ENGLEWOOD — By and large, sequels stink. They bring expectations and hollow results. However, the latest version of the No Fly Zone boasts promise. Through the first seven training camp practices, the secondary has made life miserable for the Broncos receivers. It prompted my question to All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr.: Is the defense this good or benefiting from going against a clumsy offense?
"It's us," Harris Jr. "Any offense would struggle against us."
Harris ascended to fame because of his ability and endless confidence. He has played under multiple coordinators, reached the zenith in Super Bowl 50 and the nadir of an eight-game losing streak in 2017. He doesn't mince words. A week into practice, he remains bullish on the secondary.
"We are going to be straight. It's going to be good," Harris said. "You see us out there making plays."
It's impossible to miss. Safety Justin Simmons has picked off three passes, and been in the middle of several other breakups. Kareem Jackson, working exclusively at safety the first two weeks, is meshing with Simmons and Will Parks, and Bryce Callahan and Isaac Yiadom are complementing Harris' skillset in coverage. This group boasts more depth than at any point last season. Couple that with a new scheme -- hey, how good can Broncos be if they don't play press man 90 percent of the time? -- and it fuels optimism.
"This defense allows us to give the quarterback a lot of different looks. A lot of times it's trying to confuse the guy who gets paid the most on the field," Simmons said. "Anytime you can disguise what you are in, or make them think you are trying to hide something, it can help. It's all about making the quarterback make tough decisions."
Fangio creates problems with his schemes. He staged a clinic against the Rams last season, providing a blueprint for the Patriots' Super Bowl victory.
It allows players to read and react, athleticism taking over because of proper positioning. Fangio’s last Bears defense led the NFL with 36 takeaways. He demands an opportunistic group. And his secondary creates mismatches with Jackson playing safety and corner and Callahan and Harris capable of blanketing receivers in the slot or on the outside. Combine that with the depth at safety with Parks, and it's easy to see why Broncos defensive backs' smiles can't be removed with sandpaper.
"It creates a lot of options for us as a defense. It almost gets to a point where the offense has to kind of game plan for us in terms of us knowing where guys are going to be. If you've got three guys that can play in the slot, corner or safety, that can definitely help us out," Jackson said. "With that, it makes things exciting for us as defenders. Knowing that we're going into a game, opposing offenses may not know where guys are going to be until that actual first play of the game. Also, the depth that we can have, it's a long season and you never know what can happen. To have pieces that we can move around and step in if things ever happen, that is definitely a great thing for us as well.”
Former Wyoming standout tight end Austin Fort continues to take advantage of additional reps with Jake Butt sidelined with a knee issue. Fangio, however, pumped the brakes on overreacting to how young players are performing right now. "Practices are quizzes. The games are the real test," Fangio said. ... Receiver Emmanuel Sanders continues to progress in his recovery from Achilles surgery. The offense only looks right when he's on the field. "I am coming. I am getting there," Sanders said. .... One of the day's highlights? Sanders won a game of rock-paper-scissors against a German TV anchor. ... Receiver DaeSean Hamilton (hamstring) did not practice, but is close to returning. ... Tight end Bug Howard left the field on a cart after suffering an ankle injury. ... The Broncos' best offensive play in this camp: Joe Flacco throwing to running back Phillip Lindsay against linebackers or on checkdowns. .... Fangio is not boxing himself in on the offense he wants. But in an ideal world, the Broncos will run the ball well with Lindsay and Royce Freeman, opening up play action and deep routes for Flacco.