Veteran group building bonds in Broncos secondary
DENVER, COlorado – Josh McDaniels’ decision to blow up the Denver Broncos’ porous secondary and rebuild it through an influx of free agents has benefited the team through tighter coverage and a tightening bond among its defensive backs.
The first-year Broncos coach brought in safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill, along with cornerback Andre Goodman, leaving eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, who was injured much of last season, as the lone holdover.
The foursome has a combined 42 years of NFL experience playing for 11 different teams but the group has come together to be at the center of Denver’s defensive turnaround in the opening weeks of the season.
Going into Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, the Broncos, who allowed 448 points last season and ranked at or near the bottom of virtually every major defensive category, lead the league in scoring defense (6.5 points per game). They also have the AFC’s best turnover ratio, generating five takeaways (three interceptions and two fumbles) to one giveaway (fumbled kickoff).
Dawkins, who became one of the league’s premier safeties during his first 13 seasons, all in Philadelphia, said the communication among the secondary, from practice to adjustments made in the heat of a game have been central to the unit’s budding chemistry and solidified play.
“The communication back there is some of the best that I have been a part of,” Dawkins said. “The way that we talk in the back end makes the game that much easier. Each one of us, we each study film and we may pick up different things throughout the course of a week. If one of us sees something, we let everybody else know and correct things on the sideline.
“That is one of the things that people don’t realize. They say that we are a veteran group, but we are a veteran group with talent. All of us can play ball. It is exciting to be able to line up and look to the left and right of me and see the playmaking potential we have back there.”
McDaniels said the foursome’s level of experience and the players’ willingness to engage one another and embrace the challenge of coming together to forge a viable secondary convinced him early on that the radical makeover carried low risks and the potential for major rewards.
The more forceful, together play by the secondary is grounded in a common thread, according to Bailey.
“We have the attitude that we want to win and we’re going to do whatever it takes,” Bailey said. “Our chemistry has definitely come along faster than expected. We understand each other. We’re veterans, so we don’t expect anything else.”
The challenge now is to keep it going against the Raiders, who have two fleet-footed rookies starting at wide receiver in Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, along with strong-armed if sometimes inaccurate quarterback in JaMarcus Russell.
“They’ve got speed, young, fresh legs and a quarterback who can really fling it,” Bailey said. “We know he’s capable of putting points on the board and getting the ball downfield.”
Notes: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday’s session because of illness. Wide receiver Brandon Stokley resumed practicing on a limited basis after missing Wednesday’s practice because of a thigh injury.