Del Rio turns attention to fixing Denver’s defense

Jack Del Rio’s plate remains full even with John Fox back on the

job.

Del Rio won three of four games as the team’s interim head coach

during Fox’s November sabbatical for heart surgery.

Denver’s defensive coordinator handed the keys back to Fox this

week after guiding the Broncos (10-2) into the driver’s seat in the

AFC playoff race.

”Back at work,” Del Rio said after Thursday’s practice in

3-degree weather, his to-do list as long as ever.

The Broncos may be in the midst of a season for the ages behind

Peyton Manning’s 41 touchdown throws and their 38.6-point scoring

average, but they’re a disturbing minus-4 in turnover differential

and Denver’s defense ranks 27th in the league.

”I really don’t feel like we’ve played a complete game yet, for

whatever reason,” Del Rio said. ”We’re aware we need to play

better. I do feel confident that we can play our best football down

the stretch here and into the playoffs and that’s really what’s

most important.”

During Fox’s four-week absence, the Broncos lost four defensive

starters, two of them to mysterious ailments.

Safety Rahim Moore underwent emergency surgery to fix a

blood-flow problem in his lower left leg and doctors are still

stumped over Derek Wolfe’s seizure-like episode on the bus ride to

the airport Friday.

While his teammates flew on to Kansas City, Wolfe stayed back in

Denver along with defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who went on IR

with a dislocated right hip. Wolfe has yet to be cleared to return

to action and doctors remained stumped over what caused him to fall

ill.

”Certainly, two of our better guys,” Del Rio said. ”We’ll

miss them until Derek is back. We’ll miss Vick. He’s a good player.

But there were some runs that were problematic last week that

weren’t necessarily a problem of the defensive line.”

Linebacker Von Miller has four sacks in the six games he’s

played since his six-game suspension. He’s played just two quarters

of the dominant football that was the norm during his first two

seasons in the NFL.

Veteran Mike Adams has filled in nicely for Moore, who can

return in the playoffs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been the

Broncos’ best cornerback with Champ Bailey limited to three games

by a nagging foot injury, but Rodgers-Cromartie has missed the last

1 1/2 games with an injured right shoulder.

Bailey returned to the lineup Sunday for the first time since

Oct. 20 but was limited to 30 snaps and served as a sideline

spectator when the Broncos were making a last-minute stand as the

Chiefs drove downfield for a potential game-tying TD. That showed

the 12-time Pro Bowler isn’t ready for more than a situational role

right now.

Del Rio took over the Broncos on Nov. 4, the same day Fox

underwent surgery to repair a defective aortic valve. Fox fell ill

during the team’s bye week while visiting his offseason home in

North Carolina. During the bye week, the Broncos had granted

Southern California permission to speak with Del Rio about their

head coaching job and he interviewed in Denver. That job went to

Steve Sarkisian this week.

Del Rio’s contract with the Broncos expires after the Super Bowl

and it’s widely assumed he’ll have any number of opportunities to

become a head coach in the NFL again, especially after burnishing

his credentials like he did last month. Tack on his 3-1 mark with

the Broncos to 8 1/2 seasons as the Jaguars’ head coach from

2003-11 and he has a career record of 72-73.

”His track record already spoke for itself,” Bailey said.

”When you’re a good coach, you’re a good coach. People in this

business understand that. And there’s only so much you can do to

hurt yourself unless you just go off the deep end and I can’t see

him doing that. He’s got his stuff together. He’s been good. I know

maybe at some point he will be a head coach again.

”But I think he loves what he’s doing here right now.”

He can add another bullet point to his resume by fixing the

defensive deficiencies in Denver down the stretch and helping John

Elway hoist another Lombardi Trophy.

Notes: Offensive coordinator Adam Gase on why he didn’t wear

shorts at Thursday’s practice like tight ends coach Clancy Barone

did: ”Because I’m smarter than that.” … The team’s new heating

system and practice fields held up well in the arctic blast that

dipped temperatures double digits below zero overnight.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on

Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton