ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The defense that Wade Phillips will spearhead looks very different than ones that he has undertaken in the past.
In fact, according to the 45-year coaching veteran, this is by far the best defense he's inherited.
"I don't really like to go back to last year, I like to look forward to what we have this year and see what we can do with them," he said when he met the Denver media on Tuesday. "I think we'll get a lot out of them. I think people will be excited about this defense and how they play and how aggressive they play."
When he joined Gary Kubiak's Texans staff in 2011, Phillips took over the league's 30th-ranked unit and led them to a No. 2 overall ranking. He coached Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt in 2012. In 2004, he took over as DC for the 4-12 Chargers and helped lead them to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth. In one season, that defense rose from 31st to 11th in points against in the NFL.
Check out photos of Rick Dennison, Wade Phillips and Joe DeCamillis as they met the media on Tuesday. All photos by Eric Lars Bakke.
This time around, instead of taking over a defense that's teetering at the bottom of the league, he will be at the helm of a defense that finished No. 3 in the NFL in yards per game and consisted of five Pro Bowlers.
One of those Pro Bowl standouts is DeMarcus Ware, whom Phillips coached from 2007-10 with the Cowboys.
"Anytime you've got great players, that's what you're looking for: difference makers. That's what you look for," Phillips said. "You've got to utilize their talents and that's what we'll try to do with those guys. DeMarcus, obviously has been a great talent and tremendous player and I was lucky to have him at the time we had him in Dallas."
In addition to Ware, Phillips will have the opportunity to coach another top-notch edge rusher in Von Miller, whose "arrow is going up and he's a really super player already," according to Phillips. These two players will be key components of the 3-4 defense that Phillips will implement. He recalled coaching Simon Fletcher in the late 90s, who is the Broncos' franchise leader with 97.5 career sacks, and said he will utilize talent all over the field to contribute to the pass rush.
"I've always said, 'Hey, if he can rush well, if he's a really great rusher, let him rush.' It seems simple but sometimes people want to drop them in the pass and all that stuff. It's also the cornerbacks, what they can do; It's what [Chris] Harris [Jr.] can do, what [Aqib] Talib can do. It's whatever they can do really well, then we're going to utilize that," Phillips said.
As he has only been in Denver for about two days, Phillips and the other coaches are evaluating the personnel and how they fit into his scheme. When asked if he feels pressure to "not mess up" the Broncos' star-studded defense, he said it isn't about avoiding mistakes, it's about making the team better.
He has molded struggling defenses into thriving forces throughout his career and he is confident in himself. "That's what I do is improve them [defenses]."
In addition to a changed scheme and alignment, there is something else that Phillips will implement: aggressiveness.
"Defensive players, they're aggressive by nature. I think you take something away from them when you don't let them be," he said. "And aggressive doesn't mean blitzing all the time, but it does mean coming off the football—everybody coming off the football. You won't see a square stance from a defensive lineman, so to speak for people who know football, where you're reading. This is an attack defense, and that's the way players like to play.
"You get the best results out of that and I think you play the best that way so we'll be that way."
Phillips was witty and self-deprecating in his first time meeting the Denver media since his hiring, calling himself a "lousy" head coach, but a "pretty good" defensive coordinator. But, he has compiled an 82-64 record as a head coach, including his time as an interim head coach. He recorded a 16-16 (.500) regular-season record as the Broncos' head coach. He has been a part of 19 different top-10 defenses in his NFL career.
After a year away from coaching and, as he joked, with his wife wanting him out of the house, Phillips is returning to a team that he coached over 20 years ago. He said he couldn't be happier to be back to coaching. In addition to the Broncos, Phillips has found his way around the league with eight other teams.
But he is happy to be back in the Mile High City where he acknowledges that fans and the organization have extremely high expectations.
"Somebody said about coming back to Denver, and I said, 'Well, when you've coached for 32 teams, you almost have to come back to one you've been with before," he said with a laugh.