ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the arrival of a new coach comes the requisite redecorating of rooms in the team complex.
Each coach has his own priorities, own mission statement and own way of delivering those messages. Vance Joseph has done some redecorating at Denver Broncos' complex, and one of the additions -- “truth’’ spelled out in large letters in one of the meeting rooms -- has made a big splash.
“He’s real black and white,’’ defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “He’s just going to tell you how it is. Those are some of the things that I like about him. You don’t have to yell at someone or raise your voice to get your point across. He’ll just tell you how it is, but those words he says are piercing. It hits you. It makes you want to play hard. It makes you want to give your best for him.’’
Defensively there’s a lot to like, including a Super Bowl win, about what the Broncos have done over the past two seasons. But when it comes to what went down in 2016 and what needs fixing for 2017, the truth has left a mark.
And it’s why the team’s run defense is one of the team's biggest offseason priorities. The Broncos finished 28th in run defense last season -- allowing 130.3 rushing yards per game. As a result, opposing offenses were not kept in prime pass-rushing situations enough for the Broncos’ liking. It also meant when trailing in games, the Broncos were unable to control tempo and get a game-changing stop.
“I can sit here and make all the excuses I want, but at the end of the day, we just didn’t get it done,’’ Derek Wolfe said this week. “It doesn’t matter what happens. Look at the Super Bowl season -- we got put in a lot of bad situations, we just made it happen. There’s no excuse for that. It’s just poor focus, bad football, guys were banged up, whatever. It doesn’t matter. You just have to get it done. And that’s what we’re going to do this year, get that s--- done.’’
The Broncos won’t put on pads until training camp this summer, so any real improvement will have to be gauged then, and into the preseason. The hope is the addition of Peko and nose tackle Zach Kerr -- both check in at over 320 pounds -- as well as second-round pick DeMarcus Walker and the improvement of 2016 draft pick Adam Gotsis will help turn back the clock to the Broncos’ 2015 defense. It not only led the league in sacks and pass defense but was among the best in run defense as well.
The Broncos know Peko well, having faced him several times in 11 seasons in Cincinnati. It was why he was among their initial signings in the open market.
“Being in the AFC North, it’s a really tough, run-type of division,’’ Peko said. “Being a nose guard for over a decade, that’s what I do. I like to clog up the middle of the field. I like to fill in those run lanes that were kind of lacking last year. Their run average was way too high for being a defense here. I’m coming in here trying to be a run-stopper like I’ve been doing.’’
The Broncos also hope the work of Peko, Kerr and others up front will also free their inside linebackers, especially Brandon Marshall, to get to the ball carriers. Marshall and others, too often, found themselves wrestling with offensive linemen last season who had moved into the second level to make blocks.
Marshall described his work in 2016 as “not as good as it needed to be, I didn’t make enough plays,’’ so anything that frees up the team’s leading tackler in ’15 would also help. And Peko said the new arrivals are ready to help.
“I really love it here,’’ Peko said. “In Cincy, we’re always talking about, ‘Oh, I want to win a playoff game, I want to win a playoff game.’ But over here, we’re talking about winning championships. That’s what brought me here, I want to win a championship. … I’m just going to go as long as the good Lord keeps me strong and playing at a high level. I don’t want to go out there and put bad film out there. I feel really good.’’