ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' defense posted impressive statistics in 2021.
The unit ranked third in points allowed and eighth in total defense as they held opponents at or below 17 points on 10 occasions.
Those statistics, though, helped hide a sometimes concerning reality. On several occasions last year, the Broncos' defense was unable to get the stop it desperately needed.
In games against the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs, the Broncos had an opportunity to give their offense another chance at a win with a stop. Instead, their opponents ran the four-minute drill to perfection and salted time off the clock. In Denver's loss to the Browns, a rash of injuries certainly played a role. But over the course of the 2021 season, the Broncos' 15th-ranked run defense had its share of missteps that led to defeats.
As the Broncos headed into the offseason, safety and team captain Justin Simmons identified those lapses as an area in which the team needed to improve.
"We're going to have to go out there and get those stops," Simmons told DenverBroncos.com in February. "There's at least three games last year [when there were] four-minute situations where the defense couldn't get off the field. … Those are the types of things from a defensive standpoint, [if] you want to get into the big game and you want to get into the postseason, you've got to be able to make those stops and win those games."
That task became a little bit easier this week, as the Broncos signed defensive tackle D.J. Jones to a three-year contract. The 6-foot, 305-pound player is expected to play at both nose tackle and in the three-technique, and he should help plug a hole on the front line of the defense. Last year in San Francisco, only Aaron Donald had more stops for a loss or no gain than Jones among interior linemen.
"I like to attack the ball, wherever it is," Jones said. "That's something that was instilled in me from an early age and stuck with me forever. I just like to make plays all over the field."
Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero said the Broncos identified Jones early as a player that could make an impact on the interior of the team's defensive line. And now that he's in Denver, Jones has high expectations for himself and the defense.
"Dominance — I expect complete dominance," Jones said. "Be able to stop the run and then have some fun after that. On third down, we'll get to the quarterback. On early downs, we'll stop the run. So that's what I've seen [from Evero's defensive scheme], and that's what I expect."
Jones, in particular, should be crucial to the team's run defense — and he knows the key to being a good run-stopper.
"Somebody that's continuously dominant," Jones said. "First [down], second [down] — even if they want to run it on third down. We'll stop you on fourth down. Field goal, we'll stop you. Just knowing my assignment and executing."
DEPTH ALONG THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Former 49er Tom Compton signed a one-year deal with the Broncos on Thursday, and he said he's not yet sure whether he'll compete at right tackle or for one of the guard spots.
The former sixth-round pick has played for a slew of NFL teams during his 123 career games, and he ended up being a key cog for San Francisco last season. Including the playoffs, Compton started the final 10 games of the year for San Fransisco.
"It ended up being a great opportunity for me, and being a backup for quite a bit of my career, you always wait for that opportunity and try to make the most of it and I felt like I did that," Compton said. "We had a really good run there at the end of the season, and it's something I'm pretty proud of."
Compton said he believed that stretch of play helped catch the Broncos' attention as they looked to add depth to their line.
"I think so," Compton said. "I know there's going to be a lot of carryover with the offensive scheme with the outside zone, and I feel like I bring a lot to the table with that and hopefully show them that I'm a big part of that for this offense."
Compton should have familiarity in Denver, as Offensive Line Coach Butch Barry served as an assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco and often worked one-on-one with Compton. The new Broncos lineman said his familiarity with Barry and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett's system were determining factors in choosing Denver.
BRONCOS ADD BEHIND ALBERT O.
The Broncos bolstered their tight end depth after trading Noah Fant to the Seahawks, as they signed Eric Tomlinson to the roster. Without Fant and Saubert — who became an unrestricted free agent when the new league year began — Denver was in need of depth behind Albert Okwuegbunam.
Tomlinson said Thursday that the Broncos liked his blocking ability, and he said he expected to serve as the team's blocking tight end.
The seventh-year player also expects to contribute on special teams for Denver.
"I've always played special teams," Tomlinson said. "I've always been part of the punt team and kickoff return team since I've been in the league. Last year I think I had five tackles on punt team with the Ravens. I'm always willing to help on special teams. I like doing it."