy's capabilities — what they can do — you try to meld that into the defense. That's part of our learning process.

It's not just the players — it's the coaches learning what the players can do. It's not what I can think of — I can think of a lot of defenses — but its what our players do best, and that's what we're going to try to do."

Looking back to the middle of the field, the inside linebackers who have been pegged as the probable starters weren't active in the first practices. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan have each led the Broncos in total tackles in the past two seasons (Marshall with 110 in 2014, Trevathan with 125 in 2013) but with both of them recovering from injuries, the Broncos are not too eager to rush them (or first-round pick OLB Shane Ray) back for practices in May.

However, Phillips has been happy with all the work that those three linebackers have put in to learn the defense despite being unable to physically participate in the practices.

The Broncos took to the field to begin OTAs with the season just a few months away. Here are shots from Wednesday's action. (All photos by digital staff)

"I'm pleased with the two guys who are out, and Shane Ray also. The two guys who are out, as far as learning the defense, they're really studying, they're helping the other guys," Phillips added. "That's important for our team overall, and they know that, but they've played before. Shane Ray hasn't played before, so he's getting real good at on-the-board stuff and that kind of stuff, but he's going to have to get out on the field and do some of those things. But the inside backers I think are doing a good job for us. There's a lot of competition in there, which is good. I think we've got some talented young guys that have a pretty good feel."

Phillips asserts they'll put the best players on the field and as they finally get some constructive 11-on-11 team drills as part of the third phase of the offseason program, he and the coaching staff will work to find those players and that process will be as much of the process as moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

Though the early movements to implement a new scheme have been positive, it's obvious that you're not going to get a new defense installed and smoothed out over three months before the start of the regular season. Phillips noted that there's still "a ways to go," including calls the linebackers will have to do, but they're making the right steps thus far.

"We don't have the pads on yet. We've got a long ways to go," Phillips concluded. "We've gone one week, three practices, and those aren't even live. But I like the way they're working. I look at their movement skills. We're going to get them to give their great effort. That's a mark hopefully of our defense always, is we're going to have a lot of guys flying to the football. And those guys have bought in to that. They're really doing a good job. As big as they are you don't expect them to be down all over the field. We do. We expect that."

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