ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Middle linebacker Joe Mays is a big believer in of the game's oldest adages.
"The defense, we win championships," Mays said. "You've heard that saying for years now, and it's true."
After Wednesday morning's minicamp practice, Mays made it clear that the defense is determined to improve.
"In order for us to win games, the defense is going to have to come out and be a little bit more consistent than we were last year, be a lot more aggressive, and just try to make plays," Mays said.
Mays went on to set the bar as high as it was during the 1977 season, when Denver's storied 'Orange Crush' D helped the team go 12-2 and play in the Super Bowl.
"We're going to be faster to the ball this year, and we're going to be a lot more dominant," Mays predicted. "We all know about the Orange Crush from back in the day, and we set out goals to try to become that. Everybody's coming out and working hard toward that common goal of trying to be top-five in defense in the NFL."
While comparing this year's defense to one of the best in Broncos' history at this time of year is certainly ambitious, Mays's confidence made sense considering he had just picked off quarterback Peyton Manning in the red zone.
"It felt great," Mays said of his interception. "Even though it wasn't his pass into my hands, it still counts. My teammate made a great play in tipping the ball, and I was able to come down with it. We all try to make plays when we come out to practice, and today was another good day of that, so we're going to try to strive toward doing that a lot more in practice."
THE RACE IS ON
With the depth the team has acquired this offseason, training camp promises to feature a number of position battles. Having more than one talented player at each position is a good problem to have, but it means that the stakes are always high.
"That's the toughest part of it," defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "In the National Football League, you've got to come in every year and prove yourself."
One competition in which there will be no losers, at least not on the defensive side of the ball, will be the race to the quarterback between linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil.
"We're always competing to see who can get to the quarterback first," Dumervil said of the way he and Miller push each other on every down. "Everybody goes right to the ball. When you have guys like that competing, it makes everyone better."
STOKLEY EVOLVING WITH MANNING, OFFENSE
Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley is preparing for his 14th season in the NFL and his first with Peyton Manning since he played in Indianapolis from 2003 to 2006. For Stokley, this part of the offseason has always been about chemistry.
"The offseason is so important to build the foundation, build the nucleus," Stokley said. "The teams that are really good are the teams that do it the quickest, the teams that can keep their nucleus together. So that's what we're trying to build here."
And although he admits he still hasn't figured out all there is to know about Manning, Stokley's confident that he and his fellow wideouts will be on the same page with No. 18 by the time training camp rolls around.
"I've been with the guy five years and I'm still learning things every day," Stokley said. "It's a work in progress."
"We definitely have the talent and we have the tools," he said of the receiving corps. "We just have to all get together and continue to work and get better."