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Next-Day Notebook: Defense steps up in injured starters' absence

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Perhaps the biggest relief for Head Coach Vance Joseph and the Broncos in Saturday's 33-14 win over the 49ers was that the team suffered no serious injuries.

And more than that, even with seven defensive starters sidelined, the defense upheld its usual ball-hawking style with five turnovers and a first-half shutout.

"That speaks to our depth," Head Coach Vance Joseph said, "up front especially with [DE] Zach Kerr and [DE Adam] Gotsis, even inside back with [ILB] Zaire [Anderson], playing tonight — Anderson and [ILB] Corey [Nelson]. So that was big for those kids to go in there and to play like starters. That's important to find some guys who work like that for you, especially with the linebacker deal and the D-line deal."

Photos from the Broncos' preseason game against the 49ers. (photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)

The defensive line has been hit particularly hard in the past two weeks, with starting defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick suffering a sprained ankle and back spasms, respectively.

With that in mind, the Broncos' depth along the line stepped up to halt the 49ers' rushing attack, holding San Francisco's ground game to 37 total yards and 1.9 yards per carry.

"That run game is tough, because it's a fast-track zone running team that cuts the backside, and we hadn't seen that in the entire camp and in the entire season," Joseph said. "So, I was impressed with Kerr, impressed with Gotsis stopping the run game. It's a tough run game. It's nasty."

Broncos' backs running on all cylinders

From start to finish, the Broncos' running backs combined for a performance that could make each of them proud.

C.J. Anderson started the Broncos' scoring with a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter and totaled 37 yards from scrimmage. De'Angelo Henderson helped keep the offense going when Anderson left and added 50 yards on six rushes and two catches. And in the second half, Juwan Thompson ran for 8.7 yards per carry, including a 20-yard touchdown scamper. Stevan Ridley then capped the game with 14 rushes for 40 yards, which made him the game's leading rusher.

"Something that we all wanted to do since OTAs was establish the fact that we're going to be an aggressive running back group," Henderson said. "And it started off with C.J. He made some plays and I made some plays, and then Ridley and Juwan came in, too, and made some plays. It all starts up front with those guys but we just want to be aggressive."

Anderson said one of the keys to the group's success was their drive to make each other better on a daily basis.

"We compete, we push each other, we help each other out," Anderson said. "We've got a friendly room, but it's super competitive. That's what we like about it. Seeing some things that we're doing on tape really well is exciting. It lets us know that everything that we're being taught from Coach E [Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville] is being put out on the field on tape and we're going to keep doing that."

The running backs were also able to showcase their ability to catch out of the backfield, too. Of the group's 160 yards from scrimmage against the 49ers, Anderson, Henderson and Ridley combined for 40 receiving yards.

"It shows that we're a versatile group, that we're not just guys who can just run the ball, that we can spread out wide, catch the ball and mix it up a little bit," Henderson said. "And it shows our versatility. It shows that we've got some very athletic guys, as well.

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