ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Two months on the job, Broncos general manager George Paton embarked on reinforcing the Broncos' roster in attempt to revive the sagging franchise. His first big move was signing veteran cornerback Ronald Darby to a three-year, $30-million contract with $19.5 million guaranteed.
Darby, 28, brought an impressive resume from his last season in Washington and earned a Super Bowl ring with Philadelphia. He profiled as the No. 1 corner. Injuries, however, undermined his first season in Denver. Plagued by hamstring and shoulder issues, Darby missed six weeks, and failed to produce an interception, extending his streak to 30 games.
He arrived with Pro Bowl aspirations. Evidence of Darby's motivation to produce this season unfolds before practice every day in training camp. Darby takes reps with the receivers off the JUGS gun.
"You know I just want to get a lot more turnovers, and when that chance does come, I want to be prepared for it," Darby told Denver7. "I can't be sitting out here waiting for it. I make sure I come out early and do those extra drills so when it does happen (for a chance for a pick), I am right there."
This summer Darby appears more comfortable in defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero's scheme that blends zone and man principles, the latter of which is Darby's strength. The Broncos produced 13 interceptions last season — nine combined from safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Pat Surtain — ranking 15th in the league.
Darby hopes to improve that — "It's a real good defense, they get the call out, we know each other (in the secondary) and know what we like to do it so it's a lot easier this year," the eight-year veteran said — and has impressed his new coach.
"We are really glad to have him. It's a pain to go after him everyday. He's real smart, a veteran, another guy who doesn't panic," coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "He plays his technique and challenges guys."
The secondary ranks as one of the Broncos' strengths. Surtain has elevated to top corner status with Pro Bowls and All-Pro honors in his future. While the offense enjoyed its best moments on Thursday, most notably in the two-minute drill, the defense has won its share of practices. Darby believes facing star quarterback Russell Wilson is making the group sharper.
"You are getting elite throws. You know he lets the ball go before receivers are coming out of their routes. He puts the ball in places only a receiver can get. It challenges you," Darby said. "You have to be a lot stickier in coverage and come out ready to play."
What makes the secondary click is how the personalities and experience mesh. Surtain is the rising star, and safeties Kareem Jackson and Simmons bring the noise. Yes, both of them.
"Kareem is old school, smash mouth football. He argues with the players, the coach, the ref, the fans. He’s always on go," Darby said. "And people think Justin quiet. He's not that quiet. Justin will get in people's face, too."
The Broncos know they must score more points. They failed to reach 20 per game last season. With Wilson running the show, it will create elasticity for the defense. Playing with a lead should only make the secondary in general better and Darby in particular.
"The sky is always the limit. We just have to stay consistent," Darby said. "We can't get too big headed or too low."
Baron Browning is starting to make some noise at outside linebacker, getting some reps with the 1s with Randy Gregory out. He is a player to watch in Saturday's padded practice. ... Hackett said the goal remains to have Gregory (shoulder, on PUP list) and K.J. Hamler (hip, knee) available for the season opener at Seattle. ... Broncos left guard Dalton Risner has dropped from 325 to 301 pounds, and is enjoying a strong training camp. ... In a funny moment after practice, Hackett explained why he's a hugger. "I have been a hugger since I was born. I think I came out and hugged the nurse. It’s how I grew up. I got it from my grandma and my mom. It throws the guys off at first because I am coming in hot.”