ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio doesn't like to make excuses. Even so, the reasons why his defense couldn't do what he hoped it would in 2013 are ample, and almost all are tied to the tsunami of injuries that battered the unit.
By Super Bowl XLVIII, he was without five starters -- linebacker Von Miller, defensive end Derek Wolfe, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Chris Harris -- and veteran cornerback Champ Bailey was still struggling with a foot injury.
Without Vickerson, Wolfe and Miller, Del Rio had fewer pass rush options. With Moore out, Del Rio was left with Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams at safety, and to bring one into the box meant exposing the other on the back end. With Harris and reserve Kayvon Webster gone by the Super Bowl, Del Rio had to use Tony Carter, who was demoted early in the season after repeatedly being beaten deep.
"You do what you can," Del Rio said of the 2013 season. "I think last year, I would suggest if you go back and review last year, that we were very good down the stretch when it mattered. ...
"We helped our football team get to the championship game, so we did things that we're very proud of. And we did them short-handed. So we look forward to getting a full squad back."
It is not there yet. Miller, Vickerson and Harris remain sidelined, although Miller has participated in individual drills during organized team activities. However, Del Rio already has a glimpse of what Miller can do with defensive end DeMarcus Ware consistently providing pressure off the edge, Wolfe and defensive lineman Malik Jackson rotating between the inside and outside, and new safety T.J. Ward having the freedom to creep forward, because Moore is around on the back end to handle coverage.
"T.J. can play in the box or in the back end, so that's his versatility," said Del Rio.
Indeed, versatility is the watchword. Wolfe and Jackson have rotated between the inside and the outside of the defensive line since being drafted in 2012. Miller has the ability to drop back in coverage, and having shed the extra weight he carried in 2013, he should do so again. When Harris returns, he will shuffle between an outside cornerback spot and the slot corner role.
If the Broncos are healthier than they were last year, their defense could return to the No. 2 ranking it held in 2012, Del Rio's first season on the job.
"We've got plenty of creativity. What it really comes down to is getting on the same page, selecting from the packages the things that we can do the best and play fast with that," Del Rio said. "We've got a large library of thoughts and ideas and different schemes and things we can do."