Josey Jewell is the latest Bronco to join the Vic Fangio Fan Club.
The second-year linebacker - who one could argue benefitted the most from the Broncos taking fellow Iowa Hawkeye Noah Fant in the first round of the draft instead of fan-favorite linebacker Devin Bush - is feeling more relaxed this season and is taking in all he can from the man considered a defensive guru.
“It’s awesome being able to work with these guys every day and being able to hear Coach Fangio talk in our defensive meetings,” he said. “We’ve really learned a lot about defense and different types of concepts. I think with his defense what’s really cool is [the offenses] are never really knowing what you’re in — what coverage you’re in. It really disguises everything really well.”
Seeing that in action - and working as designed - will be a relief for Broncos fans who have suffered through inept defense the past few seasons despite all its superstars in the room.
And linebackers coach Reggie Herring is doing his part to make sure the linebacker corps is not the defense’s weak link.
“He’s an intense guy if you see him,” Jewell said, joking about whether anyone “heard” Herring yelling at them. “He’s a great guy though. He cares about you and he wants everybody do their best to make everybody look good. I respect the guy and I like him as a coach a lot.”
And Fangio manages to work in a few critiques of his own.
“Maybe [Fangio] walks by us a couple extra times during practices. I don’t know,” Jewell laughed. “He might say a couple more things here and there. I think the criticism is good when we pretty much have two linebackers coaches like that. We have Coach Herring and then we get a little extra from Coach Fangio if he feels the need. I think it’s good we’re getting two sets of eyes on us and really getting a lot of work.”
Given that the linebacker position is not just a key piece to Fangio’s scheme but also that it’s becoming an increasingly more important position as offenses utilize tight ends and running backs more in the passing game, Jewell knows he needs to play smart.
But he likes how the defense - which Jewell describes as only a little different from last year - helps linebackers cover those tight ends.
“Yeah, definitely. With a bunch of different coverages that he has and the way he disguises things, sometimes a quarterback is not going to know what you’re in and not going to know where to pick on you,” Jewell said. “Say you’re in Cover-3 and he thinks you’re in man or something like that. He’s not going to be able to pick it out and know exactly where to go right away and have those quick throws.”
Having former Hawkeye teammate Fant on the other side of the field will be helpful for Jewell and the other linebackers figuring out how to cover the growing number of fast, athletic tight ends across the league.
“He’s a dude. ...He’s kind of like one of those hybrid guys but not a lot of people give him credit for his blocking. I think he does a great job blocking also,” Jewell said. “His route tree is pretty good, and he can just flat out run. He’s going to be a mismatch for some people.”
Trying to overcome that mismatch will be a goal for all the linebackers, and Jewell is aiming to make sure his skillset is one that Fangio needs.
“I hope so. Only he can answer that one,” Jewell said about his fit in the scheme. “I definitely hope that’s what he’s looking for. I’m definitely working on a lot of parts of my game here today and through these OTAs.”
But Jewell also had complimentary words for his new teammate, Justin Hollins, who is learning/playing both inside and outside linebacker right now.
“He seems to be doing great so far just being able to transition from the nickel packages and then in base [defense] going back to outside linebacker. It would be pretty tough, I think,” Jewell noted. “You just have to be able to go home and study a little bit—maybe an hour a day or more—and just be able to understand the different types of concepts you’re trying to learn with different packages.”