- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Denver Broncos' decisions on how to repair last season's defense essentially come down to a faith in healing, a calendar and a stopwatch.
Because the Broncos are certainly hoping for the best when it comes to the return of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller, two of the Broncos' six defensive starters who finished the 2013 season on injured reserve, from their ACL surgeries. And when they opened owner Pat Bowlen's checkbook in free agency they had a clear goal in mind.
"We were aging some," head coach John Fox said this week. "We wanted to get younger, we wanted to get faster -- you know, like you do every year. We're a much younger defense at this point. We needed to retool that side of the ball."
The Broncos took at least some salary-cap risk with DeMarcus Ware's three-year, $30 million deal, but he was also the only 30-something free agent they added. Cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward, their other high-profile signings on defense, are 28 and 27 years old, respectively.
The Broncos will also take a long look at defensive backs in the draft, and perhaps edge rushers and inside linebackers as well. Speed and youth are priorities, so their depth chart should have a decidedly younger feel when they finish training camp this season.
But Ware fills an important role in the blueprint. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway put Ware in the same category as quarterback Peyton Manning in terms of why the team believed signing him was good business.
"I like getting Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders," Elway said, which was the same thing he said when the Broncos signed Manning in 2012 after the quarterback had had four neck surgeries and missed the 2011 season.
Ware missed the only three games of his career this past season when he tried to play through elbow and leg injuries. He had surgery to repair the elbow immediately following the season and pronounced himself healthy upon his arrival in Denver.
"I am ready to go," Ware said. "It was something I took care of. I'm healthy, my body feels great."
"He was the most veteran guy that we signed in free agency," Fox said. "He has a lot of skins on the wall -- one of the highest sack guys currently. I remember when he came out [of college]. He played injured. That says something about a guy. He had surgery the minute the season was over. It was something he did in training camp."
Fox also sees Ware as the solution to the question the Broncos' defense simply could not answer last season. Though Shaun Phillips did finish with 10 sacks after signing a one-year deal on draft weekend last April.
But it was still not everything the Broncos needed or wanted on defense after Elvis Dumervil was released following the fax fiasco and he elected to spurn the Broncos' attempt to re-sign him and join the Baltimore Ravens.
"And we put a guy in there, but we never really replaced [Dumervil], we didn't rejuvenate so to speak," Fox said.
Fox said when the Broncos evaluated Ware and took into account his elbow is now repaired, they saw potential for Ware to regain the form he has shown for much of his nine previous seasons. He had 19.5 sacks just three seasons ago and 11.5 sacks two seasons ago.
"It's hard to play this game with one arm," Fox said. " … We looked at it a little more glass half full."
Asked if he thought Ware could be an every-down player in 2014, Fox added: "I got asked that the other day. I don't try to define guys. I tell them, ‘Don't let me define you. Don't let any coach define you.' A lot of that stuff is different. Each year is new whether you're an old player or a young player. He'll determine that by his performance in practice and during the evaluation process … But when we see what he's done we expect there is more of the same there."
3hEric D. Williams