ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Joe Woods is inheriting a Ferrari
For the last two years, the Denver Broncos’ defense has established itself as one of the NFL’s elite units. Under former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos’ defense led the league in pass defense for two consecutive years. They carried the organization on their backs all the way to a Super Bowl championship victory in Super Bowl 50. They have been a finely tuned machine.
Now, those memories of that magical night in Santa Clara have faded. Wade Phillips is gone.
However, in his place, Broncos’ general manager John Elway decided to stay in house. Woods, the man credited with shaping the Broncos’ “No Fly Zone” as secondary coach for the last two seasons, has been tasked not just with keeping the Broncos’ defensive juggernaut running smoothly, but improving it.
That doesn’t mean Woods intends to make radical changes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Broncos’ new defensive coordinator knows how successful Denver’s “D” was under his predecessor. He knows the blueprint Phillips laid out. He intends to stick to it.
“The foundation of our defense is going to stay the same,” Woods said. “I don’t want to come in and change the fingerprints or the foundation of our defense. All I said is I want to sprinkle a little sugar on it.”
Players have said that sugar will come in the form of more diverse blitz packages and more dynamic coverage schemes. Above all, Woods wants his players to bring passion and intensity to the field with them.
That message came across loud and clear on the first day of OTAs Tuesday. The Broncos defense flew around the field with a kind of fervor and intensity that reminded some players of the way they practiced during their championship season.
“That was the fastest we’ve practiced in a while,” safety T.J. Ward said. “We want to get back to the year we won the Super Bowl where we ran after the ball. We did those things in practice and that’s what made us great on gameday.”
That intensity is exactly what Woods is looking for out of his players.
“I want out guys to be smart and tough, and play fast,” Woods said. “The biggest thing when you play defense—offense it doesn’t matter, it’s about what you do. It’s not about what the other team does. You have to do what you do schematically better than what they do. That’s really the challenge to get.”
Relentlessly attacking defense, combined with an improved offense could be the recipe for a return to glory for the Broncos. However, Woods, who has coached defensive backfields for his entire 13-year NFL career, knows he still has plenty to learn about the intricacies of his new job.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment because I’m on the field,” Woods said. “I’m used to being down with the DB’s, and I want to gravitate over there. But at the same time, I want to make sure that our new secondary coaches create a relationship with our secondary. And I don’t want to be in the background and they’re like, ‘Hey Joe, what’s—remember we did it this way? Remember we did it that way?’ I’m trying to stay away from those guys. I’m finding my own way around the field. I’m bouncing around, getting from place to place. It’s been a little different, but so far I’m adjusting.”
Woods’ new boss, Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph, went though a similar transition last year.
Joseph, a long-time defensive backs coach with the Bengals and Texans, became a coordinator for the first time last season in Miami. He understands the difficult nature of that switch and says he has full confidence in Woods’ ability to make the transition.
“The first offseason is rough because he’s been a DB coach his entire career, so you kind of find yourself floating in no man’s land, not knowing where to go, but after a while, you get used to it,” Joseph said. “You kind of find your spot between the linebackers, DBs, and D-line, but he’s doing a great job. He’s very organized. He’s got a great staff behind him and he’s excited about this opportunity. It’s his first time, but he’s a good football coach. So, I’m excited about him also.”
For the most part, players are responding to Woods in his new role.
“He’s similar to what he was as a position coach,” Ward said. “He’s just taking it to the entire defense now—the same mentality, the same goals he had for us. He has a way that he wants us to play.”