The Denver Broncos failed to defend their Super Bowl title last season, missing the playoffs thanks to inexperienced quarterbacking and a breakdown in the trenches.

Denver’s first postseason absence since B.T.T. (Before Tim Tebow) has at least one Broncos defender hungrier than ever to get back to January football.

“It’s the exact opposite,” safety T.J. Ward told ESPN.com this week of the Broncos‘ preparation in 2017 compared to after their championship season. “(I’m) in the dungeon, grinding. As soon as the Super Bowl was over, I started working out and trying to make this season a lot better than last year because not going to the playoffs, it hurt after going winning the Super Bowl.

“I know everybody on this team came back ready for that not to happen again. I can just see it guys’ demeanor, the way they are working and their attitudes. It kind of reminds me of the Super Bowl season.

Aside from DeMarcus Ware‘s retirement and the departures of Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams, few pieces have shifted on the Broncos‘ defense since its historic 2015 season. That Denver unit led the league in yards allowed per game (283.1) and allowed a combined 44 points in the postseason to teams quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and league MVP Cam Newton. It also carried though the playoffs and into the history books a tired offense weighed down by an aging Peyton Manning.

What has changed on the Broncos since that unforgettable February day is, well, everything else. Manning gave way to Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch last season. Coach Gary Kubiak retired and was replaced by former Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Ex-Chargers skipper Mike McCoy returned as offensive coordinator, while former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips left to coach in the same capacity for the Rams.

No one would blame Denver for stumbling a bit in its first season in a new regime, especially with the QB position completely unresolved. But Ward is treating this season as a prove-it year for him and his still-top tier unit.

“I would definitely prefer to be at the White House, but you know, when you don’t go to the White House, you have to go to the dungeon,” Ward added. “Until we’re back at the White House, I’ll be in the dungeon.”

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