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Reunited with Fox, Del Rio charges up Denver 'D'

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Reunited with Fox, Del Rio charges up Denver 'D'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) There are a few more lines around the eyes, each of them a symbol of some lesson learned during a head-coaching tenure that lasted nearly a decade, had its share of success but ended badly for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville.

Some things, however, haven't changed.

The Broncos defensive coordinator, now 49 and reunited with John Fox in the same role he had a decade ago in Carolina, is still a formidable presence whenever he walks onto a football field. And the schemes the NFL linebacker-turned-coach crafts still make life very difficult for offenses around the league.

Asked to describe his approach to defense without using the word ``aggressive'' - because, really, what defensive coordinator doesn't want to be aggressive? - Del Rio laughed.

``Aggressive,'' he said. ``I don't know. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things. From my standpoint, the No. 1 thing we want to do is create a culture where players understand the things they're being asked to do. That they build a confidence playing for each other, with each other. And that in the end, you play fast.''

Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven years has the Broncos (6-3) playing fast, and at a level this defense hasn't reached in a while. Yes, they are ranked a more-than-respectable sixth in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed, in the running to finish with the best statistics in those categories since the mid-2000s. But they are also ranked second in sacks per pass play and, with four touchdowns and a pair of safeties, are making the kind of plays that swing games.

They are building a reputation as a swarming, playmaking and, yes, aggressive group, which is just how Del Rio coaches it, especially when the talent is there to make it happen. Had it worked this well in Jacksonville over the past few years, the coach might still be there. Instead, he got released 11 games into last season with a 69-73 career record.

Some might have sat it out for a while, let some wounds heal and, in Del Rio's case, collected some easy paychecks, which could have totaled up to around $5 million.

Not this coach, who Thursday was standing in the midst of his defenders at the start of practice, shouting, listening, correcting and at one point, insisting the players ``get this (expletive) down'' by the end of the day.

``I love coaching,'' he said. ``And this was a good opportunity for me to get hooked up with a guy I respect and a program that's first class.''

Indeed, when Fox came calling, Del Rio knew he could get right back into his comfort zone: Coaching defense alongside one of the men he came up with; working in the room with players; getting back to the kind of routine that wasn't available as much when he was a head coach, where PR, delegating to staff and big-picture decision-making often overshadows the Xs and Os.

``That's something you probably kind of miss after a while,'' Fox said. ``It kind of re-energizes you. I think he's having fun doing it.''

No doubt, Del Rio said.

``When we interviewed, I said, `Hey, I don't mind being an assistant strength coach again,''' Del Rio said. ``I love ball with the right people, right organization. I love to be a member on the staff and going through the grind and having my feet in the grass and having a chance to touch some players. That's what I have a passion for.''

Del Rio's last two stops in his 11-year NFL playing career were in Dallas, where he played for Jimmy Johnson, and Minnesota, where Tony Dungy was the defensive coordinator. It was Johnson's ``all-in mentality,'' as Del Rio called it, and Dungy's ability to coach, teach but not dwell on failure that got Del Rio thinking about the kind of coach he'd like to be someday.

He started in New Orleans as, yes, the assistant strength coach, then moved to Baltimore to coach the linebackers from 1999-2001. Led by Ray Lewis, the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. Del Rio left Baltimore to join Fox in Carolina in 2002, where he transformed the defense from 32nd-ranked to second in the span of a season.

Impressed with that sudden bout of success, and looking to inject some new, young energy into the franchise after firing Tom Coughlin, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver bypassed coaches with more experience and took a chance on Del Rio, who with blue eyes, blond hair, standing 6-foot-4 and still close to his 240-pound playing weight was a made-for-TV presence in a city looking for a football star.

He had also proven he could coach a little, though the perils of going with a guy who had never been the head man reared their head early. There was the infamous tree stump Del Rio put in the locker room. Message: Keep chopping wood, but when punter Chris Hanson did, he swung the ax nearly through his shin and had to be rushed to the hospital.

The coach had trouble managing changes at the quarterback position involving Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich and David Garrard. There was a revolving door of assistant coaches and two playoff appearances to show for eight-plus years on the job.

Through it all, though, the players played hard for Del Rio. And, of course, staying in the same job for that long in the NFL is a victory of sorts, no matter how it ends.

``Certainly, I'm a much better coach now,'' Del Rio said. ``I got a wealth of experience. You learn from good and bad. I feel like a better coach at this point. I still have all my fire and desire and energy, which is why I'm doing what I'm doing now.''

By returning to his roots - running the defense - Del Rio gets to go back to what he's best at: Connecting with players, devising schemes that bring out their best, which, in Del Rio's mind, is what coaching is supposed to be all about.

``When I was in college, I started hearing about him and we used to watch the Jaguars defense,'' said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who leads the team in tackles and has earned an AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor in Del Rio's scheme. ``They used to always talk about him and the stuff he runs. He's one of those guys who's always amped and believes in his players. And him being a past linebacker, it makes it easier for us to follow him, look up to him and believe in him.''

The subplot in all this is that the success of the Denver defense could make Del Rio a popular choice to become a head coach again. That's a particularly delicate topic for the Broncos, who lost Dennis Allen to the Raiders after last season and haven't had a defensive coordinator serve back-to-back seasons since Larry Coyer from 2003-06.

No problem from the boss's point of view.

``Whenever you hire an assistant coach, you want them to have high aspirations,'' Fox said. ``You want to hire people who may have that ability. Otherwise, you're not hiring the best people.''

Del Rio says he doesn't look beyond the next Sunday, which in this case is a rematch with the Chargers. If Denver wins, it takes a three-game lead in the AFC West. Knowing far more about life as a head coach than when he took the job in Jacksonville, Del Rio says there's no rush to move up the ladder again.

``When you're a young guy and you haven't been there, the urgency and desire to get that opportunity is such that you'd take just about any job given to you,'' Del Rio said. ``I don't feel that way now. If there's something that fits and the right situation comes along, so be it. But in the meantime, I'm all in, 100 percent as a lieutenant on this staff. I'm somebody that John Fox, John Elway ... and the players can count on. I'm 100 percent invested in helping them be their best.''

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Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

The NFL announced today that tight end Darren Waller of the Baltimore Ravens would be suspended for a year or longer for his second violation of the substance abuse policy.

Waller was a 2015 sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech who served a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season for a substance abuse violation. After returning from his suspension last year, he posted 10 catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role.

After his 2016 violation, he was quoted as saying [via Ravens.com]:

“There were other personal issues, and [marijuana] was the one thing I always turned to,” Waller said. “It was just about finding more positive outlets for me to do, like talking to people about it and things like that. I’m definitely at a better place with that now.”

Unfortunately for the Ravens, he will miss the 2017 season and potentially longer after the latest violation. It leaves the Ravens down two tight ends from last year after Dennis Pitta was released earlier this month after re-injuring his hip.

MORE RAVENS: Zach Orr considering coming out of retirement

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Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

In January of 2017, former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr took the podium at the team's training facility alongside head coach John Harbaugh, GM Ozzie Newsome and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, to announce he would be retiring from football at the age of 24.

Why? Orr suffered a shoulder injury during their week 16 game against longtime rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, which shed light into a condition he's had since birth.

He had a routine MRI, but the Ravens training staff suggested a full body CAT scan as well. The CAT scan reveled Orr had a congenital back/spine condition where one of the upper vertebra isn't totally formed causing there to be an opening. Less than 1 percent of people are born with such a condition and he wasn't aware of it until he suffered this injury.

Doctors told Orr he was at risk of paralysis or even death if he played with such a condition. He also would have never been able to pass an NFL physical, ultimately forcing him to retire.

During his press conference, Orr said this,

"If there's some miracle way where I can play the game, I promise I'd be the first one to grab my cleats again, start back training and try to find a way to get back out there," Orr said.

Well, fast forward to today and it seems that miracle may have happened.

NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo told Good Morning Football that after getting a second opinion from doctors, and receiving positive news, Orr is considering a return to the NFL.

"I had my mind made up. I was like man, the doctors told me I was done. This is a serious issue. So I'm going to leave it alone. But I just kept hearing that from multiple people and some were telling me to just go check out and seek out some more opinions and things like that and come to find out my condition, it is rare – .01 percent of the people have what I have – but there's no actual evidence or facts that I'm at a higher risk than any other player. And it's actually been documented that a college player who had the exact same thing that I have that returned to play with no problems."

The doctors' real concerns would be if someone with Orr's spinal condition played with a herniated disk. He did suffer from herniated disks last season, but that injury has since diminished. 

MORE RAVENS: 2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

If Orr does decide to get back into the NFL, getting signed could be pretty easy. 

When he announced his retirement, he never filed for retirement papers and the Ravens never placed him on their reserve/retired list because they never thought he would play again.

Because of this, Orr is considered an unrestricted free agent and can sign with a team right away. 

Orr had his best season in 2016, where he lead the Ravens in tackles with 133. It's been reported that eight teams have reached out to the linebacker since his announcement and that he will be meeting with the Lions on Thursday.