ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Today, while the New England Patriots were hobnobbing with the President celebrating their fifth World Championship, the Denver Broncos were lifting weights.
Last season, those roles were reversed.
At this time in 2016, the Broncos were on a whirlwind tour of the globe celebrating their own impressive win in Super Bowl 50. Now, one year later, the Broncos are back in the lab—building their bodies in phase one of the team’s offseason conditioning program in the hopes of making a return trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We definitely want to get there,” safety Darian Stewart said. “We’re ready to get back there—back to a championship. That’s our goal every year.”
Stewart, along with fellow safety T.J. Ward, will be key pieces in Denver’s quest for another World Championship. The Broncos’ defense has led the way for the last two seasons. Coincidentally, or perhaps not-so coincidentally, that’s also the same amount of time Stewart and Ward have been the tandem roaming Denver’s secondary.
Under their watch, the Broncos’ pass defense has put up staggeringly impressive numbers, leading the NFL in that category in both years. The so-called “No Fly Zone” has become the heart and soul of the Denver Broncos.
However, this season, the Denver defense is under the command of a new captain. Joe Woods, who coached that dominant secondary for the past two seasons, was promoted to defensive coordinator when former coordinator Wade Phillips was hired by the Los Angeles Rams. That change has led some to question whether the Broncos’ defense can be as effective this season as they were during Phillips’ tenure. For their part, Ward and Stewart say there’s nothing to be concerned about.
“We’re going to be that same style of defense,” Ward said. “Since Wade and Joe came here, it was harped—we’re going to be physical. We’re going to determine how we play defense and we’re going to make offenses play based on how we feel like we should play. That hasn’t changed with Joe. It may have even got turned up a little more.”
Ward, Stewart, and the rest of the Broncos are also having to adjust to a new head coach. Vance Joseph was hired to replace former head coach Gary Kubiak partly due to his leadership abilities. That skill-set, Ward said, was evident on day one of OTAs.
“He’s calm,” Ward said. “He expects what should be expected from certain players. He tells you that he expects more from other players. He’s a calm dude.”
The Broncos will continue their offseason conditioning program into next week before the entire organization turns its attention to the NFL Draft next Thursday. Until then, though, two of the most important figures on Denver’s dominant defense say they’re content to continue building their bodies until they can get themselves back to The White House.
“When you don’t go to The White House, you’ve got to go to the dungeon,” Ward said. “Until we’re back at The White House, I’ll be in the dungeon.”