When the Denver Broncos hired former head coach Vance Joseph as their defensive coordinator, the biggest question surrounding his hire revolved around whether or not he would run his defense or keep the scheme the same as last year.

Vance Joseph looks to preserve key areas where Denver Broncos had success last season

Last year’s scheme saw the Broncos’ defense find success, ranking in the top 10 in nearly six of the most important defensive categories; net yards per game (7th), yards per play (6th), rushing yards per game (10th), interceptions (10th), third down percentage (2nd), and red zone (7th).

One of the major points of emphasis head coach Sean Payton emphasized when taking the Denver job was to preserve what the defense had established last season rather than changing the scheme or terminology for the third straight season.

Broncos defense taking necessary strides each day of training camp

Through the early portions of Denver Broncos training camp, the defense made things difficult for Russell Wilson and the offense. Denver’s pass rush consisting of Randy Gregory, Zach Allen, Frank Clark, Nik Bonitto, and Jonathon Cooper, often got after the quarterback in the early stages of camp. Still, Denver’s offense has adjusted in the last five practices.

Joseph isn’t tipping his hand too early as Denver’s first preseason game approaches on Friday against the Arizona Cardinals but has expressed how pleased he’s been with the defense early on.

“It’s been a good camp,” Joseph told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s an installation plan, so it’s not purposely being aggressive or playing a zone [defense] or rushing four or five. It’s just a part of the plan. The players are playing fast and they’re playing clean. It’s a good group. It’s a fully engaged group and they love to play.”

The overall depth the Broncos have defensively right now is in a good spot within the secondary, linebacker corp, and defensive line.

With various position battles ongoing, the preseason will help determine the team’s course from a personnel standpoint.

P.J. Locke turning heads at Broncos Camp

P.J. Locke has been a member of the Denver Broncos since 2019, when he came in and began to establish himself as a special teams ace. Fast forward to 2023, Locke is arguably the Broncos’ best special teams player and is ascending toward becoming a key element for them at the safety position.

Headlined by Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns, anticipating to be the Broncos starting duo this upcoming season, Locke is very much in the mix to be the next option behind them, according to Joseph.

“I’ve seen with [P.J. Locke] from the spring to now major growth,” Joseph said. “He’s a mature guy. Right now, he’s in the mix to be our third safety with some dime and some nickel stuff. He’s earning it. You watch him play last year; he’s a guy that plays close to the ball with aggression. He can play centerfield and half. He’s the perfect three or four safety for us that can help in the nickel and dime.”

Locke will compete against veteran safety Kareem Jackson for that primary role behind either Sterns or Simmons. Last season, Locke played well in the dime role for Denver defensively, helping secure a win against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 after forcing Jeff Wilson Jr. to fumble in the final minute, allowing Denver to recover it and run out the clock.

When you look at player development, you can argue that Locke has demonstrated the most growth year over year since he entered the NFL. With a strong preseason campaign, he can solidify his expanded role on defense.

How has Broncos edge rusher outlook changed?

Coming into training camp, there were a lot of questions surrounding what the Denver Broncos edge rusher room or rotation would look like this upcoming season.

With Randy Gregory coming off of an injury that held him out of action most of last season and Baron Browning undergoing knee surgery that placed him on the PUP list, the position’s outlook was questionable.

Denver Broncos pass rushers contributing in waves during training camp

So far, throughout training camp, Randy Gregory and Frank Clark have looked good at outside linebacker. Still, the Broncos’ contributions from Jonathon Cooper and second-year player Nik Bonitto have helped ease any concerns surrounding the position.

Gregory and Clark have been physically dominant and fast off the ball. Cooper and Bonitto have carried that same energy into each rep they’ve gotten during team periods throughout camp.

The last time the Broncos had any defensive player with 10 or more sacks in a season came under Vance Joseph when he was the head coach in 2018, where Von Miller and Bradley Chubb combined for 26.5 sacks that year.

“It’s the best room I’ve had from one to six in a very long time,” Joseph shared. “Having a bunch of rushers with different traits has been fun to watch. Having a plan for each guys to get enough reps to be effective during the game is going to be important for me. Having [OLB] Randy [Gregory], [OLB] Frank [Clark], ‘Coop’ (OLB Jonathon Cooper) and [OLB Nik] Bonitto and then when [OLB] Baron [Browning] comes back, that’s a really good room. We’ve got two young guys breaking glass also. It’s a good room.”

Browning will be an impact player in the rotation when he returns from the PUP list, but several players are fighting for that sixth spot. Special teams ace Aaron Patrick, undrafted rookie free agents Marcus Haynes, Thomas Incoom, and Christopher Allen are all vying for the right to make the roster.

Ultimately, how these players perform in the preseason will go a long way in determining how Joseph builds out the rest of the outside linebacker room for the regular season.