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Ed Donatell describes bout with COVID-19, return to coaching

Virus hospitalized coach for five days
Broncos Football
Posted at 7:29 PM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-10 22:16:28-05

DENVER -- Coaching produces answers. The white board provides variables. The eye in the sky does not lie when evaluating the equation.

So it is no wonder defensive coordinator Ed Donatell's bout with COVID-19 left him enveloped with anxiety. He spent five days in the hospital, and sat out the past six games.

"I never missed a game in my life. You asked me if I was ever nervous, I think everybody should be nervous. I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I didn't think so because there's so many unknowns about this virus," Donatell said in his meeting with the press since October. "There are so many unknowns about it. It's not like a normal disease where people can tell you, 'Hey, this is what's happened in the past.' So, when you know all the research is ongoing, yeah, it puts up great interest. You're wondering how far is this thing going to go? But again, hats off to the medical team."

Donatell brings positive energy and an upbeat personality. There were times during his Zoom press conference where he appeared to fight back his emotions. It has been a gradual road back. He wanted to coach last week at Kansas City, but the training staff scratched the plan because the team was scheduled to arrive back in Denver at 3 a.m., not ideal as Donatell has battled insomnia.

In some ways, Donatell is the voice in coach Vic Fangio's head. They have been together for more than a decade, so his gameday insights were missed. Initially, Donatell will coach from the booth rather than the sideline.

"Having Ed back -- it’s been great. There's a certain spirit about him that kind of has that calming presence in the room and on the field, out in practice," All-Pro safety Justin Simmons said. "So, there's just a different vibe not having him out there and I thought coach Hill (defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill) and coach Beake (defensive quality control Ccoach Chris Beake) did a great job of stepping in and just really filling in where Ed has done such a consistent job since the time that I've known him. It's just great to have him back because he's another weapon for us, and not only that, but just a great person.”

Donatell continues to work on his cardio, improving his strength. He will receive an adrenaline boost from his return.

"I don't like it (watching it from home). I can't see enough of the whole picture. It's really a weird experience when you know the calls, you were involved in creating the game plan, and you're not there," Donatell said. "It's 40 years of coaching, 30 in the NFL, and all of a sudden you're sitting watching on the tub, it’s just a weird experience. There's things you can pick up and draw from that, but I'd rather not do that again.”

One thing Broncos Country remains tired of seeing is the lack of takeaways. The Broncos rank 29th with 11. In Fangio's last season with the Bears, Chicago led the NFL with 36. The problem is multi-layered. Denver rarely leads, allowing teams to play conservatively offensively, limiting sacks and pressure opportunities. And the Broncos are not executing.

"Luck couldn't be farther from the truth. They're caused, and we're not there yet. Check our history. We've gotten there every time, every group we've ever coached. We're getting close to the top five, number one -- just look at it. 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. So, there's a lot of things that go into it. I just tell you, we're not there yet.”

Stew stops cooking

Former Broncos Pro Bowl safety Darian Stewart announced his retirement Thursday, wanting to spent more time with his family and working with his foundation. He met the Broncos media on Zoom that included cameos by former teammates Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby. The only missing member from the No Fly Zone was Chris Harris Jr., who was at practice.

"I always knew I could never second-guess anything on the field when it came to making a tackle. I wanted to make them feel me," Stewart said to Talib's question about his hard-hitting style. "I always tried to go for the big hit. It was don't think twice. If you are going to do it, do it."