Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Darian Stewart Is Denver's Most Underrated Defensive Starter

Why doesn't Darian Stewart get the "No Fly Zone" recognition he deserves? Adam Uribes breaks it down.

Evaluating the Denver Broncos secondary, known as the No Fly Zone, we find a collection of talent and unique characters. Aqib Talib at cornerback is the boastful one, flapping his gums to any receiver he’s covering, or to any reporter asking him questions.

Chris Harris, Jr. is the technician, doing all the little things right to lock down his half of the field, or in the slot. Strong safety T.J. Ward is the wild man—the Tasmanian Devil—who covers the deep parts of the field at times, as well as the line of scrimmage—with equal parts fervor and ferocity., All three of the above mentioned defensive backs have been elected to the Pro Bowl. Lost in the mix is free safety Darian Stewart, the silent of one the group. Stewart speaks softly but carries a big stick—both literally and figuratively.

The Carolina Panthers pounced to an early 7-0 lead on opening night, and after a Broncos turnover, were on the move again. On a crucial 3rd-&-6, quarterback Cam Newton runs a shovel pass to running back Mike Tolbert, who started the play on the wing of the formation.

In what started out as a great play design from Carolina got blown up by Stewart, who races in from deep centerfield to stop the 260-pound Tolbert dead in his tracks, forcing a punt.

Look at the replay here.

When he was asked about the play after the game, the soft-spoken Stewert reflected on what led to the big stop. 

“I felt good on that one," Stewart said. "It was better than that first one in the Super Bowl, but I felt much better on this one. It was cool. We had a spy on him, and I thought Cam was going to run it, and then I saw Tolbert, so I just filled the hole pretty quick.”

Carrying over last year's penchant for close, physical games, the Broncos took the Panthers down to the wire. Stewart and his fellow defenders, maintained their poise and confidence. 

“That’s what we were saying in the huddle," Stewart said. "We prepare for these type of moments. We had vets in the room to get this stuff done. That’s just part of us. That’s Bronco D.”

While he is reserved in demeanor, Stewart's play on the field allows he and the other members of the secondary to gain more notoriety. If Stewart is playing with Ward in a two-deep shell, he gives the defensive backs like Harris, Talib and Bradley Roby the security blanket of knowing they will have help over the top, if a they happen to get beaten on a coverage assignment.

If Stewart’s the only player deep in the middle of the field, like he was for chunks of the game Thursday night, it allows Ward to freelance more and help either cover tight ends over the middle, or drop down into the box for run support. He can be the Ed Reed-type player on the defense, but he's still a willing and aggressive tackler in run support. In Wade Phillips' defense you will see the rotation of the safeties, with Ward playing the deep spot and Stewart closer to the line of scrimmage, adding another wrinkle to the defense. It helps in confusing opposing signal-callers.

Darian Stewart doesn’t get the credit he truly deserves, but in all honesty, he doesn’t mind or seem to care too much about it. Every team needs a ‘hard hat and lunch pail” kind of player. He may not be the loudest guy on the field, but you will always see No. 26 making an impact. If a play needs to be made, look for Darian Stewart to get it done. 

When the defense needs a big pass break-up, Stewart often comes swooping in, either batting it away, or snagging a leaping interception, like he did against New England in the AFC Title game last year. 

After giving up almost 100 yards rushing in the first half on Thursday, perhaps the defense needs to add more bodies at the point of attack to help the front seven. Stewart will answer the bell again, maybe next time delivering a jaw-rattling hit like he did to Tolbert and Newton in the opening night win. 

Stewart is the silent maestro of the Denver defense—letting the other members of the secondary get the spotlight, but keeping everyone in rhythm and on time. He is the most underrated player on Denver's defense, but that could change this year if he keeps delivering hits like the one in the clip above.

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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