Certain things are inevitable.
Taco Bell will make you regret eating Taco Bell.
When you hear someone say, “Can’t go for that,” the Hall and Oates song gets stuck in your head. (You’re welcome).
Or, in the case of the Denver Broncos, not having a dominant middle linebacker.
On the MHR Radio Podcast (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify), Adam Malnati and I were joined by Cecil Lammey from 104.3 The Fan in Denver to discuss the state of the franchise. One of the conversation points: Don’t look now, but the Broncos appear to have found their unicorn. Or “dino” in the case of Alexander Johnson.
In a tough season, the second-year linebacker from Tennessee has been a huge bright spot. Johnson’s play in October all but ends Denver’s search for a middle linebacker. He finished with 28 tackles for the month, but the most impressive aspect of that stat is he had no missed tackles. The other aspect that speaks to his play is it’s made Todd Davis better as well. Simply put: Johnson has been an absolute beast for the Broncos defense.
What should excite fans is he’s only going to get better as he gets more accustomed to Vic Fangio’s defense and Fangio gets to work with him.
.@Chief45Beast was named @PFF's AFC Defensive Player of the Month!— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 5, 2019
His 28 total tackles without a missed tackle are the most of any NFL player in October.
» https://t.co/HvWttDJpG9 pic.twitter.com/p7jiVHAfbm
“He’s not perfect yet, but he’s played really well for us,” Fangio told the media earlier this week. “He’s been a nice shot in the arm for us. He’s really played good.”
Denver hasn’t had a middle linebacker like Johnson since Al Wilson. It’s fitting that both went to Tennessee. Since Johnson is only 27, the future is bright for him and the Broncos. It’s crucial that Johnson not get complacent with his play. He needs to keep the “dino” approach that got him here. Remain hungry and get even better. What helps in that regard is a coach like Fangio.
But it’s not just Johnson who has shined for the Broncos. The other defensive bright spot that Cecil mentioned was cornerback Davontae Harris. Harris has taken full advantage of his opportunity to get on the field and become a factor in the secondary.
As with Johnson, if Harris continues to play at a high level, it checks off another box that Denver doesn’t need to address in the offseason; especially if the Broncos re-sign Chris Harris Jr. and Bryce Callahan gets his foot right.
With how well the defense is playing right now and the obvious buy-in from the players for Fangio’s system, you can see what is possible and how good this unit can become. Not just in the remaining seven games, but in the 2020 season and beyond. Then you think about the pieces John Elway and the front office could add via free agency and the NFL Draft. Then you remember Bradley Chubb will return from his ACL injury.
What makes all of this even more exciting is the emergence of Johnson. In the process, Denver finally has a dominant middle linebacker. And Broncos Country can go for that.