Key Broncos Defensive Starter Out for Season

Getty Jamaal Williams #30 of the Green Bay Packers loses his helmet in the second quarter after being tackled by Josey Jewell #47 of the Denver Broncos and Bradley Chubb #55 of the Denver Broncos at Lambeau Field on September 22, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos are indeed feeling themselves following their September 20 win at the Jacksonville Jaguars. But the mood might be tamped down a bit following the news of starting inside linebacker Josey Jewell being lost for the season, due to a torn pectoral muscle.

Broncos Country has had a love-hate relationship with the fourth-year veteran, with pockets of fans earnestly hoping someone — anyone — would take Jewell’s starting spot. Well, those dissenters should be careful what they wish for, because the options behind the former Iowa star is thin.

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Jewell was injured in the second quarter while covering a punt. He was the only defensive starter to be a regular on special teams.


Next Man Up

Second-year player Justin Strnad replaced Jewell on defense, and looks to be the option going forward. Strnad (6-foot-3, 238 pounds) missed all of 2020 with a wrist injury, after being selected by the Broncos in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL draft. He never made it out of the preseason, as he was placed on injured reserve, August 31, 2020 after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery.

Strnad’s draft bio displayed above-board athleticism (4.7 time in the 40), as he was known at Wake Forest for his coverage skills, akin to a safety. The Broncos will need him to skip the learning curve and be ready to contribute on a very talented starting linebacker corps, that also features future Hall of Famer Von Miller and Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb — if or when the latter returns to the field 100% healthy.

Irreplaceable?

Strnad could seamlessly slide into Jewell’s role as a cover linebacker, but it’s not an understatement to say that Jewell is far more valuable than naysayers want to give him credit. Jewell is the type of guy head coach Vic Fangio likes — intelligent, sure-tackling, and an unselfish leader. Jewell was held in such high regard, dating back even to his collegiate days, that he was the only sophomore under Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz to be named a permanent team captain.

Then-general manger John Elway used to select guys who were team captains, which was a big reason why he was so high on Jewell coming out of college. Jewell, who was selected by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, earned his stripes in Denver the hard way.

Jewell took the starting reins in his second season, lining alongside veteran Todd Davis. The duo, both known as excellent run stoppers, were carbon copies and ill-fitted to start together, since the Broncos had a need for a coverage linebacker. Jewell was eventually replaced by Alexander Johnson in Week 5 of the 2019 season, while the former Hawkeye was relegated to simply special teams and as a backup to both Johnson and Davis.

It wasn’t until the 2020 training camp that Jewell blossomed — after the Broncos tried their might to push him further down the depth chart. Elway brought in free agent hybrid linebacker/safety Mark Barron and then drafted Strnad. But Jewell had such an impressive training camp and preseason, that the Broncos released Davis and Barron never really challenged for playing time. Strnad was later injured, which meant the job was all Jewell’s. He rewarded Denver with a career season, tallying a career high 110 tackles, a career high two sacks, and four pass breakups, while starting all 16 games for the first time in his career.

And there’s also this highlight displaying that Jewell is a ferocious tackler, willing to take on anyone.

Derrick Henry, the Tennessee Titans’ massive all-world running back, who has a reputation of destroying defenders of all sizes, never had a chance going up against the 6-foot-1, 234-pound Jewell.

Other Options

If the stage proves to be too bright for Strnad, the Broncos don’t have many other options within their locker room.

He’ll get the first crack, of course, but Fangio said during his September 20 press conference that he’s yet to decide if Strnad would be making all the defensive calls, going forward, as he did during the preseason while Jewell was dealing with a hamstring injury.

“[Strnad] came in and did a nice job. I was pleased with the way he played. It was far from perfect and there’s a lot of things he can do better,” Fangio said about his second-year player. “But moving forward now, now that he knows he may be the guy, he’ll get more practice [with the first-team defense], and be more mentally ready for it.”

Strnad may be ready, but it was Johnson who handled the calls in Jewell’s place against Jacksonville, so that may be the way the Broncos go since he’s a veteran.

Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8


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