ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --If you're going to be the best, you've got to beat the best. What the Broncos hope is that the offense and defense work symbiotically to achieve that, and build what DeMarcus Ware called "1 and 1" -- two units atop the league.
Ware is one of the primary reasons why the offense has been challenged in a way it was not during training camp last year. Safety T.J. Ward is another. Ware has consistently generated pressure from the edge, while Ward's ability to read runs as they develop puts pressure on the running backs to get to the edge quicker, or risk being run down for no gain.
"Those guys are savages, man," said linebacker Danny Trevathan. "Anything that's out there left to be picked up, they're going to go out there and clean it up and they're going to leave everything out there on that field."
The defense is still without cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and -- in the team periods, Von Miller and Kevin Vickerson. Yet it has been dominant at times, including Saturday, when the pads went on, allowing Ward and others to hit at close to full throttle.
"It has been a challenge," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "We knew it in the spring that it was going to be tough and now that we have the pads on, we can see the addition of DeMarcus Ware and T.J. You can see a real big difference now."
The defense looks like it listened to the directions that, according to urban legend, are the only ones George Lucas provided during much of the filming of the original Star Warsin 1977: "Faster. More intense."
That can only help the offense, which has the firepower to respond and match it, which makes the move-and-countermove duel of the units worth watching in the next few weeks.
For now, here's five thoughts from Saturday's practice:
- Ward brings something new to the defense -- a safety who can discombobulate the run game, but also drop into coverage effectively on the next play.
T.J. Ward with a big lick on Ronnie Hillman. What you want to see from Ward: reading the run as it develops, accelerating to ball carrier. — Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 26, 2014
On this play, Hillman had a bit of room running to his left after being forced outside, but Ward arrived so quickly that the speedy third-year back had no chance of getting to the outside in time. Ward's hit rattled throughout the practice field.
With Ward, Lerentee McCray and others in the back seven consistently filling gaps, there is scant room for the running backs to roam.
"The running lanes are a lot smaller, and that's great," said running back Montee Ball. "It's great going against this type of defense, it will make us better for the games."
To Hillman's credit, he secured the football in anticipation of contact, a positive sign given his fumbling issues last year. However, Hillman also fumbled a toss pitch from Manning, although he managed to recover the football.
- DeMarcus Ware is still wreaking havoc:
DeMarcus Ware with another strong day. Blew past Chris Clark on the outside for what would have been a sack in a game. — Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 26, 2014
It was a classic Ware pass rush. He sprinted around the edge, and did not hesitate when Peyton Manning executed a play-action fake, perfectly reading the intent of the play. One play earlier, Ware got the first 11-on-11, full-contact team period off to a thunderous start by blowing up a handoff to Montee Ball. Ball took the handoff up the middle.
Ware had been one of the most dominant players without pads, using his speed. Saturday, he added power and an array of upper-body pass rush moves to keep the offensive tackles off-balance. It was vintage Ware, as though he'd turned back the calendar two or three years.
"I still have my strength and my speed," said Ware. "When you're in pads, it's all about endurance and stamina, so I'm trying to make sure I keep that this whole season."
- A camp standout:
Marvin Austin is consistently getting penetration. Repeatedly outclassing the backup interior OLs. — Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 26, 2014
Austin is the X-factor of the defensive tackle corps, a high-ceiling, low-risk offseason pickup. If he's healthy and consistent, he could make the group one of the deepest in the league. He could also provide insurance while Vickerson eases his way back into full-speed work following his hip injury of last November.
Austin was dominant in line drills, but most important was how he carried that into the 11-on-11 periods.
What stands out about Austin is his quickness off the snap. At one point, he was too quick, as he jumped offside after biting on a hard count from Brock Osweiler. But he repeatedly anticipated the play and was often in the backfield before the offensive line was set.
- The cornerbacks got in on the hitting, as well. One of the louder collisions came when Omar Bolden blew up a swing pass from Osweiler to rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer in the left flat.
Kayvon Webster also had one of the best plays of the day, when he burst through a Wes Welker block to tackle Andre Caldwell in the right flat for no gain on a screen pass. He also forced Manning to throw away the football when he applied pressure from the inside.
- This isn't one thought, but simply a series of small neural oscillations:
- Brock Osweiler made some good decisions, and Gase noted that he is doing well at avoiding turnovers. He did well to feel a pass rush from Kenny Anunike, checking down to a short pass to Kapri Bibbs instead of staying put or evacuating the pocket too quickly. But the play he would like to have back was a deep pass up the right sideline to Anderson, which Tony Carter intercepted. Anderson was in double coverage, as rookie Corey Nelson was also close by.
- C.J. Anderson brings toughness and persistence to his blocking assignments. Although the 5-foot-7 running back is outsized in the one-on-one drill, he compensates with technique and leverage; he does a good job getting his legs set and then using his hands to hold off an oncoming rusher.
- Ball was beaten three times in the one-on-one pass-rush drill, but noted after practice that he wanted tough assignments -- which meant he faced nothing but first-teamers: Nate Irving twice and Trevathan once. Ball fared better at blitz pickup during 11-on-11 work.
- Anunike, an undrafted rookie from Duke, is one of the sleepers of camp. He was a consistent standout in the line drills, repeatedly beating his man with a quick move to the outside, and forced multiple pressures.
- Linebacker Brandon Marshall has done well at reading plays as they develop, and closing gaps when the offense tries to run. He also doesn't get caught biting on a play-fake; when he had a rush up the middle, he kept right on coming and provided pressure.