Von Miller’s Departure Opens Door for Younger Broncos to Excel

Getty Now that Von Miller has been traded, the Denver Broncos will need a committee of young players to lift the defensive front seven.

The Denver Broncos have had to renovate and reconstruct their defensive front seven mainly on the fly all season, whether it was due to injuries or trades.

So, when first-year general manager George Paton did the savvy — and necessary — thing in trading future Hall of Famer Von Miller, it signaled the dawn of a new era of Broncos’ defense, and immediately opened doors to a new generation of hopeful impact players.

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Ready for his Close-Up

One guy who could be ready to take the baton and be the leader of the front-seven is rookie linebacker Baron Browning. The former Ohio State University star had himself a coming-out party in his first-career start, October 31, against the Washington Football Team.

Browning, a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, was credited with a team-high eight tackles, and was all over the field in a win the Broncos (4-4) desperately needed to keep their very slim contention hopes alive.

“Overall, I think I did pretty good for someone who’s missed a majority of the offseason, like the OTAs and a majority of training camp,” Browning said a day after his triumphant starting debut.

The versatile Browning, who is able to play both inside and outside — as he did at OSU — will now be looked upon as a key defensive cog going forward for a Broncos’ linebacking unit that has been beset with devastating injuries in 2021.

When Browning was drafted, the Broncos had high hopes for him, but a leg injury early in the offseason caused the rookie to fall behind in the linebacker competition. But he’s apparently finally up to speed in head coach Vic Fangio‘s defense and has been flashing the same athletic ability in Denver, as he used to at OSU.


Standing at 6-foot-3, weighing 245 pounds, and able to run a 40-yard dash in 4.56, Browning has the same tools that regular starting inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson possess — and something that has been a void in the middle of the Broncos’ defense since the tandem were both lost for the season.

Browning said he’s been heavily relying on the veterans, as they’ve become pseudo coaches on the sidelines.

“Asking the older guys questions, like Josey and A.J. I lean on those two guys a lot, even going into [last week’s win over the Football Team],” Browning said when asked who he turns to for on-field advice. “I ask Josey at least one question a day.”

The advice given is paying off, and the coaching staff is showing just how much faith they have in the new starting inside linebacker.

Next Breakout Star

While Browning is still learning the ropes, there’s another linebacker who’s also had to grow up quickly during his young Broncos’ career, outside linebacker Malik Reed. The former Nevada star is only 25 years old, yet it may feel like he’s been a long-time veteran because he’s already considered an important cog in the defense, and has experience substituting for key starters on defense.

Reed, an undrafted player in 2019, was thrown into the fire during the 2020 season when Miller was lost for the year with an injured ankle. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Reed was a revelation in relief, as he tallied eight sacks in 13 starts.

He’s followed up that breakout voyage with a 2021 campaign that’s on pace to surpass the previous season’s totals. Reed has four sacks so far in 2021, and was clutch in the win over Washington, as he registered two sacks of Taylor Heinicke, one of which was a strip.

Fangio certainly has faith in Reed, as the third-year pro has seen his snaps significantly increase each season.

As the Broncos’ reigning sack leader from a season ago, Reed is going to need to fill the void left by Miller and weakside outside linebacker Bradley Chubb until the latter returns from his short-term IR stint.

Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8

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