ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For six of his first seven years in the NFL, newly signed Broncos defensive lineman Shamar Stephen played along the trenches in Minnesota.
George Paton watched Stephen play in each of those six seasons, and in his first year as the Broncos' general manager, he added Stephen to Denver's roster during the second wave of free agency.
Yet while many will make the connection between Stephen and Paton to explain the defensive lineman's decision to come to Denver, Head Coach Vic Fangio and his defensive system may have held an even stronger appeal.
"It was being comfortable with the coaches, the staff and the scheme, and understanding what Coach Vic wants us to do in the scheme," Stephen said Wednesday about his decision to choose Denver. "I just felt comfortable here being under his leadership."
Stephen recalled watching Fangio's defenses — both in 2019 when the Broncos visited the Vikings and during the previous four-year stretch when Fangio served as the Bears' defensive coordinator.
"The first thing about his defense [is that] it's multifaceted, so you're able to do a lot of things out of that defense," Stephen said. "[He's] able to bring a lot of pressure and determine where you want to get the ball on a second-and-long and third-and-long. He does a lot of good things with the pressure, and he's able to force people to do what he wants them to do."
Stephen tallied 34 tackles, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and .5 sacks last season, and he will provide proven depth along the defensive line. Though Mike Purcell seems likely to retain the starting nose tackle job, Stephen should still hold a significant role on a defensive line that rotates its players.
"I'm just going to come out here and do my job to the best of my ability," said Stephen when asked if he believed he would start. "My role here is to do what the coaches ask me to do and help the team win."
Stephen has started 31 of a possible 32 games over the previous two seasons.
In Denver, regardless of his role, Stephen foresees a "real good chance to be a dominant defense." Stephen said the unit has plenty of talented players, and he's excited to add his experience to the defense.
And after a free agency process that dragged into April, he's also glad to have found a team — and system — that fits him well.
"Being released and trying to come to a new team and learning what people want out of you and what you can provide for them is always difficult," Stephen said. "Being patient and understanding what I want out of me and what I want out of a defense was key for me. I'm very comfortable and happy with the decision I made."
With Stephen's wealth of experience, Broncos fans may soon be very happy with his decision, as well.