ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Josey Jewell saw things differently during the preseason this year.

Jewell, 28, was poked in the eye during the Broncos’ first preseason game, scratching his cornea and cutting his night short. When he appeared at practice a few days later, he wore a dark, nearly blacked-out visor.

Josey Jewell warms up before the preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“I think I look okay, pretty good in one,” Jewell said. “Swaggier. Look good, play good.”

Dark visors have been prohibited by the NFL for 25 years for safety reasons. If a player has a suspected concussion, doctors need to be able to see the player’s pupils. Removing the helmet to get a clear view can be risky because any damage to the spinal cord could be exacerbated.

But the league makes exceptions for medical situations. For example, if a player struggled with migraines and had evidence that exposure to bright light could trigger another one, he would probably be approved. 

Jewell applied for the waiver for this season but was denied earlier this week.

“I guess my cornea wasn’t scratched enough. Maybe next time I’ll do that,” Jewell said. 

A similar situation occurred last season when guard Quinn Meinerz was poked in the eye. Ironically, that game was also against the Cardinals. Meinerz applied for the tinted visor but, like Jewell, wasn’t approved. He still has a dark spot in his vision that comes and goes. Sometimes, he thinks it’s a bug flying nearby. Meinerz and Jewell discussed their scratched corneas on the flight back from Arizona last month.

With no dark visor available, Jewell chose Oakley’s Prizm visor, which has a pink hue. It’s slightly tinted, which was against NFL rules, but when the league partnered with Oakley in 2019, it allowed players to wear the Prizm visor.

“It’s alright, but I wish I had the dark one that totally gets the sun out,” Jewell said. “I get headaches every once in a while.”

Fellow linebacker Alex Singleton, 29, was upset by the NFL’s decision.

“It’s a sad day around here,” Singleton said.

Singleton joked that Jewell saw the field better with his visor.

“I think it helped him,” Singleton said. “Now we’re just back to Josey Jewell.”

Early in the Broncos’ first preseason game—a series before Jewell was poked in the eye—Singleton had an idea.

The Broncos’ defense faced a 3rd & 1 near midfield. Singleton knew that teams typically run the ball on 3rd & short and rarely call play-action, especially in the preseason. So, he shot the B-gap on the back side of the run. He flew into the backfield and tripped up the running back, earning a tackle for loss and forcing a punt.

It was an aggressive but calculated decision.

“It’s not as much guessing. It’s knowing who we play with and how we play together,” Singleton said. “Between me and Josey, we can talk about ‘Hey, I’m gonna do this if we see this’ or whatever. By the time we see it, we know what the other one is going to do. We can kind of cover up for him and play off of that. It’s not as much free-balling it; we know what we’re doing.”

Josey Jewell (47) signs autographs following a training camp practice at the Centura Health Training Center. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Singleton arrived in Denver before the 2022 campaign, four years after the Broncos selected Jewell out of Iowa in the fourth round of the draft. They didn’t play together often during the ramp-up to the season because Jonas Griffith was supposed to start next to Jewell. But chaos hit the Broncos linebacker room early in the season.

Jewell missed the first two games of the season with a calf injury, so Singleton took his place. When Jewell returned, Singleton moved back to the bench.

Then Jewell injured his knee in Week 5 and missed the next two games. Once again, Singleton entered the starting lineup, and once again, he returned to the bench when Jewell healed.

Two weeks later, Griffith tore his ACL, leaving Jewell and Singleton to start together for the second half of the season. The duo developed chemistry over the next couple of months. Around the start of December, Jewell says everything clicked.

“It’s fun to be able to play like that,” Jewell said. “It’s still like going out there and playing like you’re a kid again.”

Chemistry is a buzzword in football, but what does it mean?

Jewell took a stab at an answer.

“The pre-snap reads and stuff like that, both of us are seeing somewhat similar things. We’re looking at very similar things,” Jewell said. “We both have a very like mind of where the play—we think—is going to go, and stuff like that. We both just think alike. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Jewell wears the green dot on his helmet. That means his helmet is hooked up to a radio that receives audio from the defensive coordinator’s headset. His job is to listen to the coach’s play calls and then relay the information to his teammates. He’s held green-dot duties full-time for the Broncos since the start of the 2021 season. He also held them at Iowa, but radios aren’t allowed in college football, so he had to interpret signals from the sideline.

“I like it. I like doing it,” Jewell said. “Some guys probably don’t like doing it because sometimes it’s hard to hear in the helmet. There’s been times I couldn’t hear in the helmet, so I just make my own play call.”

Jewell especially likes it when he gets to call his own play.

If the offense is in a hurry up, Jewell will tell Singleton the play, and Singleton will tell the defensive backs while Jewell tells the defensive front. Both are capable of handling the green dot duties. 

The tough part comes when the offense breaks the huddle and approaches the line of scrimmage. Depending on how the offense lines up, various checks may need to be made before the offense snaps the ball. Defensive linemen might line up in different locations depending on what gap they’re responsible for, and it’s the linebackers’ job to make sure the pieces fit together.

“We’ve got a bunch of smart guys, especially on the front, who know their stuff,” Jewell said. “Half the time, I don’t have to give the front seven a call because they are lining up by themselves.”

Meanwhile, the safeties, often Justin Simmons, are making tweaks to the coverage from the back end of the defense and relaying the calls to the linebackers.

“If I’m trying to do a bunch of stuff up front, it’s hard for me to listen to the back,” Jewell said.

Chemistry with Simmons is insurance in case of chaos.

“I’ve been with Justin ever since the start here. That’s where I just kind of understand what these calls are gonna be, and we go from there,” Jewell said. “Sometimes, honestly, I don’t even listen back there because I already know what he’s going to call.”

Before the snap, the chemistry between Jewell and Singleton kicks in. After spending half a season next to each other, plus an entire offseason now, they can quickly point out quirks and immediately be on the same page. A quick back-and-forth might be necessary. Sometimes, they’ll trade responsibilities. Sometimes, they’ll decide to swap crossing routes. A player in motion before the snap might require a quick change.

Alex Singleton tackles Austin Ekeler in a game last season. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Time is tight, so easy communication is crucial.

“That’s what makes us be able to kind of switch jobs every once in a while and screw around with that kind of stuff,” Jewell said. “Just got to make sure we’re on the same page. And about 99% of the time, we are. So that’s the fun part about it; you can just go out there and play football and not have to worry about much.”

Jewell says it’s the best chemistry he’s had since entering the NFL.

During a training camp practice last month, linebacker Drew Sanders reached out an arm to stop running back Jaleel McLaughlin from running up the sideline. In practice, players aren’t allowed to tackle to the ground, so Sanders wanted to stand the rookie up. Instead, he clotheslined him.

Sanders, a third-round pick in April’s draft, wasn’t supposed to be available that late in the draft. Many analysts pegged him as a first-round target thanks to his size, length and athleticism. His 9.5-sack season last year at Arkansas helped his case.

But the 21-year-old doesn’t quite know how to use those tools yet.

“That might be a fine for him,” Jewell said after practice. “We got in a little trouble for that one.”

Luckily for Sanders, the linebackers room decided not to fine the rookie. In fact, he says they haven’t fined him at any point in his first four-plus months with the team.

“Those guys are great,” Sanders said.

Drew Sanders launches himself into a tackle during a preseason game. Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Sanders lined up all over the front seven during his two seasons at Alabama and then his final season at Arkansas. He didn’t play a traditional linebacker role, but he’s enjoyed having veterans like Jewell and Singleton to learn from.

The chemistry, as you might expect, isn’t quite there yet.

“I’m shouting out things right away and then shouting out what to watch for right away (when I’m playing with Sanders),” Jewell said. “It’s usually play call, and then ‘Hey, watch out for this,’ or ‘Hey, I’m gonna push through here.’ There’s not much back and forth yet.”

Jewell and Singleton have each only played a handful of reps with the new guy.

“The NFL is different than college, and you’ve gotta adapt to it,” Jewell said. “I don’t expect anybody to pick it up on the first day or first year.”

Developing an eye for where a play will go takes time and experience. Sanders is taking advantage of having a front-row seat to how Jewell and Singleton operate. While he slowly carves out a larger role on defense, he knows he can impact the game in another way.

“I’m going to be a core-four special teamer, and we’ll see what happens on defense,” Sanders said.

This season, Singleton is bringing back his “Tackle Inclusion” program. Fans pledge a dollar amount that they will donate to Special Olympics Colorado for each tackle that Singleton makes during the season.

Singleton’s older sister Ashley has Down syndrome and is a lifelong Special Olympics participant. He started volunteering with Special Olympics in California when he was young and has continued participating since. While playing for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, he volunteered with the Special Olympics Winter Games in the Yukon. When he joined the Eagles, he raised nearly $12,000 through his Tackle Inclusion program. In February, he represented Special Olympics in Arizona at events ahead of the Super Bowl.

As of Saturday morning, donors have pledged $32.80 per tackle this season. The fundraiser creators estimate he’ll make 150 tackles, totaling a nearly $5,000 donation. 

Singleton disagrees with the estimate.

“That’s about 50 short.”

Two hundred tackles is a lofty goal. The most recent 200-tackle season came from Hardy Nickerson in 1993. But it might not be as crazy as it sounds. 

Singleton made 163 tackles in 2022 despite only starting 12 of 17 games. He played 68% of the Broncos’ defensive snaps. If he played every snap and made tackles at the same pace, he’d finish with 240 tackles. 

Expecting a linebacker to be on the field for every play might sound crazy, but it’s possible. Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints played 100% of the snaps last season. 

Alex Singleton celebrates a fumble recovery against the Kansas City Chiefs furing a game last season. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

To break the 200-tackle mark, Singleton will need to play about 83% of the Broncos’ snaps if he keeps up last year’s tackles per snap pace. Across the NFL, 26 linebackers hit that mark in 2022. 

If you only count the games he started, Singleton averaged 11.6 tackles last season. If he kept that rate and started all 17 games, he would have 197 tackles.

A 200-tackle season is rare, but Singleton is capable. He proved that when he made 21 tackles against the Chargers last season, the most by a player in an NFL game in nearly a decade.

Plus, he’ll have some help.

“I guess I’ll just hold people up for him and then let him come over,” Jewell said. “Just so he can empty out his wallet a little bit.”


Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm

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