There’s a reason the mantra in the NFL has always been “Next Man Up” and with Todd Davis expected to miss 3-4 weeks as he recovers from a partially torn calf, Vic Fangio and the Broncos coaching staff will have ample opportunity to evaluate the depth behind him.
Here are three off ball backers who could make an impression with the additional reps.
Since the day he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2018 draft Josey Jewell has brought with him a lot of fanfare. A standout defender out of Iowa renowned for his tackling and coverage prowess, the expectations were really high in last year’s training camp.
So when Jewell found his way to playing time, some were disappointed to see Jewell make rookie mistakes. Coverage was often an issue for the 6’2” 235 lb Jewell, specifically play actin where he lacked the hip fluidity and foot speed to recover after biting.
Since Fangio’s arrival, Brandon Marshall’s departure, and the decision to pass on Devin Bush in the 2019 Draft it has looked like Jewell has a huge opportunity to stand out in year 2. Now he’ll have even more chances to do just that.
It seems notable that Joseph Jones did replace Todd Davis with the first team defense when Davis missed practice for the birth of his daughter back during OTAs.
After Jewell, the Broncos linebacker depth chart is a mix of unproven veterans and rookies. Jones has had the most time playing D among them: a grand total of 25 snaps, all but one of them in place of Jewell against the Bengals last season.
After studying him this summer, I thought enough of Jones tape to mention him as a dark horse contender for playing time this season. He brings something Davis and Jewell don’t: real speed. He’s a good athlete and could bring range to the second level this preseason.
I’ll admit I already expected a lot out of the rookie fifth round pick. He was my favorite selection in the 2019 year’s draft and I expected him to eventually earn playing time as the third edge rusher behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Coming out of Oregon most (myself included) thought he projected to the next level as an edge player. His versatility to rush the passer, chase, or drop into coverage made him an ideal fit for Fangio’s scheme. So what was peculiar after the draft is hearing the Broncos head coach mention his plans to see Hollins play off the ball.
Broncos Inside Andrew Mason already mentioned that Hollins spent a majority of his snaps on the first day of camp playing inside backer. Now with Davis out he’s even likelier to play a significant portion of his snaps off the ball. Look for him to be well versed in both roles by the time Denver head to Oakland.
Beyond the Big 3
One of the things that makes it a bit of a fool’s errand betting on this group is how inexperienced they are. After Jewell and Davis, the Broncos linebacker’s bring 43 defensive snaps into camp.
Keishawn Bierria did contribute a lot to special teams last season and could outplay his athletic limitations if the game’s begun to slow down for him. Alexander Johnson made a good play in the first practice of the year, and has his believers in Broncos Country. Rookie Josh Watson brings intriguing athleticism, while fellow rookie Joe Dineen stands out as a PFF darling.
It should be interesting once the pads come on.