ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During Gary Kubiak’s retirement press conference nine days ago, general manager John Elway made a somewhat surprising statement. When asked what the number one priority was for the team in the offseason, Elway pointed to keeping the defense great, not improving the weak offense.
On Wednesday, Elway backed up his words with the hiring of Vance Joseph as the Denver Broncos sixteenth head coach in the organization’s history.
Joseph, the former Miami Dolphins coordinator, comes to Denver with a pretty simple resume: defense. Although he was a reserve quarterback and running back at the University of Colorado, Joseph became a defensive back during his two playing seasons in the NFL before moving into the coaching ranks.
In 2005, Joseph landed his first NFL coaching job to be the assistant defensive backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers and coached DBs up until 2016, when he was hired as the Dolphins defensive coordinator. He spent time with the 49ers, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals as the defensive backs coach.
Not only was this hire to keep the defense great, it was to keep the best part of the defense great: the Broncos pass defense, dubbed the “No Fly Zone.”
The past two seasons, Denver wasn’t just the best defense in the league against the pass, it wasn’t even close. In 2016, the Broncos led the league in passing yards allowed per game with 185.8. The Texans were the second best team allowing 201.6 per game. The No. 2 ranked Texans were closer to the fifth-ranked Jacksonville Jaguars (215.3 yards per game) than they were to the No. 1 Broncos.
During Joseph’s two years as the Bengals defensive backs coach, Cincinnati led the league with 41 total interceptions. While Joseph won’t be coaching Denver’s secondary on a daily basis, his background and defensive emphasis will be felt, and if he follows his bosses lead, defense will be his priority as well.
“The one thing that I want to make sure is that we don’t take a step back on defense. We’re not going to not pay attention to that defense,” Elway said at Kubiak’s press conference. “It’s just important, if not more important to get better on defense than it is to get better offensively. The offense will come. I think what we have to do is—defense has become our identity.”
There is no better starting point for the defense to be the team’s identity than by hiring Joseph, a defensive minded coach. Now, it is up to Joseph to put the right pieces in place—both with his coaches and scheme—to keep Denver’s defense dominant, just as Elway wants.