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Phillips wants more explosive plays by Denver defense

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos ranked among the league leaders in yardage allowed on a per-play and a per-game basis last year, but they want more explosive plays, more takeaways and more sacks this season.

Shane Ray was drafted to help make that happen, and coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips have already discussed the notion of using Ray and fellow outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware together in pass-rush situations.

The goal is to create a pick-your-poison pass rush that frees at least one of them to disrupt the opposing quarterback, setting up those explosive plays that have been mostly absent from the defense the past two seasons.

But Ray has yet to see any work during a team period of practice. A lingering toe injury limited him to individual work until June 1, and a strained quadriceps kept him from building on the workload this week.

“I was coming back last week, just kind of pushing a little bit, and had a little tweak,” Ray said. “It’s nothing serious at all. But as far as coming back from my foot injury, they wanted to make sure that there’s nothing else that slows me down.”

Ray is expected to see some work in team periods next week, Kubiak said. This is a necessary next step for Ray, who spends his practices standing next to a coaching intern and is quizzed on every detail of what the defense runs.

“Whatever the defensive play is, he’ll ask me, ‘OK, what’s the formation the offense is in? What’s your responsibility on this? What didn’t he do right? What did he do right? Where are you supposed to be?'” Ray said. “And so I’ll go through each one of those progressions on every play, be like, ‘I should be here.’

“(I’ll say) what I would have done (and) this is what I think he should do better. Or you know whatever along any of our play calls. And I think that’s really important because I’m getting a lot of mental reps and I’m seeing it even though I’m not doing it.”

In the classroom, Ray has been a standout.

“For a rookie, I think it’s exceptional that he’s learned a lot of things as quickly as he’s learned them,” Phillips said. “But live action on the field — even though you know the X’s and O’s of it, sometimes your reaction is a little slower.”

But his feet aren’t slow. During individual periods this week, Ray’s quickness and agility were at an optimal level, and he cut without hesitation.

“I feel the best I’ve felt since the injury,” Ray said. “I feel like I’m almost to 100 percent. I’m able to break and run and stop.”

Nevertheless, the Broncos will keep Ray in Denver during the weeks between OTAs and training camp so he can complete his rehabilitation.

“Summer will be real important to him,” Kubiak said. “There’s a lot of guys that get to get away, and some guys that have to stay here and make sure he’s 100 percent and ready to go.”

–Tight end Owen Daniels is a newcomer to the Broncos but not to head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense. In fact, Kubiak is the only offensive boss he has ever known, going back to his Houston days and their 2014 season with the Ravens.

Even though Daniels is still working with quarterback Peyton Manning on timing, Kubiak expects Daniels to have some days off during training camp to keep him fresh, knowing that he has a deep knowledge of the offense from their years together.

“He’s a guy that’s probably going to work two out of three days when we go to camp and I know what I’m going to get from him,” Kubiak said. “I know what type of player he is and I’m going to be smart with him and as we get him to September. So I’ve done that with him a couple of times and we did with him at Baltimore last year and he responded.”

Daniels did not see any team or seven-on-seven repetitions this week, as was the case for most key veterans on the roster. Kubiak expects to continue to give other proven veterans like Daniels rest days in training camp.

“I’m sure there will be a few guys we do that with,” Kubiak said.

–Britton Colquitt has been Denver’s punter for five seasons. But he faces competition this summer from Karl Schmitz, a Jacksonville University product who hasn’t punted in a competitive game in seven years but stayed on the radar through workouts and camps before earning a shot this offseason.

Complicating matters for Colquitt is Schmitz’s ability to kick off. Last year, the Broncos had three kickers on the 53-man roster by the end of the season: place-kicker Connor Barth, kickoff specialist Brandon McManus and Colquitt on punts. McManus handled place-kicks early in the season but struggled, ceding the job to Barth, a November 2014 signee.

On Thursday, new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis repeated his assertion from earlier in the offseason that he wants to keep just one punter and one kicker. So if the Broncos opt for Barth’s proven accuracy, they will need a punter who can kick off because Barth’s leg strength is inadequate for kickoffs.

Schmitz’s leg strength is unquestioned. He blasted one 60-yard punt after another during Thursday’s practice. But he has been gone from football for so long that he has to relearn the basics.

“It was little rough to start; he just didn’t know what he was doing a lot of times. Not punting the ball but just certain things like where to line up and how we want the ball punted in certain situations. But he’s gotten better,” DeCamillis said.


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