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The Broncos could have a revamped inside linebacker corps as soon as this Sunday

Zac Stevens Avatar
October 26, 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson were the Broncos’ Plan A at inside linebacker entering the season.

Torn pecs to both players derailed that plan before the end of Week 6.

Additional injuries then derailed Plans B, C and D as well.

In Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns, Denver’s starting inside linebackers were Justin Strnad and Micah Kiser.

Kiser was signed off the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad on Sept. 22 , while Strnad is “a guy that’s learning on the run,” as Vic Fangio put it on Tuesday.

Against the Browns, not only did Kiser suffer a groin injury that landed him on the injured reserve, but the Broncos’ defense gave up a season-high 182 rushing yards.

That’s when George Paton stepped in.

On Monday, the Broncos acquired inside linebacker Kenny Young and a 2024 seventh-round pick from the Rams in exchange for a 2024 sixth-round pick. Despite Young’s minimal value on the trade block, he’ll have a massive role in Denver’s struggling defense, potentially as soon as Sunday when the Broncos host the Washington Football Team.

“Hopefully he’ll be able to play right away,” Fangio stated on Tuesday, minutes after meeting Young for the first time. “We’ll see.”

Along with hope and desperation, there’s a legitimate reason why Young could be ready to play less than a week after being traded to the Broncos. The 2018 fourth-round draft pick spent the entire 2020 season in Fangio’s defense while playing under then-Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.

“There will be some carryover for him system wise,” Fangio said, explaining how his transition could be quicker than usual. “Some verbiage is different.”

Another resource Young will have is being reunited with Kiser. The two inside linebackers spent nearly the past two seasons together in Los Angeles. With Kiser on I.R., Fangio stated he will be a resource to help Young learn the playbook as quickly as possible.

Once Young is up to speed on the Fangio’s playbook, he’ll be a staple in the middle of Denver’s defense for the rest of the season.

“He’s athletic. He’s a playmaker. He’s good in coverage,” Fangio said, stating what he’s seen on film on his new linebacker. “He has good instincts. He’s been a good player for them.”

Starting all seven games for the Rams this year, Young led the team in tackles with 46. He added six tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass defense.

Strnad could maintain the other starting role alongside Young, but the second-year player struggled significantly against the run in the Browns game and was viewed as more of a coverage specialist coming out of the draft.

“He’s been up and down out there. He’s had good moments, some not so good,” Fangio said about Strnad. “He didn’t play at all last year and he’s had to be forced into playing a lot. He’s had some good plays, good games and some plays that he’d like to do over. He’s what we got right now and we’re confident that he’ll keep improving.”

On Tuesday, Fangio pointed to inconsistent play against the run as a major area of emphasis for Denver’s defense, adding, “That’s what we got to get fixed.” Strnad’s recent play against the run won’t help his chances of staying on the field if that is a major point of emphasis for Denver moving forward.

However, as the only healthy player on the Broncos’ defense that has called the plays on the field, Strnad will likely have a significant role for at least more more week. But two reserve linebackers have a chance to return from injuries this week and compete for playing time.

The first is Jonas Griffith. The special team’s stud landed on the injured reserve on Sept. 28 due to a hamstring injury. After missing three games, he is eligible to return beginning this week.

The other, and more significant for Fangio’s defense, is Baron Browning. The third-round pick has passed the concussion protocol up to this point, which kept him out of Thursday’s game against the Browns. The final hurdle will be him having a good practice on Tuesday.

If he does pass the final stage of the protocol, which is expected, “he’ll have to play a big role” at inside linebacker, Fangio stated on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound backer would be a welcomed addition to the middle of Denver’s defense. The only issue is he’s still very inexperienced as he missed the entire offseason program and much of training camp with a lower leg injury. He also did not play in Week 4, along with Week 7.

When asked if Browning will be up to speed, Fangio replied, “We’ll see.”

“As you guys know his story, he’s missed a lot of time through various injuries,” the head coach added, before applying the pressure. “But it’s time for him to step up.”

For the fourth time this season, the Broncos are guaranteed to have a different pair of starting inside linebackers. Depending on how ready Young and Browning are to play on Sunday, the Broncos could have a brand-new linebacking corps in the coming weeks.

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