It’s important to note it wasn’t solely the loss that brought upon change. Elway mentioned the Broncos had been fixed on acquiring key defensive pieces through free agency and the draft since his arrival. After he was selected second overall in the 2011 draft, Von Miller’s presence has paid dividends. In six seasons, he’s accumulated 73.5 sacks and was influential in the team’s Super Bowl win.
“My first five years that I was here we worked on the defense, and so our first five picks were defensive guys,” he said. “Those five guys really matured, came along, played great defense, and we were able to add Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, some key pieces there. And then Wade Phillips came in with (then-head coach) Gary Kubiak as defensive coordinator, so really kinda everything aligned. I think the key thing is the young guys matured and really played well so that’s really what happened, and you’re right, we rode their backs last year to Super Bowl 50.”
A solid run and pass blocker, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard asked for a trade early last season after he was set to be a backup. After Collins’ injury thrust him back into the starting lineup, the 27-year-old proved he’s worth starter money.
For one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, adding Leary is step one for John Elway. Upgrading the tackle spots will be another step.
Davis spent last season with the Browns, who released the fifth-year passer in August. An undrafted and unremarkable arm talent out of Southern Miss, Davis has made just 10 NFL starts with 13 touchdowns and 12 picks for the Rams and Cleveland since 2012.
Nothing more than a depth addition for the Broncos, Davis will grasp a clipboard behind starter Trevor Siemian. With first-round rookie Paxton Lynch also on the roster, Broncos general manager John Elway confirmed that Davis is simply “coming in to learn the offense,” per NFL Network’s James Palmer.
After Broncos coaches and defensive stars sang Siemian’s praises to NFL Network’s James Palmer last week, the quarterback suffered through the worst outing of his young career in a blowout loss to Kansas City. As dysfunctional as Denver’s offense has been with touchdown drives of just 39 and six yards over the past three games, coach Gary Kubiak wants to take another look at first-round rookie Paxton Lynch in the season finale. Is that a sign that doubts are starting to creep in after Siemian spent the majority of the season showing glimpses of the field vision, pocket movement, accuracy and streamlined delivery to suggest he can emerge as the long-term solution to the post-Super Bowl 50 quarterback conundrum?
If displaced Dallas captain Tony Romo has his eyes on Denver — as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported last month — will Elway resist the temptation to pair a proven quarterback with a championship defensive nucleus? Romo comes with plenty of risk at this stage of his career, but Elway witnessed the reward up-close via a 506-yard performance in the Broncos’ 51-48 instant classic versus the Cowboys three years ago. If Elway wants a more in-depth scouting report, he can pick the brain of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the head coach in Dallas from 2007 to 2010.
This is what great teams do. They don’t worry about the circumstances. They focus on solutions. The Broncos might have been perilously close to not even making the playoffs last season — which is easy to forget in the wake of their Super Bowl win — but they’ve been on fire ever since January. At this point, it’s hard to not wonder what or who actually is going to slow them down.
A lot of that optimism comes back to an elite defense that nobody has been able to figure out this season. Denver is allowing just 16 points per game and wholesale jerseys and the D ranks among the league leaders in both total yards (fourth in the NFL) and passing yards allowed (second). Even a broken forearm to Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware hasn’t hurt the overall effectiveness of this unit. That’s mainly because his Pro Bowl counterpart, outside linebacker Von Miller, is terrorizing quarterbacks every time he steps onto a football field (see: 5.5 sacks in four games this season).
The disparity was especially evident against the Patriots (12-2) on Sunday, which is why Okung — despite essentially being shouted down by Talib, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and some of the team’s other defensive backs, who weren’t interested in hearing the words of someone representing the underperforming offense — expressed sympathy with their perspective as he left the locker room.
“I definitely understand their frustration,” Okung told me. “They played well enough to win, and they held that team to 16 points, which a lot of teams don’t do. We’re an emotional team; that’s what makes us so good. To me, that’s part of who we are.