After bout with COVID-19, Broncos DC Ed Donatell makes welcome return

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After an extended bout with COVID-19 -- including a five-day hospital stay -- that kept him away from football for six games, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was back on a headset Sunday as part of the Broncos' 32-27 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The only noticeable concession to his recovery: Donatell was seated in the coaches' box instead of roaming the sideline as he has done during an NFL coaching career that began in 1990.

"I did give Ed a game ball," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said after Sunday's win.

Donatell has spent the past 10 years alongside Fangio, from San Francisco to Chicago to Denver. When Donatell tested positive for the coronavirus on Nov. 1, it caused a significant ripple in the team's way of doing things on a defense already hammered by season-ending injuries to Von Miller, Jurrell Casey and Mike Purcell.

Cornerbacks Bryce Callahan (foot), Essang Bassey (knee) and A.J. Bouye (suspension), as well as defensive end Shelby Harris (COVID-19), have also missed time, making the to-do list long without one of the Broncos' most experienced voices.

"Ed's got a veteran set of eyes," Fangio said. "He's got a veteran set of eyes with me for 10 years. We can speak the same language, really quick. We have a memory bank of things that have built up over 10 years. He's got an experienced diet seeing things on the field, and he'll be a tremendous help."

Fangio is the game-day playcaller on defense, but Donatell is a big part of the construction of that game plan, and he works with the team's defensive backs in practice. Donatell coached the secondary for Mike Shanahan during his first tenure with the Broncos and also coached the secondary for Josh McDaniels.

During Donatell's absence, Renaldo Hill, who played for Donatell with the Broncos in 2009-10, and Chris Beake coached the team's defensive backs. Chris' father, John, was the Broncos' general manager when the team won back-to-back titles, and Donatell was on Shanahan's staff.

"I thought it was so cool to see Renaldo and Chris Beake -- they went to different levels as coaches when I had to step back a little bit on the field in doing extra work," Donatell said. "... That's a very positive thing from that, and I love seeing that as a coach. It's so cool for me."

Donatell is already back to focusing on football. Over the final three games, no matter how deep the Broncos have to go in the depth chart, he wants the team to force more turnovers. The Broncos are currently last in the league in turnover margin, at minus-18. Only the Houston Texans, with eight, have fewer than the Broncos' 11 takeaways this season.

"We're not there yet," Donatell said. "There are all kinds of elements -- disruption in the quarterback, there's ball pressure every down, every ball that's run, every ball that's caught. There's coverage confusing the quarterback, slowing him down, getting him to throw in the wrong place. Until we do that enough, they're not going to come. It's player awareness. That comes from all of us and all of our coaching and all of our assistant coaches together."