ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It’s only May, the Denver Broncos are months away from games that matter, and they're already tired of the "Denver's defense will take a step back" narrative that has trailed them since their Super Bowl 50 win.
They are closing in on next month’s expected trip to the White House, the fruits of their win over the Carolina Panthers will officially close the celebration, and the guys on what was the league's No. 1 defense want to know why so many believe they can't do it again in 2016.
“We’re going to the White House in a few weeks,’’ safety T.J. Ward said recently. “It’s a new year. It’s a new season. We lost a couple guys on defense. Maybe they like us to play with a chip on our shoulders. It’s more entertaining that way.’’
"They" is a popular word these days. Broncos defenders have certainly made notes of every mention of defensive end Malik Jackson’s and linebacker Danny Trevathan’s departure. While both were highly productive for the Broncos, neither was named to a Pro Bowl, and the Broncos return nine starters (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips put the number at 10 since cornerback Bradley Roby is on the field so much) on a defense that lead the league in almost every category last season.
You’ll have to excuse the Broncos when they get a little testy that some believe -- because Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler left in free agency with Jackson and Trevathan -- they will follow the franchise’s third Super Bowl win with an 8-8 or 7-9 record.
“I think people are just saying that because we lost two quarterbacks,’’ Roby said. “I don’t know the last time that’s happened, but when people see events that haven’t happened before, they automatically doubt. We know that defense was a big reason why we got to the game and why we won the game. We’re very confident that we’ll be better this year. I think we’ll be a lot better this year.”
There is also the matter of Von Miller, the Super Bowl MVP and the best edge rusher on a team. He led the league in sacks and pass defense. Miller, who was designated a franchise player, has not attended the Broncos’ offseason program as his representatives try to negotiate a long-term deal.
The deadline for Miller to sign a long-term contract is July 15. The Broncos are hopeful Miller is taking care of his workouts in between his travel as the face the of the Broncos’ long victory celebration.
Miller and the Broncos, as well as players including cornerback Aqib Talib, have expressed confidence a deal will get done and Miller will be ready to return to his role in the defense. And with that, all would be well.
“Ultimately defense is about effort,’’ said defensive end Derek Wolfe. “Our defense plays with a ton of effort. It doesn’t matter what adjustments people will make. We’re going to play hard. That’s what it comes down to. I think a lot of defenses lose it not just because of people adjusting to what they do, but it’s because they lose guys to free agency. You lose that chemistry. You’ve got to keep that chemistry. That’s why we’re such a great defense. We care about each other. That’s why we’re such a good team because we all have each other’s back.’’
As the Broncos plow through their offseason workouts they continue to believe that they will be a Super Bowl contender again, with a defense worthy of a title. That they have covered their losses in free agency and that the starters who remain will maintain their level of play.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinions, but we’re just going to keep working and keep getting better,’’ safety Darian Stewart said. “This is our second year together. It’s going to be hell for teams this year.’’