The W’s are out at Dove Valley as the Denver Broncos get set to begin the 2017 season.
No Ware. No Ward. No Wade.
Three key leaders from the Denver Broncos’ historic championship defense have left the building. Future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware retired after last season. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips was not retained in the recent regime change. Safety T.J. Ward was cut for newer models – Justin Simmons and Will Parks.
As a result, the defense will have to change the way it functions and its leadership dynamics. Leadership is the greatest intangible in sports – especially football. It’s a combination of motivation, camaraderie, grit, fellowship and bonding.
The Broncos had great chemistry on defense during their Super Bowl 50 run. Frustration with the offense could have bubbled over, instead, the unit stuck together. The defense came up with big stops, sacks, turnovers and touchdowns to aid the team two years ago. The leadership of Phillips, Ware and Ward won the Lombardi Trophy.
Building a Championship Defense
The players loved Phillips. He was great at creatively using his players. From a surprise sack to threading plays into the “No Fly Zone,” the players had fun within his defense. Even more, they loved having Phillips around the team. He was the instigator of team chemistry.
Ward came to Denver with the mission of elevating his profile and the Broncos. He worked hard to set an example within the community. His leadership then extended onto the field. As one of the Broncos best players, he was also vocal on the sideline keeping players dialed into the game.
Ware was the Peyton Manning of the defense. He was the guy everyone looked up to – including Von Miller. Ware’s mentorship helped get Miller back on track. Instead of being a really good player with off-field issues, Miller became one of the best all-around players in the game.
Next Leader Up
The Broncos’ two best players now lead the team. Miller and Chris Harris Jr. carry the legacy of the old defense. They must make plays on the field and keep the defense together.
Both Miller and Harris are now exemplary role models. They work hard, they are great with the media and they are supportive of the fans. The list of responsibilities grows now that the old guard is gone.
With a younger defensive team, more guys will be looking up to the leadership of Miller and Harris. Along with first-year Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods, Miller and Harris will have to calm the inevitable adversity the Broncos will face this season.
Beating the Odds
The Broncos are not helpless without Ware, Ward and Phillips. The defense should still be great. It just takes a little bit more than greatness to win in the NFL. It takes intangible leadership.
When faced with a loss of leadership, many teams fall apart. Trace how dominant teams end and it’s usually the loss of a key figure. Think about the holes left on the Broncos without John Elway at quarterback or Mike Shanahan as head coach.
The Broncos lost three key leaders in the offseason, just on the defensive side of the ball. The losses mean a change in the dynamics and chemistry of the defense. To be successful on defense, the Broncos must find a way to carry on the legacy of the old Broncos with a new cast of characters.