Dre' Bly hopes to win the starting right cornerback spot with the 49ers. But even if he doesn't, chances are he'll still prefer San Francisco to Denver.
Bly does not look back fondly at his final season with the Broncos.
"It was miserable," he said. "It wasn't good at all. Defensively, we were awful.
"The D-coordinator (Bob Slowik) — not to blame anything on him — but we didn't really have the personnel for what he was trying to run. We were too soft in coverage. And when you have two corners like me and Champ (Bailey), you can't be soft in coverage."
Bly, 32, had only two interceptions, an embarrassing total for two-time Pro Bowler. Still, it was enough to lead the Denver defense. The Broncos had six as a team.
"Any time you have six picks as a defense, that's not right," Bly said.
To hear Bly describe it, the Orange Crush became the Orange Cushion. Slowik and the coaching staff had the defensive backs playing off on every snap, rarely utilizing press coverage or asking the corners to blitz.
Bly said the coaches were so worried about the deep ball that they didn't sweat the short completions. Fans weren't as understanding. They wondered why receivers kept hauling in passes in front of a cornerback playing on a five-year, $33 million deal.
"It made it look like I was probably soft in coverage, like I was scared. I ain't scared of nobody," Bly said. "My one great asset is my confidence. It was just bad. And there wasn't anything we could do. We were just playing in the scheme of things."
Bly has 40 career interceptions, including five returned for touchdowns. But his aggressive approach has a downside. He has a reputation for getting burned and for taking too many risks. He is described as a "gambler" so often you'd think the 49ers signed him away from the World Series of Poker.
Those gambling ways no doubt played into the way Denver handled him. Broncos coaches warned Bly that opposing receivers would go after him with double moves and deep routes. They wanted him to play more cautiously.
Bly understood. But he said the Broncos went too far to the other extreme, asking him to be somebody he wasn't. (Slowik is no longer the coordinator; former 49ers coach Mike Nolan now directs the Broncos defense.)
"If you've done any research on me or seen who I've been throughout my years, you know I'm better when I have a chance to take the fight to the receivers," he said. "Having a chance to press and stuff like that, to mix it up. But when we play off the whole game, anyone can get out there and catch a ball. We were predictable and it showed. It was a frustrating time."
Now, Bly looks forward to re-establishing himself as a takeaway artist with the 49ers. They signed him to one-year deal in May shortly after veteran Walt Harris suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
He wasn't handed Harris' job. Bly enters training camp battling third-year man Tarell Brown.
The 49ers already have a special place in Bly's heart. He got his first career interception against them on Oct. 10, 1999, jumping in front of J.J. Stokes on a slant to steal a pass from Jeff Garcia.
It was the first of many. Only three players have more interceptions since 1999.
"A lot of DBs can't make (interceptions)," Bly said. "For me, it's just natural. It's not to sound cocky or arrogant. It's still a great feeling. It's like an offensive player when they score a touchdown: It just brings so much excitement to your body."
Bly expects more of that feeling again, especially now that he's free of a system he considered ill-suited to his skills. He said 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and coach Mike Singletary are more up his alley.
"For any defensive back, we want an aggressive scheme. You don't want to sit back and be soft. And that's not us," Bly said. "We're a defensive-minded team. We have a defensive-minded head coach. And we're going to be aggressive. As a cornerback, you have to love it."
2008 statistics (with Denver)
G Tackles Solo Int
16 62 54 2
151 455 397 40