ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos won the 2015 Super Bowl, in large part, because of their defense. Linebacker Von Miller emerged as an A-list player and won the Super Bowl MVP trophy, and the team's secondary -- the No Fly Zone -- had their own T-shirts.
The Broncos' defense was No. 1 or close to it in every category that season -- something they haven't been able to replicate in three playoff misses since.
The Broncos' offense has done more than its part to contribute to the past three seasons' records -- 9-7, 5-11, 6-10 -- but so have changes on defense. DeMarcus Ware's retirement had an impact, as did Danny Trevathan's departure in free agency, Aqib Talib's trade and T.J. Ward's release.
But the one departure the Broncos might have had the most difficulty dealing with was that of defensive end Malik Jackson, who signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract in March 2016 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Certainly, things didn't go as well as Jackson had hoped in Jacksonville -- since the megadeal, he was pushed down the depth chart last season, then released -- but the Broncos have still struggled to replace him.
Next in line to try is Dre'Mont Jones, the Broncos' third-round pick in this year's draft out of Ohio State.
When Jackson arrived in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, he was a 6-foot-4⅞, 284-pound defensive end. He had a big personality and enough strength to defend the run on the edge and enough athleticism to be a pass-rusher on the inside.
Jones remembers Jackson's impact.
"Oh, I know that defense [from 2015]," Jones said. "Everybody knows that defense. ... But I think I'm just trying to be my own player and work to impact this team now."
Jones is 6-foot-2¾ and 281 pounds, but he will have the same job description as Jackson.
Jones is a former four-star basketball prospect at Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School, has boxed plenty -- "I can use my hands ... don't try me" -- earned his degree in sociology and had a summer internship with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"I come from the Midwest," Jones said. "We're tough in the Midwest, for sure; and me, personally, I feel I have a chip on my shoulder just being considered a small defensive tackle. I feel I can be out there and just be raw and be faster and just play nasty."
John Elway, Broncos president of football operations/general manager, offered his take on the rookie.
"We really think he has great pass-rushing ability," Elway said. "... He's a good fit for us. With the outside rush that we have, he's a guy that can be inside and really create pressure inside, so a great combination for us."
Like they did with Jackson, the Broncos see far more in Jones than he might have shown during his college career. Jackson never had more than five sacks during any one of his four seasons split between Southern California and Tennessee, but he had more than five sacks in four of his six NFL seasons, including eight during his Pro Bowl season with the Jaguars.
In a depth chart filled with upper-tier defensive linemen, including No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa, Jones had more sacks and tackles for loss for the Buckeyes in 2018 -- nine and 13, respectively -- than he had in his previous two seasons combined (one and nine).
"I just had the ability to play more last year," Jones said. "I've said, and I told teams, I think my first two years I was just playing first and second down a lot because we were rotating a lot with our defensive ends. Last year, I had the chance to become the leader of the defensive line and the defensive unit, I just took hold of my opportunity. ... And I think there's more to come. I know there is."