ENGLEWOOD – Justin Bannan expects his second stint with the Denver Broncos to go much better than his first.
The 11th-year defensive tackle signed a one-year deal Wednesday to return to the team he played for during a 4-12 season in 2010, the worst in franchise history.
Now he gets to play between Pro Bowl pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil, who missed the entire 2010 season, and Von Miller, the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Plus, some new guy on offense named Peyton Manning.
“It’s a blessing,” said Bannan, who was released by the St. Louis Rams over the winter. “I’ve played against this guy more than enough, a couple times in the playoffs. I’ve played against him many times throughout my career. He’s definitely, without a doubt, the hardest player I’ve ever played against, bar none. The guy can play a defense like no other.
“Even when I was in Baltimore, we just called him ‘The Baltimore Killer,’ because he was the only guy that could literally take a defense down and pick us apart. He could methodically do it. To me, he’s the greatest player I’ve ever played around or played against in my career.”
Bannan is just as jazzed to play alongside the pass-rushing duo known as “Doom & Gloom.”
“It’s going to be incredible,” Bannan said. “It sure would have helped me if I had Elvis there in 2010. Losing him was tough; it was a big blow to the defense. It seemed like we lost a lot of guys that year on defense. Playing with Elvis and what I’ve seen from Von Miller, the guy is just a phenom. I still have friends on the team, and talking to them last season and during the offseason, they had nothing but the best things to say about Von Miller and what kind of a player he is.”
Drafted by Buffalo after a standout career at Colorado, Bannan has played in 144 NFL games with the Bills (2002-05), Ravens (2006-09), Broncos and Rams.
Bannan started all 16 games for the Broncos in 2010, but when he declined to take a substantial pay cut in 2011, the Broncos released him. He signed with St. Louis, where he started 14 games, collecting 35 tackles and one sack.
“At the end of the day, it is just business,” Bannan said. “I think it’s easier for the other side to say it is just business. Sometimes, you do take it personal. Or it just hurts. It’s never fun to get fired. It’s no fun to lose your job. But I will say, they didn’t dislike me as a person or a player. ... I just went through the same thing again in St. Louis. They got rid of a lot of the so-called older players who had higher cap numbers.”
Although more than half of Bannan’s 57 career starts have come over the last two seasons, he’s lost 26 games since leaving Baltimore.
“It’s no fun to lose, especially coming from Baltimore, where I was in the playoffs three out of the four years I was there,” Bannan said. “I was used to winning and used to being on a great defense. And then came over to Denver in 2010, and we had a real tough year.”
He had an even tougher year in St. Louis, where the Rams went 2-14 last season.
Bannan, who will turn 33 next week, helps fill a huge hole in the middle of the Broncos’ defensive line, where one starter, Brodrick Bunkley, left for New Orleans in free agency, and the other, Marcus Thomas, remains a free agent. Top backup Ryan McBean is facing a six-game suspension to start the season, and two other tackles, Kevin Vickerson and Ty Warren, are trying to come back from season-ending injuries.
The Broncos likely will grab a defensive tackle in the draft, too. But Bannan has every intention of starting again in Denver.
“I feel great. I feel just like I did when I came here the first time,” Bannan said. “I definitely feel like I’m on a mission. I’m hungry. I want to win. I want to be on a great team, and I want to do my part. So, I’m more than motivated this year to prove to the new guys that are there what I’m all about.”
Bannan played in Josh McDaniels’ ill-fated 3-4 scheme in Denver. Now he’ll be playing in John Fox’s 4-3 system that better suits his skills.
“I just got done playing the 4-3 all last year. To be honest, I’m more comfortable in 4-3 than I am in 3-4,” Bannan said. “Really looking back at it, when I came here to Denver (in 2010), that was the first year I ever played a true 3-4 and played that type of technique. That was the first time in my career. By the end of the year, I felt really good at it, but it took some time to learn. If it comes down to playing more of a 4-3, more of an attacking-style defense, that’s going to be more up my alley.”