The Denver Broncos take the field at UCHealth Training Center for their fifth day of camp.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** In his 21 years of coaching in the NFL and his 11 years as a NFL player, Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison has certainly seen a lot in this league. But the predilection of defensive players for teaching offensive players is something that demonstrates not only a first for Dennison but a helpful mindset and beneficial culture.
"The [defensive backs] have all been helping our guys saying, 'This is what we're seeing from you guys,' and 'This is why we're doing this.' They have been really good," Dennison said. "The defense has been great trying to help us out. [...] [We'll take] anything that they can add to us to help us for September, because we're not playing the Broncos, we're just practicing right and getting ready. I've overheard DBs tell us, 'This is how you're running this route. That's why I know that's coming.' It's been awesome."
DeMarcus Ware has also been a major help as he lines up opposite of tackle Ty Sambrailo on the left side. Ware's 11 years of NFL experience -- including eight Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro selections -- are a boon for the Broncos when he's on the field. Part of that benefit during training camp and offseason workouts has been his guidance to the rookie offensive lineman who is expected to protect Peyton Manning's blind side.
"Ty is a young guy," Dennison added, "and [Ware] can tell him how he is going to attack him, what he sees and what he feels."
Ware, as can be expected of a player of his distinction going against a rookie, has been able to get the best of Sambrailo, but it's about more than simply the outcome of a single rep or a single day's reps.
"It's about teaching him a lesson of 'Why not do this? If you do this and I see it, the next person is going to do the same thing.' And it's like that tough love," Ware said. "Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't and sometimes you don't win at all. But eventually, if you're in that dark you'll find that light and you better crawl out of there. So, I think you just keep that thumb down on him all the time. And if you're hard on him, it'll be easier during the football game."
In the end, the goal is that after facing edge rushers like Ware and Von Miller, the young linemen will go into games better prepared and with more confidence and more experience.
"I think when you're in practice it's actually harder than in the game because they know how you're going to attack them they know what you want to do," Ware said. "And I will do certain things to them to say, 'Hey, look at your stance. I know you're in a pass rush [protection] stance, I know you're in a blocking stance.'"
The effect is that the linemen learn to disguise their stances from defenders who can read them.
"And they change these things during the minicamps and the training camps to become a better player," Ware continued. "Or 'Why did you overset me and I went inside?' Or I do things to set him up so then when he goes against somebody else, he looks at me or they'll come to the sideline and say, 'Man, that was easy!' They say that, and I'm like, 'Yeah, because you went against me, you went against Von, you went against Shane Ray every single day and we're trying to kick your butt, knowing that when you go into the game, everything else is going to be a piece of cake.'
"He's the athlete, but it's all about building that confidence."
How they teach their own
Ware doesn't just offer advice to players on the other side of the line of scrimmage, obviously. It's not difficult to spot him (or Miller for that matter) off to the side speaking with rookie Shane Ray or going over technique. Following the conclusion of practice on Sunday, Ware and Ray walked off the field together, still ostensibly discussing the day's practice.
The expectation is that although Ware and Miller should start ahead of him, Ray will make an impact when he's on the field. So Ware and Miller offer whatever tips come to mind and Ray absorbs them, whether it's in pass rush or run defense.
"He's one of those guys where he's a great listener," Ware said. "He learns very fast and I talked to him and I said, 'You have the title of a rookie, but you're going to have to play this year. You're going to have to go out there and be effective, no matter if you're out there for me, or Von. You're going to have to learn our positions.' So, he's taking that with much respect and getting out there and getting ready to play and do what he needs to do. And I'm going to groom him up the best way that I can."
The type of tutelage that Ware is giving the rookies is something cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has not only received, but that he can now give as well.
When Harris finished his collegiate career, he went undrafted and signed as a college free agent with the Broncos but had to work hard to impress coaches and stick on the active roster, mostly making an impact on special teams. But legendary Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was there to take him under his wing, teaching him about being a pro and pointers on his technique. Now a veteran starter and one of the NFL's best at his position, Harris is in Bailey's role, including as a mentor.
However, with enough practice reps and years under their belts, the question for veterans like Harris becomes how do you impart experience that has become second nature? Like his own mentor, Harris finds the film room is the best place to teach.
"Just in the film room, [that's] where you can really watch film with the guys and really help them see what I see," Harris said. "Champ, we really just relied, like I said, on the film room. We were just sitting there, talking about different techniques, the best way to play this coverage, learn how teams attack you. That's what I learned from Champ. I learned how teams like to attack you in different coverages and that's something that kind of stuck to me."
For 10-year veteran tight end Owen Daniels, he uses certain keys to help teach young players some of the finer points of his position, which often comes back to blocking.
"There are always keys out there that you can kind of pay attention to," Daniels said, "whether you're running a route and keying on a coverage or you're in a pass protection and keying a stance or keying a rotation with the safety and kind of knowing where guys are going so that you kind of have a head start on what's going on.
"It's easy to play when you know where your defender is going and you'll be able to block them. So [there are] just little things like that, little nuance things that you can kind of pick up. When you're seeing the same guy every day you can kind of pick up on some things and make it a little bit easier on yourself."
Ultimately, Ware knows his teaching can only go so far. No two people are exactly alike and how his pupils use his advice will in part be a reflection of their own style.
"You tell them the fundamentals of the technique and how to do it," Ware says. "And you let them mold it to their own character, how they do it themselves. Because how I do it is not going to be the same how Shane Ray or Von do it, but the thing is: The fundamentals and the steps of how to do it are going to be the same, but how you get to it, it might be different. And at the end, the final execution is going to look the same."
Few active players have the breadth of knowledge that Ware does. He has an array of moves with outstanding technique that has made him one of the best pass rushers to ever play in the NFL, and ultimately as a teacher all he can do is show the young players what he knows and let them utilize it to become the best player they can be.
"When you come in as a rookie, you know you have the college moves but then you figure out that there's a wide array of things that you can do and change," Ware says. "So you just try to throw the kitchen sink at them and you just let them figure out their own toolbox and just let them get comfortable first at playing ball and the change of speed and different guys. And it's all about hustle. All you tell them is just hustle as much as you can."