As Shelby “Hands’’ Harris left the meet-the-press podium after the Broncos’ training camp practice Thursday, his addendum was: “Fear The Deer.’’
The distinctive field goal-blocking and interception-grabbing defensive end, who was born in Milwaukee in 1991, is an obsessive Bucks loyalist who tweeted after his hometown team recently won the NBA championship: “We’ve been waiting our whole lives for this.’’
Now Shelby must turn his devotion to his own team.
Heed The Steed.
In the opening two days of the Broncos’ training camp, the defense has sort of been in a subordinate role while all concentration is on a couple of quarterbacks. The defensive players can’t touch or even insult Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater.
Nevertheless, or more, if the Broncos are to be playoff-relevant in the NFL this season, a dazzling “D’’ must be in front of “Denver.”
Need The Steed.
This defensive unit probably won’t be “Orange Crush’’- or “No-Fly Zone’’-worthy. The Broncos’ defenses of 1977 and 2015 were among the top 15 of all time in pro football. Yet, the defense of 2021 belongs in the top six in the league, if the Broncos matter.
They have a Nicolas Flamel-like wizard in head coach Vic Fangio, who has been to the post season 14 times and the Super Bowl once.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has served as a Broncos’ assistant in three defensive eras — 1995-99, 2009-10 and 2019-2021. In his 43rd year of coaching, Ed is healthy again. Last year wasn’t much fun. He missed six games and spent five days in the hospital with COVID. He’s fortunate.
Two former Broncos assistants died this month. Alex Gibbs, the brilliant long-time offensive line coach and assistant head coach in two Super Bowl victories, died July 12 of complications from a stroke, and Greg Knapp, who was Peyton Manning’s savvy quarterback coach for the Super Bowl 50 championship, died 10 days later after being struck on his bike by a motorist and falling into a coma.
The Broncos have three veterans with Broncos history on Donatell’s staff — defensive line coach Bill Kollar, linebackers coach Reggie Herring and defensive pass game specialist Chris Beake.
They’ve been joined by outside linebackers assistant John Pagano, who has coached previously with five NFL teams, four college teams (including Mesa State) and one high school team (Overland High School in Aurora). He’s the son of famed Colorado prep and college coach Sam Pagano and the brother of ex-NFL head coach Chuck Pagano. John, born in Boulder, was all-state at Fairview High School.
Christian Parker, a defensive quality assistant with the Packers the past two seasons, is a rookie defensive backs coach.
In pre-camp evaluations by occasional experts, the Broncos’ defense has been ranked as high as fourth and as low as 16th.
The schedule is considered rather tame (fifth easiest based on 2020 results), but the defense will confront Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr twice each in division games, Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Baker Mayfield, Dak Prescott, Jalen Hurts and Jared Goff, 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow and rookie wunderkinds Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence.
Feed The Steed.
To lead the steed on defense will be edge rusher Von Miller, who didn’t play a down last season because of ankle tendon surgery and is the Broncos’ elder statesman at 32 and the only position player remaining from their last Super Bowl, in which he was the MVP. Kicker Brandon McManus is the other player with a Broncos ring.
Bradley Chubb is recovering from his own off-season minor ankle operation — to remove a bone spur — and will be reunited soon with Miller.
The two have played together just four games since 2018.
The secondary has been mostly restructured — with the addition of cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby and first-round draft pick Patrick Surtain II. Justin Simmons, who was signed to a four-year, $61 million contract, and Kareem Jackson, who was re-signed after being cut to a reduced contract ($5 million), will start at safeties, and Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson are the inside linebacker.
“Hands’’ will be at end with Dre’Mont Jones on the other side and Mike Purcell in the middle.
The Broncos drafted six defensive players who could contribute. Don’t ever forget the defense in training camp or the season.
Bleed Orange for the Steed.