Broncos glad to have Bly in their corner
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” He is the surprise answer to a rather basic question. The one that asks: Who, exactly, led the Broncos in interceptions in 2007?
Was it Champ Bailey, all-everything cornerback ?
“You know when you finish the year, there’s always some plays you want back, and I had that, too, it’s just everybody saw the ones I want back on national TV,” Broncos cornerback Dre Bly said. “But I thought I had a pretty good year front to back, and I think I can have a better one in this defense.”
Yes, it was Bly, with five interceptions, who led the Broncos last season. It was his first year with the team after the Broncos had surrendered two starters heading for backup roles — running back Tatum Bell and tackle George Foster — as well as a swap of picks in the 2007 draft.
Yes, it was Bly who then was awarded a five-year, $33 million contract by the Broncos to be the guy on the toasty seat in the Denver secondary.
Because when it comes to throwing the ball against the Broncos secondary, most teams follow but one commandment: Thou shalt not throw against Champ Bailey, unless it is really necessary or you simply have made a mistake.
“And anybody who is opposite a Hall of Fame corner is always going to feel pressure,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “Quarterbacks are going to go away from Champ, and Dre’s always going to get more shots. That comes with the territory. Some guys embrace it; a guy like Dre, I believe, embraces it, and he has to.”
“One thing about Dre, he is probably the most competitive guy on this team,” Bailey said. “He probably just knew he was going to get some action when he came here, probably more than any other time in his career. We talked about it a lot. But he looks forward to that, he relishes that opportunity.”
That he does, Bly agreed, but he also knows in and among the team’s defensive struggles in 2007 — assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates was replaced by Bob Slowik because of them — were the lofty expectations Bly would give the Broncos a matched set of Pro Bowl lockdown cornerbacks immediately upon his arrival.
A pair that simply would reel in the interceptions, interceptions that never really came as predicted, even as the Broncos surrendered a bulky 25 passing touchdowns — none replayed more than the 82-yard missile launch Brett Favre made to Greg Jennings, over Bly, in a Packers overtime win on Monday Night Football in October.
“Overall, there are always going to be some things you do wrong, or you don’t do as well,” Bly said. “And I know there were some touchdowns I was responsible for that I haven’t given up in the past, but being in the system and the scheme that we were using, the play was made.
“We just gave up too many passing touchdowns. But people don’t see what goes on in the trenches, or what doesn’t work, they see what goes on in the back end. And a passing touchdown is an easy way, a fast way to score points and everybody sees it.”
Bly said he and Bailey were under orders last season to “just play over the top” which basically means drop deep, don’t let any receivers behind you and cover inside out, from the middle of the field toward the sideline.
All while the defense often struggled to consistently rush the passer and to consistently defend the run.
“It was basically give up the outs, and the shorter stuff, just don’t get beat deep, but pretty much this year we’ll mix in some things,” Bly said. “But our first priority is to dominate the run. We were bad in the run last year; that’s our main focus, that’s what we’ve been emphasizing and I just think — we’re involved, too, at corner — that we know if we’re going to the playoffs, we have to deal with the run a lot better than we did last year.”
Bly said he believes the Broncos defense, under Slowik, will rush the passer with more regularity. Getting Dewayne Robertson will help, Bly said.
The cornerback also believes Denver has spent much of the offseason and a big part of training camp reasserting a commitment to run defense.
“(Slowik) wants everybody involved in that, and that means me and Champ, too,” Bly said. “I just think quarterbacks are going to have a harder time settling in back there if the offense can’t run the ball every time they want to.”
Better with age?
Having turned 31 in May, Bly also now teams with Bailey to form a rarity in defensive circles. They are entering their 10th season at a position where youthful speed often, and usually, trumps experience.
Bly said he believes he has maintained most of the speed that made him a second-round pick in the 1999 draft, but he also saves steps these days.
“I can read offenses and I can read plays so much better than I could in my first three, four years in the league,” Bly said. “I’m not getting any faster, I’m not getting quicker — I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything, but I ain’t getting anymore to add on, either — so you have to improve your awareness, because it can give you an extra step.”
Bly also said he is far more cognizant of his maintaining flexibility now that he has crossed into 30-something territory, bringing in a physical therapist he used in St. Louis a few times a year to work through a stretching routine, as well as running more and lifting weights less in his workouts.
“I know routes, I know releases,” Bly said. “Having great awareness in a lot of situations can carry you a long way.
“People say I guess and this and that, well . . . I tell people if I guess, I need to go to damn Vegas because I’m a great guesser, because maybe I’m not guessing since I’ve been intercepting balls my whole life.
“It ain’t like I’ve been exposed my whole life back there. I intercepted the ball in high school, and nobody in college intercepted more balls than I did (at North Carolina, where he set the Atlantic Coast Conference record with 20). I intercept it in the NFL. I know I can get the ball, and I’m going to show it again this year.”