ENGLEWOOD • There are a few more lines around the eyes, each of them a symbol of some lesson learned during a head-coaching tenure that lasted nearly a decade, had its share of success but ended badly for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville.
Some things, however, haven’t changed.
The Broncos defensive coordinator, now 49 and reunited with John Fox in the same role he had a decade ago in Carolina, is still a formidable presence whenever he walks onto a football field. And the schemes the NFL linebacker-turned-coach crafts still make life very difficult for offenses around the league.
Asked to describe his approach to defense without using the word “aggressive” — because, really, what defensive coordinator doesn’t want to be aggressive? — Del Rio laughed.
“Aggressive,” he said. “I don’t know. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things. From my standpoint, the No. 1 thing we want to do is create a culture where players understand the things they’re being asked to do. That they build a confidence playing for each other, with each other. And that in the end, you play fast.”
Denver’s seventh defensive coordinator in seven years has the Broncos (6-3) playing fast, and at a level this defense hasn’t reached in a while. Yes, they are ranked a respectable sixth in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed, in the running to finish with the best statistics in those categories since the mid-2000s. But they are also ranked second in sacks per pass play and, with four touchdowns and a pair of safeties, are making plays that swing games.
They are building a reputation as a swarming, playmaking and, yes, aggressive group, which is just how Del Rio coaches it, especially when the talent is there to make it happen. Had it worked this well in Jacksonville over the past few years, the coach might still be there. Instead, he got released 11 games into last season with a 69-73 record.
Instead of collecting around $5 million, he’s working hard and getting results.