ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Not every day does a job this good become available. Outside of a promotion to a coordinator or head coaching position, the Broncos had one of the best, if not the best, coaching vacancies in all of the NFL this offseason.
Not only is Denver’s defensive backfield stacked with talent — six combined Pro Bowl’s in the past two seasons between Chris Harris Jr., T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart and Aqib Talib — they produce on the field, leading the league in pass defense the past two seasons.
However, the promotion of former defensive backs coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator left the “No Fly Zone” without a commander. While the job couldn’t have been a more appealing vacancy, Vance Joseph and company had to find the right personality, not necessarily coach, to pair with the already high-flying group.
Less than five hours after Woods was promoted, the Broncos already had their guy: former Oakland Raiders defensive back coach Marcus Robertson. While Robertson’s 26 years in the NFL — including two All-Pro years during his 12-year playing career to go along with 10 years of coaching experience — were vital to him landing the job in Denver, what may have been just as important was his understanding of how to coach elite players.
“In Charles Woodson’s case, it was a thrill coaching a guy like that,” Robertson said as he talked about coaching the nine-time Pro Bowler in 2014 and 2015 in Oakland. “The key thing with him was that he was coachable. He wanted to learn, even for a guy who had already been a perennial All-Pro, a Defensive Player of the Year, stuff like that.”
When Robertson was promoted to the defensive backs coach of the Raiders in 2015, after Woods left for the same job in Denver, Woodson was already an eight-time Pro Bowl player, and most likely, already on his way to the Hall of Fame. Despite not making the Pro Bowl since 2011, though, Robertson was able to find one more Pro Bowl season out of Woodson in 2015.
“What I appreciated with him was that he allowed me to coach him,” Robertson said. “What I did is I just told him what I wanted him to do. I taught him what I wanted him to do, and then when he went out on the field and saw that it worked, he believed in me. Now I can tell him something, he’ll believe me.”
With 11 combined Pro Bowl’s spread throughout Denver’s secondary, Robertson sees himself entering a similar situation as he had with Woodson.
“One thing I can say about these guys [in Denver] is they do it right,” he said. “It’s important to them, and there is a lot of communication on the football field, and they got pride in themselves. When they hit the field, they want to go out there and show it. So I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Along with the successful experience with Woodson, Robertson’s understanding of the game as a former player has been, and will be, crucial to his success as a coach. As a former safety himself, not only does Robertson understand how to connect with the players, he understands what they truly want.
“I kind of learned the game obviously from a lot of my playing experiences and things like that,” he said. “So for me, as a defensive backs coach, I used to never like to put my players in a situation where I myself was uncomfortable. I think when you think about that, I’m always trying to put them in situations to make plays on balls and put them in situations to succeed on the course of the down.”
While it seems that Denver may have hired just the right guy for the job, Robertson knows he landed a sweet gig as well. When asked if coaching the Broncos’ secondary is the best-case scenario as a defensive backs coach, he simply responded, “no doubt.”
“I mean, I think about not only the back end [secondary], I think about the front seven, the guys on the edges,” he said. “I’m extremely excited, and all I want to do is try to come in here and add some value to a secondary that’s already outstanding… I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to work with this group of guys. To me, the sky is the limit.”
With three defensive back coaches on the roster, including the head coach and defensive coordinator, the “No Fly Zone” could be set to reach even higher in 2017.