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Editor’s note: In addition to our overarching observations every day, throughout Broncos’ training camp, we will be picking at least one position battle each practice to focus in on. We’ll give an in-depth look at how the battle looked that day, and where each of the competitors stand in the race.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Denver Broncos released their first depth chart on Tuesday, all eyes were immediately drawn to the outside linebacker position to find out who would be teaming up opposite Von Miller to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
That answer — surprising to some and common sense to others — was No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb. In less than two weeks, the team’s prized offseason possession had jumped former first-round pick Shane Ray with ease.
Forty-eight hours later, it was clear why.
What we saw today
When Von Miller ran onto the field to start a drive with the first-team defense, Bradley Chubb followed, leaving Shane and Shaq Barrett on the sidelines.
While there was some variation to the combination of the two first-team outside linebackers during Thursday’s practice, the two top-five picks were far and away defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ go-to combination, and understandably so.
When the offense attempted to run to the outsides, they were frequently stopped dead in their tracks. In the first few plays of practice, Miller blew up both of the team’s starting tackles, Garett Bolles and Jared Veldheer, on run plays to stop the plays dead in their tracks.
Similar runs toward Chubb’s side weren’t met with as much ferociousness, but Chubb was consistent in not giving up his ground, regardless of who was across from him.
As a traditional outside linebacker, No. 58 rarely, if ever, has his hand in the ground before the snap. Chubb, on the other hand, is a different story. As a hybrid outside backer and defensive end, Chubb can, and will, do both.
But just because his hand is in the ground doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a defensive end on the play.
On multiple occasions Thursday, Chubb started with his hands in the ground but came from a nine technique position — meaning he was outside of the tackle or tight end. Additionally, many of the times that Chubb was down, there was not an additional outside backer standing up over him, it was just him and Miller.
When Chubb was down — either as a linebacker or end — a typical defensive line next to him consisted of Derek Wolfe and a rotation of Adam Gotsis, DeMarcus Walker and Shelby Harris.
On one specific play, Woods absolutely stacked one side of the line — having Wolfe down as a defensive end, Chubb standing up right next to him and Will Parks immediately next to Chubb on the line.
On the day, the Chubb and Von pairing was effective, as they had to ease up multiples times turning the corner to avoid hitting Case Keenum as well as being stout against the run.
Undrafted rookie Jeff Holland had a few limited snaps with the ones as did Barrett, but Ray was the team’s clear favorite option off the bench as he paired up with both Miller and Chubb at different times.
With Ray lined up on the right side of the offensive line and Barrett on the left, Shane exploded off the line, beating Veldheer around the corner on his way to Keenum. Ray’s explosive get off, and successful path to the pocket, drew audible oohs and ahhs from the sideline, including a few “attaboys” thrown his way.
Playing with the second team, Ray was impressive in the run game, holding his own as plays came his way and tracking them down when they were to the opposite side.
Barrett, while mainly playing with the backups, was solid in both the run and pass including a few times he dropped into coverage and held his own against the tight ends.
Although it wasn’t on display Thursday, Ray and Barrett have both received reps, albeit limited, at inside backer, mainly in passing situations where they could provide pressure from the second-level in the middle of the offensive line.
How it stands now
On the first day of camp, Ray was the first one out of the gates alongside Von, and he came out swinging, too.
Less than two weeks later, whether it was on merit or not, it’s clear Chubb has jumped Ray. The starting duo come Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks will likely be the duo John Elway hopes to see for many years to come: Von and Chubb.
Saying that, it’s clear Ray will still receive plenty of playing time, potentially even on the same side as Chubb when the rookie is playing down as a defensive end.
What doesn’t seem as clear now is how much playing time Barrett will receive.
Playing almost exclusively with the second and third team, it’s possible this is just to get Barrett as much playing time as possible during training camp. However, it’s also possible the dime and nickel packages that Woods has become very fond of will limit Barrett’s role in favor of an extra safety or two.
During camp, Woods admitted figuring out how to get all of the talent at outside linebacker on the field would be a problem. But a problem he welcomes.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Woods said with a smile. “When you have that many guys that are really good pass-rushers, it gives you the ability to rotate the guys. It gives us the ability to create packages.
“We have our NASCAR package where we put all four of those guys out on the field at the same time. It’s definitely a luxury. With Chubb’s flexibility, he’s playing the outside linebacker position, playing some 4-3 stuff, playing at the defensive end, so it’s really been good so far.”
With the rookie at No. 1 on the team’s first depth chart, along with how the most recent practices have looked, it’s clear Chubb won’t be looking back.
What they’re saying about it
Joseph on naming Chubb a starter on the team’s first depth chart
“We’ve been pleased with him. Not just with his physical abilities, but his football IQ. He’s so smart, and he’s walked in and done a good job for us in the pass game, the run game, with the pressure. He’s earned that right, right now.”
Joseph on how Chubb is grasping the defensive scheme
“He’s doing fine. He’s a smart football player. Learning what to do won’t be his concern. He’s a big guy. He’s powerful, and he can set an edge, so watching him play—obviously versus NFL tackles and tight ends—it hasn’t been a setback for him. He’s a strong guy, he can set an edge, and he can rush the passer, so what we saw from college, we’ve seen some out here.”
Joseph on what he wants to see from Von during training camp
“Von is a special player. When Von is on, he can totally wreck practice. I get it with Von. Von goes hard, but he understands if he goes really, really hard, he can wreck practice. I’m being honest. He had a couple plays today where he got upset, and it looked like game day. We know what Von can do. I’m not worried about Von. Von is in great shape, and Von loves to play, and so he’s right where he has to be for the season.”
Brandon Marshall on the improved pass rush
“Our sack numbers were kind of low last year. Von had 10, but I think they’re creating different ways to free him up and obviously give opportunities to those other guys. Shane is a first-round pick, Chubb first-round pick, Shaq should have been drafted. I think we have four really good pass rushers and we have some young guys that are coming along too.”
Chubb on his relationship with Ray
“Yeah, it’s continuing to grow with all of the guys, not just Shane. I’m in a meeting room with those guys 24/7 throughout camp, so just having fun with those guys and learning from them as well.”