ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Three strangers sat together behind a long table desk. A navy blue canvass with the Broncos logos was rolled down behind them while microphones and scattered media were placed in front of them.
They were introduced by an energetic, bald-headed man who was also a stranger a month ago but is now known as Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos’ new head coach.
Hackett talked about each of his three new coordinators: Justin Outten, Ejiro Evero and Dwayne Stukes, before introducing the rest of the coaching staff who were sitting on the flanks of the Broncos' meeting room auditorium.
Then the three coordinators talked a bit about their task ahead and took turns answering questions from the media during a 47-minute press conference.
The most overwhelming impression: Coaches are not to be judged by resume alone. Although Outten, Evero and Stukes have less experience than other NFL coordinators – considerably less in some instances – they are not lacking in confidence as leaders.
Outten, 38, is a first-time offensive coordinator even though he didn’t start his NFL coaching career until 2016 as an Atlanta Falcons intern. He was worked primarily with offensive linemen and then three years as tight ends coach under Hackett in Green Bay. It’s a big leap to offensive coordinator primarily because he will now be working intimately with quarterbacks for the first time.
"Diving into the quarterback room is one of my top priorities and just getting into the nuts and bolts of everything with my background being so o-line, run game heavy, and protection," Outten said. "Stepping into the tight end position three years ago, learning the pass game and how it all fit started to open up a lot of doors for me and kind of seeing the big picture—which was exciting. Year three with coach Hackett you get to see what the quarterbacks see. You can see the coverage beaters throughout the week and how you can take advantage of that.
"Then in-game adjustments—you’ll throw in a concept that we worked weeks before and it’s been in every game plan but it wasn’t up that week. You come on the sideline and say this is something we want to intermix the next series and we’re all on the same page. The constant communication is the leader. The guy that is the center stage for standing on that platform and he’s got his hands in everything. Tight end is an extension of that just because of the situation and protection in the run game and running pass concepts-- you’re involved in everything. Those guys are stretched thin mentally when it comes to each game week so you almost have to play like the quarterback when it comes to just the overall aspect of the offense."
Evero, 41, is a first-time defensive coordinator but he has worked under Vic Fangio, Wade Phillips, Brandon Staley – defensive coordinators with recent Broncos’ ties – and new Broncos’ senior advisor Dom Capers. All are steeped in the 3-4 style but the Fangio system – which is big on disguised zone coverages with little blitzing – is much different than Phillips’ aggressive, press-coverage, five-man pressure approach.
So what will be the Evero style?
"You have to affect the quarterback," he said. "If you can’t get there with four, you’ve got to bring five. If you can’t get there with five, you’ve got to bring six."
An encouraging concept as the Denver D tied for 18th in the league with 36 sacks last season – disappointing considering it started the season with hopes of big years from Bradley Chubb and Von Miller off the edges.
Stukes, 45, had one previous year as an NFL special teams coordinator but that was back in 2011 with Tampa Bay. He has primarily been a special teams assistant since then. One advantage he has in taking over Broncos special teams is he can only improve on past performance. The Broncos allowed an NFL-worst six touchdown returns off kickoffs (4) and punts (2) the past four years.
"As far as special teams, we want to have an attack mentality," Stukes said. "We want to play fast, we want to be physical, and we want to dictate to our opponents the tempo of the game. That’s our goal. Other than that, we want to capitalize on the return opportunities we get to give the offense the best field position possible, and then on the cover units, we want to give the defense the long field. That’s our objective, that’s our goal. Myself and Mal (assistant special teams coach Mike Mallory), we’re in the process of identifying players that we think can contribute on special teams and play at a high level."
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