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The Broncos are counting on Vic Fangio to be more than a head coach and a defensive coordinator

Zac Stevens Avatar
May 7, 2019

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — “In Elway We Trust” has been a popular saying around Broncos Country surrounding John Elway ever since he found near-instant success as Denver’s general manager back in 2011.

This offseason, John himself has passed along a similar trust to Vic Fangio.

By his actions, Elway has put the ultimate faith in his new head coach. But not necessarily in Fangio, the first-time head coach. Instead, it’s with Vic “arguably the greatest linebacker coach of all time” Fangio.

In Fangio’s first-ever job in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, back in 1986, he helped create the “Dome Patrol.” As one of the best linebacking corps in the league’s history, Fangio led Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills and Pat Swilling to a combined 17 Pro Bowls and 10 First-team All-Pros in a nine-year span as the Saints’ linebacker coach.

Now, as the head coach of the Broncos, Vic will have help from defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and linebacker coach Reggie Herring in creating the Mile High version of the Dome Patrol.

However, he’ll have to work his magic more than initially believed.

At the combine in February, Fangio made it very clear what he wanted to see happen on the roster in terms of his new inside linebacking corps.

“We need to add to that group, but I like some of the players we do have available there in Todd Davis, Josey Jewell and other players that have played in backup roles,” Fangio stated, making it clear he needed different linebackers than what was currently on the team, before circling back around to add importance to his request. “But I’d like to see us add a player or two there to be competitive.”

Weeks after Fangio’s request, free agency came and went with the Broncos passing on top-linebacker talent such as C.J. Mosely and Kwon Alexander.

But, there was still the draft, which had two excellent inside linebackers for Vic to run his defense through just like he did with the No. 8 overall pick, Roquan Smith, the year before in Chicago.

And just like free agency, the first-round came and went with no inside linebacker, not to mention they had Devin Bush staring them in the face at No. 10, but they decided to trade the pick to Pittsburgh and let them draft him instead.

Yet, Denver still had six more rounds of the draft to select the position Fangio has so highly coveted throughout his coaching career.

Those six rounds, much like free agency and the first round, came and went with not a single inside backer insight.

“It just didn’t fall that way,” Elway said after the conclusion of the draft, explaining why he didn’t select an inside linebacker or a cornerback. “We had opportunities but the direction that we went, we felt that we were better off that way.”

The first true inside linebacker Denver added this entire offseason was undrafted rookie Joe Dineen.

Denver went on to add three more UDFA “linebackers,” but only one more, Josh Watson from Colorado State, profiles as an inside backer.

Were these the caliber of players Fangio imagined when he said, “I’d like to see us add a player or two there to be competitive?” Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick of just a year ago, would suggest not.

Historically, Fangio has had success with rangy, fast linebackers that can cover the entire field and lock down tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

The closest player to that description on Denver’s roster when Vic took the job was Brandon Marshall.

He’s gone.

It’s not as if Todd Davis and Josey Jewell are bad players, they are both just known for their instincts and abilities in the run game, not for their speed and ability to cover the entire field.

Could the answer be Vic transforming a current safety on the roster into his speed linebacker? Safeties Jamal Carter and Su’a Cravens have the frame to be a hybrid player, but both have combined for three career starts, none of which were with the Broncos.

Maybe the answer is on the roster already. Keishawn Bierria and Joe Jones profile as faster linebackers—specifically Jones who posted a 4.51 40-yard dash time—but both have as many NFL starts as the entire BSN Denver staff combined.

To be fair, the Broncos will try outside linebacker Justin Hollins, their fourth-round pick, on the inside.

“He’s played primarily outside linebacker, but he has played a little bit of inside linebacker, particularly in one of the all-star games,” Fangio said, explaining why they’ll try their fourth-round pick on the inside. “We’re going to try him at both spots while he’s here and see where he’s got the best future at or the best fit for us at this time.”

There is still one way Denver can clearly address the position—trading for Jets’ inside linebacker Darron Lee. The 2016 first-round pick has been linked to trade reports after the Jets added multiple linebackers, including Mosley, this offseason. Lee, with a 4.47 40, would instantly become the rangy linebacker Fangio would covet.

If it’s not Lee, however, Fangio will be tasked with either building a defense without a coverage linebacker, converting a safety to linebacker, helping a backup become a starter, converting a rookie to a new position or elevating an undrafted rookie to a major role.

Regardless of what the Broncos’ answer is at inside linebacker, Fangio will be at the heart of finding the solution.

Now that the majority of the moves have been completed this offseason, there’s been a prevailing theme in the lack of moves surrounding the quarterback of the defense.

“In Vic we trust.”

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