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Harris Jr., Broncos describe keys to thriving during coaching change

ORLANDO, Fla. — Continuity is almost impossible to find in the NFL.

A player's career is fleeting, and a coach's isn't much different.

Aqib Talib may know this better than anyone. In his nine years in the NFL, the three-time Pro Bowler has worked with seven different head coaches — three in Tampa, one in New England and now three in Denver as Vance Joseph takes the reins.

That turnover hasn't been unique to Talib. Just seven head coaches remain with the team they coached when Talib entered the NFL in 2008. As such, the ability to adapt to a new coaching staff's style and tone isn't just a good skill to have in the league — it's in many ways a necessity.

The Broncos, however, hold an advantage compared to many teams that are undergoing a coaching overhaul. As Joseph mentioned in his introductory press conference, the Denver job isn't broken — and that means the identity and makeup of the locker room will largely remain the same.

"I've been through a ton," Talib said. "But there's not much to it. It's still football. The state of the building changes a little bit, but the locker room stays the same. The hardest part I would say is learning the new playbook."

The defensive side of the ball should see an easy transition in that regard. Joseph has previously said he would prefer not to call plays, and with Joe Woods' promotion to defensive coordinator, he'll likely delegate that responsibility.

A majority of the Broncos' Pro Bowlers reside on the defensive side of the ball, and they raved Wednesday about how Woods' elevation could help the defense continue on the same track.

"It's all [about] scheme," safety Darian Stewart said. "Joe Woods, he knows us. He knows the personnel. He knows the scheme that fits us. I think we're in a good position. … Everything's going to switch over real smoothly."

While Stewart arrived with former head coach Gary Kubiak and thus didn't experience the most-recent transition, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has seen his fair share of change.

Harris, who joined the Broncos while they were under John Fox, was with the team at the end of the 2014 season when Fox was replaced by Kubiak. In some situations, Harris said, it can take a while to become comfortable with new leadership. He said he expects this regime change to be easier, as the Broncos' elite defense returns many of its pieces.

And while many aspects of a coaching change can be negative, Harris said there's something to be gained from a switch.

"I think last time, everybody went in there with a clean slate," Harris said. "I think that was the best thing to happen. You get a clean slate and kind of show this new guy what you can do."

With that clean slate comes a checklist Harris said players must be sure to check off.

"You want to show that you're accountable, you want to show that the coaches can trust you," Harris said. "[You want to show] that you're mentally smart, that you can handle everything. [All new coaches] are going to bring all new ideas."

On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said he's hoping the switch to Mike McCoy and an up-tempo offense can help the Broncos "get rolling and win another championship."

And just as the defense maintained a sense of stability, Sanders and Demaryius Thomas will maintain their wide receivers coach, Tyke Tolbert. Under Tolbert, the pair topped 1,000 yards each in three consecutive seasons.

"I know how much the city of Denver means to Tyke, and I know he wanted to stick around," Sanders said. "He's got two daughters. And beyond the personal, from a career standpoint, he's been extremely important to me and my career. [With] him as a coach, I went to two Pro Bowls and won the Super Bowl, so how can I complain about that."

So even as change injects itself into UCHealth Training Center, the more things will stay the same for an organization that has won five of the last six AFC West division titles and been to two of the last four Super Bowls.

Joseph, McCoy and a host of new coaches will join an organization with three Lombardi Trophies and the firepower for a whole lot more. After all, the Broncos' six players in the Pro Bowl is the most in the AFC and is second only to the Cowboys' seven.

And that's why even though the playbook, the faces and the manner of motivation may change, Harris isn't worried about what's to come.

"We already had a strong culture," Harris said, "so he's kind of just joining that winning culture. And I think it's going to be great for him to come in.

"It's already established, so he can just take it to another level."

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