The summer talk was all about what will Denver do next with Tim Tebow, the signing of Peyton Manning, and the anticipation building up and the excitement to see what Manning can do as a Bronco. One signing that tends to go unnoticed, and one that isn’t seen technically “on the field”, that would be defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio comes to Denver after being the head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He coached the team from 2003-2011 where the ball club was 69–73 and 1–2 in two playoff appearance. His extensive coaching resume stretches back to 1999, where he began as he Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach and was apart of the squad that would win Super Bowl 34. After two years there, he moved up to defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers.
The defense did help carry their load to get the team a game winning field goal away from winning Super Bowl 37.
In his one year stint with Carolina, his defense was ranked 2nd in the NFL. As he headed over to Jacksonville, he took over a defense that was ranked 20th under then head coach Tom Coughlin. During his reign, his defenses ranked in the top six or higher in four years, including number two in 2006.
After years of having a struggling offense, the Jaguars decided to move in a different direction and was let go 11 games into the 2011 season. Del Rio was struggling to find a job as a head coach, delegated to looking for positions as a defensive coordinator.
Looking for defenses, Denver had been looking to get their defense back on track since their run to the AFC Championship, where they went 13-3, knocked off the New England Patriots in a home game in Denver and lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champs in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Since then, Denver has been a revolving door for defensive coordinators, and eventually coach killers as well. Larry Coyer, Bob Slowik, Mike Nolan, Don Martindale and Dennis Allen are all the coordinators the Broncos have gone through since ’06, only Slowik was there in consecutive years, and Nolan and Allen are the only two coaches still in the league. During that time as well, we saw Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels fired. Denver looked like a very unappealing place to coach, even with name players on the defense.
Jack Del Rio looking for work and Denver looking for leadership on the defensive side of the ball, it was a match made in heaven, and it was an icing on the cake with now Head Coach John Fox having been Del Rio’s boss in 2002.
Del Rio comes into Denver, and has done an admirable job. He is doing so with missing four starters, and plugging in rookies, seasoned veterans, undrafted players and career special teamers into these positions. DE Derek Wolfe, CB Chris Harris and LB’s Wesley Woodyard and Keith Brooking have got the job done thus far. Wolfe has three sacks on the season and has helped seal the edge opposite Elvis Dumervil. Harris has stepped in for CB Tracy Porter as he has dealt with a seizure. In return, he had two INT’s, including a 46 yard “pick-six”. Woodyard had a career day against the Saints, including a INT, 13 tackles, a sack, tackle for loss and a pass deflection. Brooking helms the defense and has done good job getting the defense in the correct position and has helped out a lot in the running game. The players game hasn’t gone unnoticed, including Wesley Woodyard’s play as Del Rio tells the Denver Post.
“There have been guys who have played at the highest level of this league who haven’t been big guys,” said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, himself a former linebacker. “He’s done a good job. He’s played well. He’s practicing with intensity, which we like. And he’s done a good job playing for us in a role that’s kind of gotten bigger maybe than he thought it might be entering the year and we thought it might be entering the year.”
Denver ranks 6th in total defense, 6th against the pass, 13th against the run, 7 INT’s, 4 fumbles, and tied for 4th with 19 sacks.
If Del Rio keeps pushing this defense to a level of “elite”, Del Rio may become a hot commodity in the offseason, and Denver may spend another offseason looking for another coordinator. With a soft schedule down the stretch, Del Rio may be setting himself up for another coaching opportunity.