The Denver Broncos’ defense, in recent years, has consistently been one of the best in the NFL. There are potential Hall-of-Famers on that side of ball, including Von Miller, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Miller, with 83.5 career sacks, is tied for 55th place on the NFL’s all-time leaderboard, trailing only 34th-ranked Simon Fletcher (97.5) in Broncos history.

Simeon Rice, who finished his career as a Bronco in 2007, is even more accomplished. His 122 career sacks ranks 20th all-time, and the longtime Buccaneer played on a legendary defense of his own in Tampa Bay.

In an interview with Danny Williams and Benny Bash of Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7, Rice discussed the obvious advantages — and the surprising challenges — of playing with all-time greats; Rice and teammate Ronde Barber were both semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2018 class, and John Lynch — another former Bronco — is one of this year’s finalists. Warren Sapp (in 2013) and Derrick Brooks (in 2014) have both been elected to the Hall.

“We had a foundation. And when you have that foundation; we knew what we were built on, we knew what we were about, we all knew what we were in our career,” Rice explained. “Me and [Warren Sapp] flat-out knew that we were the best of the best — period. I knew I was playing with the best tackle; he knew he was working with the best defensive end. In terms of ‘Will’ (weak-side) linebacker, Derrick Brooks — the best. John Lynch, Brian Kelly, Ronde Barber — the rest of the crew — we knew what we had; we knew what we were capable of.”

The similarities between that Buccaneers defense and the Broncos’ current one are apparent, including the challenge that the Denver defense faced this season. “Now, we have to do it… you have to do what you know [you’re capable of]. That’s what makes you different, and that’s what we were able to do,” Rice said. “The only thing that was left for us was to win together.”

The Broncos obviously struggled with that, and while the team’s miserable offense was a clear and mitigating factor, Denver’s more-accomplished veterans had a difficult time connecting with younger teammates, something that needs to be remedied in 2018 if the defense is to maintain its elite reputation.

Regarding the Broncos’ youth movement, specifically linebackers Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, Rice discussed evolving a defense over time, especially in the NFL, where player turnover is the norm. “The new can now emerge, and that’s what its about,” Rice said. “It’s about what they’re able to accomplish — and they get to learn for a great player in Von, in terms of how they get to the passer and the techniques he uses; how he goes about his season in a diligent way. That’s really what it is; getting to the next level of what the Denver Broncos defense is going to be.”

What it is now is a fearsome pass-rushing unit, led by Miller — who is in no danger of losing his reputation as elite. Rice, no stranger to getting after the quarterback himself, calls Miller the best pass-rusher in today’s NFL. “Yep,” Rice said, simply. “To me? He’s one of them, but I like him the best. I really do; he’s one of my favorite players to watch.”

“His change-of-pace; his explosiveness off the ball, his understanding of movement, his understanding of space and order, his determination,” Rice said, as he went down his list of positives. “Being able to get it done; being able to beat singles and [double-teams]; that makes you special. To continue to have [double-digit] sack seasons — year-in and year-out — that’s really an ode to what he was able to do as a player and his ability. He’s been a great, great performer.”

The longevity of Miller’s excellence impresses — and mirrors — Rice’s in the early 2000’s. “To me, the sign of greatness is over a period of time; not having a [one-year] flash. Yeah, a year flash is good — but that’s all it is. The foundation; the substance is going out there every day, every season, in difficult situations, and still finishing.”


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