DENVER (AP) — Von Miller went bonkers when Bradley Chubb fell to the Denver Broncos with the fifth pick in the NFL draft.
Chubb not only takes pressure off Miller, who hasn’t been back to the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 MVP honors. He bolsters what was already a dynamic Denver pass rush that gives opponents fits and covers a whole lot of warts in the Broncos’ beleaguered secondary.
Rather than grab another quarterback in the first round — his last one didn’t work out so well — general manager John Elway selected the North Carolina State edge rusher who was widely regarded as the best defender in the 2017 draft class.
Now, the Broncos can send Miller, Chubb, Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett at quarterbacks from the outside while locking down the interior with a revitalized Derek Wolfe , a beefed-up DeMarcus Walker, a rejuvenated Adam Gotsis and free agent acquisition Clinton McDonald at defensive end.
Then there’s nose tackles Shelby Harris and the Peko cousins, Domata and Kyle, to provide inside push and help thwart the run.
Of course, it will only matter if Denver’s refurbished offense buttressed by free agent QB Case Keenum, rookie receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton and rookie running back Royce Freeman, starts scoring points like it did when Peyton Manning was hollering out, "Hurry, hurry!"
In the two seasons since Manning retired, the Broncos haven’t played with a lead often enough to capitalize on their pass rush prowess or what had been a stellar secondary.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., was pleased to finally face an offense in training camp that held its own.
"Our offense is way better than they were last year," Harris said. "I see them putting up points, at least 30 a game. ... because we have Bill Musgrave, a great offensive coordinator. We used to hate going against him. We used to call him ‘Mad Scientist’ when he was in Oakland, so they have a great offense. It fits Case well. He has great weapons. I don’t see why they can’t average 30."
NO MORE NO FLY ZONE : A prolific offense will help a defense that went through a spate of injuries in the secondary, then lost a second member of the original "No Fly Zone" with the trade of cornerback Aqib Talib to the Rams this spring.
The Broncos had their share of growing pains after safety T.J. Ward was waived last year. Now the original "No Fly Zone" is down to safety Darren Stewart and Harris, who said the chemistry with cornerback Bradley Roby was slow to develop this summer after never needing to consider it with Talib.
"It was so easy that you never realized that you have to work for that with someone else," Harris said. "Me and ‘Lib used to come out on the field — Bam! If he sees something, I see it."
Asked when he thought that would come together with Roby, Harris said, "as soon as Roby gets it. It shouldn’t take long as long as he gets it. Once he gets it, we’ll be on the same page."
REFRESHED RECEIVERS : It didn’t take long for Emmanuel Sanders to get on the same page with Keenum. Finally healthy after an injury-marred 2017 season, Sanders was the star of training camp even as rookie Sutton, another SMU alum, was entertaining the crowds with daily highlight reel catches.
Sanders said his enthusiasm isn’t just a byproduct of his return to health but of Keenum’s arrival. For the first time since 2015, Sanders worked exclusively with the starting QB and didn’t have to endure a prolonged quarterback competition that siphoned chemistry and rhythm from the offense once the regular season rolled around.
He and Demaryius Thomas also were pushed by the rookies.
"This is one of those wide receiver groups that can definitely carry this team," Sanders said. "Elway has his pick of the litter in that room."
BOUNCE BACKS : The Broncos haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72 and several players need bounce-back seasons to keep that streak alive. So do the coaches.
Elway contemplated firing Joseph following his 5-11 rookie season but decided to give him another chance, then provided him with a massive roster upgrade rather than going on another coaching search and starting over.
Joseph realizes he won’t get another chance if things don’t change, however.
"Winning football games is a must this year," Joseph said. "We have to do that. That’s why they hired me."
DENVER BRONCOS CAPSULE
New faces: QB Case Keenum, RB Royce Freeman, RB Phillip Lindsay, WR Courtland Sutton, WR DaeSean Hamilton, RT Jared Veldheer, CB Adam "Pacman" Jones, DE Clinton McDonald, ILB Jose Jewell, OLB Bradley Chubb, ILB Alexander Johnson, CB Tramaine Brock, S Su’a Cravens, CB Isaac Yiadom, P Marquette King.
Key losses: CB Aqib Talib, QB Trevor Siemian, QB Brock Osweiler, RB C.J. Anderson, TE Virgil Green, WR Cody Latimer, OL Menelik Watson, S Jamal Carter, P Riley Dixon.
Strengths: Nobody in league has Denver’s pass rush prowess with No. 5 overall draft pick Bradley Chubb joining Von Miller, Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray. All but Barrett are first-rounders. Few teams have bolstered one position way Broncos beefed up receiving corps with additions of draft picks Sutton and Hamilton and emergence of Tim Patrick (undrafted, Utah 2017), another tall, thick receiver.
Weaknesses: "No Fly Zone" defense is down two founding members with Talib’s trade to Rams and T.J. Ward’s release last year. Lost Carter to season-ending hamstring injury in preseason. CB Bradley Roby now full-time starter next to Chris Harris Jr. But secondary banged up all summer, especially with Cravens (knee) out, crimping chemistry. With injuries to DBs, linebackers continued trend of allowing tight ends to make big plays in preseason.
Fantasy Players to Watch: WR Emmanuel Sanders has regained speed and enthusiasm after hobbling through 2017 with ankle injury. Sanders credits energy boost on Keenum’s arrival. He and Demaryius Thomas also pushed by rookies Sutton and Hamilton. Expect Freeman to get bulk of handoffs in backfield.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 50-1. Over/under wins 7.5.
Expectations: Broncos are out to avoid first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72 and end two-year playoff drought. GM John Elway gave roster injection of talented, mature rookies as all 10 draft picks plus Lindsay spent four years in college and have been captains. That’s departure from previous classes long on athleticism but short on experience. Keenum will need season like last year’s in Minnesota and his O-line will have to keep him clean for team to get leads and allow Denver’s pass rushers to do their thing.