ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** As the Broncos' secondary continues to implement changes from schematics to personnel, the two veteran pillars defending on the edges will be a major key for how much heat the defense can bring and how much it can improve further.
Chris Harris Jr., who returned to form after rehabbing from a devastating knee injury, rated as the best cornerback in the NFL in 2014 and Aqib Talib came in at No. 15. Combined with the rest of the secondary, the Broncos were the toughest team to pass against last year, allowing a league-best 5.63 passing yards per play. Individually, three of four members of the secondary earned Pro Bowl selections and Harris also was named a Second-Team All-Pro.
So, naturally, that raises the question of how you improve upon such a season.
The Broncos continued with their Organized Team Activity practices on Monday, finally joined by Shane Ray.
"We're trying to raise each other's level even higher," Harris said of how he and Talib are working toward that goal. "He's seen how I didn't give up no touchdowns last year so I'm pretty sure he's going to come out there and be like, 'OK, I'm going to try to not give up a touchdown.' Just that competition right there between me and him that we have is going to make each other better, make us us better and I like that. He's going to go out there and try to prove he's best every week and I'm going to prove I'm the best every week."
With safety competition following Rahim Moore's departure and learning a new defense, changes could bring a new look and a new edge to the defense, and the secondary's talent could be a big base to allow the defense to be a bit more brave.
The initial results look promising, as Talib and Harris described to the media on Tuesday.
"We're learning, picking up the playbook pretty fast and it's not a real hard playbook to learn," Talib said. "It kind of lets you go play so we'll be able to play fast, we'll be able to go out and play fast and make a lot of plays. We'll see what happens."
"You're going to be left on an island a lot and with the guys that we have upfront, we already understood that would come with playing the 3-4 and we're going to bring the heat," Harris said. "Everything that they've said has really translated to how we're practicing and being left on an island – everybody gone, everybody blitzing, so we'll be looking forward to that during the season kind of an attack mode defensive coordinator."
The chemistry between the corners and safeties will be paramount, but they're keeping that in line as they pull together to help one another as they learn the defense. And even with Stewart as the new guy on the back end, he's fitting right in, too.
"I'm loving Stewart right now. He's very vocal, smart guy," Harris said. "I can tell he's going to have a physical presence. When running backs do come through the hole, I feel like he's going to lay the hammer on him, add that with T.J. Ward, so I'm loving Stewart's bringing and how fast he's picking up the defense and the chemistry that we've already built together out there on the field."
And though the new scheme won't hold the biggest changes for a position group that focuses on locking opponents down one-on-one, but there will still be adjustments there, as well.
"As far as what we do on the field, cover one is cover one, cover three is cover three; it just matters what we're going to be doing the most," Talib said. "You kind of get comfortable at what the D-coordinator is going to call the most and get into it and get ready to run that all season."