The late 1970s saw the "Orange Crush" defense lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance, and 2015's "No Fly Zone" shut down opposing offenses en route to a Super Bowl 50 victory. This year, the Broncos' defense has similar aspirations and a new nickname: "The Dark Side." Defensive Line Coach Marcus Dixon introduced this identity to his unit, and they have fully bought in. Under Dixon's leadership, the Broncos' defensive front has been largely dominant against both the run and the pass through the start of the season. We recently sat down with Dixon to discuss the meaning behind "The Dark Side," the defensive line's success, what he learned from winning Super Bowl LVI with the Rams and more.
Ellie Kinney: The players have told us that you introduced the nickname, "The Dark Side." How did that identity come to be?
Marcus Dixon: "That came when I was a rookie for the Dallas Cowboys. We called ourselves 'The Dark Side' on the D-line. Over the years, as I got into coaching, I wanted to keep that same mindset — just kind of carried it through and added to it. The mindset behind it is just, you take pride in working when no one's watching. We can all do great when there's eyes on us, but what are you doing when nobody's paying attention? It's the mindset of just going to work."
EK: Getting better at stopping the run was a big emphasis for this team in the offseason, and through the first few games, you've been one of the best run-stopping defenses in the league. What's been the key to that improvement?
MD: "Well, first, it starts with 'Coach E' [Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero] calling the defense. He's putting us in the right position. And then with those guys, understanding the front adjustments with the outside 'backers, with the inside 'backers, with the DBs coming down attacking. They understand it takes all 11 to play the run, so that's been the gist of it right there. Everybody's playing together and understanding if we stop the run, as [Outside Linebackers] Coach [Bert] Watts says, we can have some fun."
EK: Speaking of stopping the run, what has D.J. Jones brought to this unit?
MD: "You talk about the toughness, the bully on the field, a guy that's just athletic, can run to the ball sideline to sideline, he's just a nasty player in the right way — the legal, right way — on the field. He brings a lot to the room."
EK: Dre'Mont Jones seems to be taking his game to a new level each season. Do you think he's going to surprise some people this year?
MD: "I think he's shown that he's a guy that can really play. I think what he's doing now is letting everybody know that he can play the run as well, and not only rush the passer. I'm excited about him, excited about all those guys. It's truly a blessing to coach those guys."
EK: You played your college career at Hampton University, and later returned to coach there. From your perspective, what needs to happen for more players from historically Black colleges and universities to get an opportunity in the NFL?
MD: "The showcases. Get showcases, get them invited and kind of see what they can do. And then the tryouts — get them out there for tryouts. See what they can do. That's really what you can do for them. I think it helped me to get into those all-star games, the Texas vs. the Nation game, the Hula Bowl, all those types of things. Any type of experience to get out there and play with the bigger schools, it helps a lot."
EK: Last year, you won the Super Bowl with the Rams. In your experience, what does it take for a team to win a championship?
MD: "The biggest thing, it takes a team. And not just the players, it takes the whole organization. Everybody's got to be on one court. And I think that's what we have right here, I think that's what [Head] Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett's building. You've got [General Manager George Paton], and I think they're doing a great job at trying to make sure everybody's on the same page, because that's really what it takes."