ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' defense took major strides in 2019.
The team improved from 22nd in total defense in 2018 to 12th last season, and Denver jumped from 13th to 10th in scoring defense.
Head Coach Vic Fangio's defense, though, regressed in one key area. A year after the Broncos forced a turnover on 14.1 percent of their opponents' drives — which ranked 12th in the league — Denver earned a takeaway on just 8.4 percent of their opponents' drives. Only the Chargers posted a worse rate across the league.
To be fair, the Broncos' turnover output — 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries — was greatly diminished by a four-game stretch to begin the season in which Denver didn't earn a takeaway. During the final 12 games of the season, Denver secured a takeaway in all but three of the games. Still, the Broncos recorded multiple turnovers in just five of 16 games last season.
If the Broncos are going to improve their defense from a top 10 unit to one of the best in the league, safety Kareem Jackson knows his group will need to post a better output in 2020.
"It's one of the things that we preach," Jackson said following the Broncos' first training camp practice. "We didn't do a great job at creating turnovers last year, so we've definitely placed a lot of emphasis on getting the ball and creating some more opportunities for our offense with the weapons that those guys have. For us, it's all about getting the ball. If we can get the ball, we feel like we can be a pretty good group."
Denver's defense took a positive first step toward that goal Friday as the defense recorded four interceptions during team-period drills. Safety Trey Marshall, linebacker Alexander Johnson and cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Michael Ojemudia all forced turnovers during either 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work.
The Broncos certainly have the talent to record more turnovers and trot out one of the league's top defenses.
In addition to returning a now-healthy Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan, the team also added Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye via a pair of trades for late-round picks.
"I think we can," said Jackson when asked if the defense can be elite. "I think we have the veteran guys on this defense that can be great leaders. Not only that, I think we have the talent to do it at every level. Adding Jurrell Casey along with Shelby Harris, and we have those two outside 'backers in Chubb and Von along with Jerry [Attaochu], Todd [Davis] and A.J. [Johnson]. Then in our secondary, we've got some guys that can be great leaders as well — A.J. [Bouye] and getting Bryce back. I think at every level we have veteran guys that know what it takes and that's played a lot of ball. We'll be ready and up for the task."
President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway previously suggested the defense may have to help carry a young offense early in the season, but after Friday's practice, Jackson believes Drew Lock and Co. will be ready for the Sept. 14 opener.
"I think the offense will be fine," Jackson said. "They also have some veteran guys. They're young, but they've got some guys that's played a lot of ball. Those guys are as competitive as anyone in that locker room, so I think they'll want to go out and they'll want to do what they're expected to do as well. As far as us having to carry those guys, I don't think we will have to. I think they'll come out and perform just [as] well."
For the next three weeks, though, Jackson and the defense will try to make the offense's job much harder. This Broncos defense wants turnovers — and on Friday, it got them.