ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the Broncos' first 11 games coming against Pro Bowl quarterbacks, the front office put a heavy emphasis on adding depth and competition to the secondary group, a unit led by Secondary Coach Ron Milus.
The team began its free agent signings by bringing in ninth-year safety Mike Adams, then followed that up by adding veteran cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence.
Milus is excited about what he's seen from his new-look group through the first portion of the 2012 offseason as they've worked against another free agent signing in practice, quarterback Demaryius Thomas.
Following the club's final minicamp, Milus took the time to sit down with DenverBroncos.com to talk about his position group, working under new Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio and how his players have enjoyed practicing against Manning.
How are you feeling about the secondary thus far through the beginning of the 2012 offseason?
"So far I'm kind of excited about it. We've got some infusion of different talent with Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence. A little experience, guys that have played, but a little bit different than what we had a year ago. So I'm kind of excited about our group right now."
How are those veterans that the team added meshing with the younger players?
"So far so good. Really, the young guys from a year ago have come a long way. Rahim (Moore), as well as Quinton (Carter) have come a long way. And I think that right now we're in the midst of building a cohesive secondary."
How has this offseason compared to last year's?
"This is way different from a year ago when we went out on the field and practiced basically for the first time just before we were going to go out there for real. So this time, this year, having the opportunity to work with these guys prior to training camp has been a big, big help. Especially with the fact that we're instituting and bringing a new defense again, learning some different things, learning how to talk, as far as the terms we're going to use, this has been a big help.
What has it been like coaching under new Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio?
"It has been exciting. He is a former head coach with a great defensive football background. I find myself excited every day about coming into work and picking up something new."
What has it been like for the secondary practicing with Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball?
"It's been interesting. Peyton is a future Hall-of-Famer and we're going out there and getting the best look possible, as good a look as anybody in the NFL, with his knowledge of what goes on defensively and the way he's been able to throw the ball. This has been a good experience for our guys. It's like, game-like, without keeping score."
Do you think the experience of practicing against Manning will translate onto the field once the season starts?
"I'm hoping that's the case. We've got to cover guys and cover them differently because he'll get them into tight quarters. Plus his knowledge of the game understanding what our pre-snap looks are and having an idea of where to go with the ball. So overall it'll help both our offense as well as us, on defense."
Does practicing against Manning raise the competition level in practice?
"You could say that. Obviously, when our guys go out to play you don't want to go out there and look bad. So if you don't bring your 'A' game to OTA practice, you have a chance to look bad. Again, it's been very competitive, it's been fun with Peyton being out there giving us a great look.
Have there been any surprises in OTAs and minicamps?"I don't know if it's a surprise. I think Rahim (Moore) has grown the most so far. He's made a few plays in OTAs that maybe he didn't do a year ago as far as playing the ball in the air. So far we're pleasantly pleased with Rahim's growth. We're hoping that translates in September, October and November. I think it can be said that the first year is your hardest year and hopefully you make the big leap your second year and continue to grow as you go through your career."
What are you looking for out of Quinton Carter this year?"He ended on a strong note with the two playoff games, although we got beat by New England he had an interception and he made a nice play in the Pittsburgh game where he had another interception. So towards the end of the year he had come on. What we're looking for Quinton to do is pick up where he left off a year ago and I think he's on track to do that."
What does bringing in Mike Adams add to the secondary unit?
"Obviously when you replace a guy like Brian Dawkins who's been to a number of Pro Bowls and brings a lot of leadership to the game and he retires and now you're looking for the next guy to come in and do the same types of things. We're happy that we got Mike. Mike has been a nice addition to what we're doing on defense. He's played in San Francisco, he's played in Cleveland so he's done some different things. He's vocal out there on the field. He's a guy that we're counting on when we watch the tape, when we evaluated him in free agency, he's come in and done everything we've asked him to do to a 'T'.
What do Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence bring to the secondary?
"Tracy and Drayton are both experienced guys, but not so much experience that they're over the hill. Tracy has a great change of direction. He's able to play bump and off. And I think Drayton, he's been a nine-year starter, and he's been a heck of a bump and run corner and been a playmaker on the ball, plus the fact he brings some physical play as a run defender. We've got a lot of competition at all those positions especially at the corner position with Champ, Drayton, Tracy and don't forget Chris Harris Jr. who came in last year as a free agent and really helped us as a football team."
Were you surprised with Chris Harris' success last year?
"I was absolutely surprised. I think when we began in camp we had 10 corners on our team at the time and he was probably number 10. And each week he did something that made us say 'wow, that's not bad, that's pretty good'. And then he goes through preseason and he's arguably one of our top special teams players. And then we get to midseason, 'Ok Chris go in the game! Oh, that was pretty good, Chris'. And so each game he got better and better until a point where we couldn't take him off the field a year ago. I would say, yes it's a surprise. You go undrafted, you show up and, heck I didn't know his name to be honest, and he opened a lot of eyes and goes about his business in a professional way. So he's got a bright future."
Why do you think Harris was able to have such an impact as an undrafted rookie?
"Part of it is his makeup. I think Mom and Dad or a coach in his past probably instilled in him some fight, some want-to, and that's the one thing you can't always judge when you're evaluating guys on video, is what's in their heart. This guy has a lot of want-to. I won't discount him now. It'll be hard for us to keep him off the field. Obviously we have great competition, but if he is the fourth corner and doesn't get a chance to be the nickel and all of a sudden he becomes the nickel later on, there won't be any drop off, for sure."
Has Champ Bailey's role as a leader changed at all with Brian Dawkins' retirement?"I think Champ still has the same role as he had a year ago. He was the veteran a year ago. Plus the fact that he's been there done that. For the most part he leads by example. He's a professional. He comes to work every day and gives you a good day's work. I think that's the biggest thing that our young players are seeing. This guy's been to 11 Pro Bowls and been in the league for over 13 years and there's a reason for it. They're going to try and to some of the things that he does. Be it offseason, be it how he does his work on the field, that's the biggest thing that he brings to the table for us as far as being a leader."
How important is having pass rushers like Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller for the secondary to have success?
"I think that was a big factor a year ago when we did play good on defense. Part of it was because of the fact that 58 and 92 were affecting the quarterback and throwing the timing off just a little bit, either by a hit or a sack. And we, in the back end, welcome any rush that we can get. We're fortunate here that we have two guys that are capable of disrupting the quarterback at any time."