Often referred to as the "quarterback of the defense," inside linebacker is one of the most complicated positions in the game. In addition to covering the entire width of the field against the run and the pass, their central vantage point allows them to read the offense's formation and shift the defense's configuration on the fly. The Broncos' linebackers are having great success under Linebackers Coach Peter Hansen, who previously coached for the San Francisco 49ers, Stanford and UNLV. We recently sat down with Hansen to discuss his players' strong communication on the field, Jonas Griffith's development, learning from his father's storied coaching career and more.
Ellie Kinney: The Broncos have been one of the top defenses in the league through the first part of the season. To what do you attribute that success?
Peter Hansen: "I think we're inheriting a lot of really good players, and they're making really good plays. And then the scheme that 'Coach E' [Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero] has brought over is so sound and so easy for the guys to learn, so they can play fast and they can execute. We're really sound against the run, and then once the teams start passing, the talent takes over as far as rush and coverage."
EK: Communicating and positioning the defense are such critical components of the inside linebacker position. Are those skills that you can teach, or do they just come naturally to certain players?
PH: "We can emphasize the communication, but we've got a veteran group as well. The main communicators are Josey [Jewell], and then when he's out, Alex [Singleton] is in — he's a really good communicator — and they're both veteran players that have seen a lot. I think we emphasize it, yes, but they have it in them at this point, as far as experience."
EK: Speaking of Jewell, when he's been on the field, it seems like he's been involved in every play. What kind of impact does he have as a playmaker and as a leader?
PH: "I just think a huge impact. He even surprised us, because his game speed is different than his practice speed, which isn't a negative about practice; it just [means] he gets that much better on game day. And then his experience, again, takes over. He's a guy that can find the ball wherever it is and get involved with it. The experience, and just the natural football feel that he has is, I think, a combination of what helps take over."
EK: Jonas Griffith has been one of the great underdog stories of this team, starting as an undrafted free agent and bouncing between practice squads, and two years later he's one of the cornerstones of this defense. What has impressed you most about his development?
PH: "The first time you see him, you see height, weight, speed, and you get excited and just hope that he can apply the mental aspect of the game. And so the most exciting part, I think, about him is the mental aspect, and how he studies and how he can apply it on the field. He's a really sharp guy, so not much gets past him as far as in the meeting room or on the field. That's been the most exciting part, I think."
EK: A bit of an unsung hero on this team is Singleton, who's been a big contributor on both defense and special teams. How much does it help you to have such a versatile player who can aid the team in so many ways?
PH: "It's a huge help. Again, his experience and communication is really excellent, and it just helps in every way. He and I joke that the game's a lot easier if everyone talks to each other, and he lives by it. Whether it's before the snap or after the snap, he's always talking. That makes it easier for other guys to play, as well, to know where he is and what he's thinking. I think that experience and communication is just so huge to be able to have as kind of a relief pitcher sometimes."
EK: With the defense's dominance this year, there have been some moments when they've struggled a bit against the run. What do you hope to see from your room going forward to limit the explosive rushes?
PH: "I think the consistency; it's always consistency in the run game. I feel like we've seen it well for the most part, and there's a tackle here and there, obviously, that guys want back. Really, the biggest thing with any of the missed tackles is thinking a little more ball-first or takeaway-first, as opposed to getting the guy down. So our rule number one is tackle the guy with the ball, so [I emphasize] the consistency and just getting them down before thinking about the ball. The second guy can think about the ball; the first guy's got to tackle."
EK: Your dad was a very successful high school football coach for over three decades. What are some of the lessons you learned from him about coaching?
PH: "Everything I've learned started with him, somehow, some way. I think maybe some of the bigger-picture stuff is what I've taken most from him, whether it's discipline or communication with your players, or how your decisions can affect the whole team and not just one guy. So making the best decision for the big picture, the big group, as opposed to just one-on-one decisions, or communication or whatever the case may be. I think the big picture stuff is what I've learned most from him."