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"We're not missing a beat": Justin Strnad is taking advantage of a great opportunity

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 12, 2021

EAGAN, Minn. — On July 31, during the Broncos’ fourth practice of training camp, a “great opportunity” fell in Justin Strnad’s lap, as Vic Fangio put it.

When starting inside linebacker Josey Jewell’s groin tightened up at the beginning of practice on that first Saturday of camp, Strnad stepped in.

In the eight practices since, the second-year backer has not only consistently been filling in for Jewell, he’s been Denver’s lone linebacker on the field at times when the defense is in dime.

“He’s done well. I see him getting better and better every day,” Fangio said on Aug. 3. “This is a great opportunity for him, and so far, he’s responded. He’s a long way from being ready, but I do see him getting better every day… I saw some good stuff out there.”

Over a week later, the 6-foot-3, 238-pound athletic linebacker is continuing to impress in Jewell’s absence.

“It feels like we’re not missing a beat when he’s in there with us,” Justin Simmons said after Wednesday’s joint practice with the Vikings in Minnesota. “Obviously, there’s a few plays he’s going to want back, like everybody, but he’s been doing a great job, especially in the passing game for us, covering some of the routes down there.”

That’s encouraging for many reasons. Of course, fitting in seamlessly is very important, especially for the inside-backer position with the communication responsibilities it carries.

“Justin’s been great. Like I said, I keep harping on it, but communication is the biggest thing, especially at safety and linebacker. There is so much,” Simmons continued. “We’re talking about run-gap responsibilities, how we see the passing game, there’s so much that’s going on there and Justin’s done a great job stepping in there.”

The second, and nearly just as important, is Strnad’s coverage ability in the pass game. Over the past half decade, while having a great defense, Denver has struggled mightily covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. When the Broncos used a fifth-round pick on the linebacker out of Wake Forest, they envisioned he could greatly help in that area.

Unfortunately for Strnad, his rookie season was derailed before it even began as he had season-ending wrist surgery during training camp. But a year later, he’s quickly finding a place on the Broncos’ defense.

However, Strnad isn’t there yet.

“He is definitely, definitely getting better but he’s not mastered anything yet,” Fangio stated on Wednesday. “He just needs to keep getting reps and keep playing and all of that will happen. The position he’s playing in our defense, it can be overwhelming, but then at some point, it just all comes together because it all fits and it’s all very logical. But he’s not there yet. He will be. I’m confident he can get there.”

Jewell is expected to return from his groin injury well before the end of the preseason. Fangio’s actions when Jewell returns will tell just how well Strnad took advantage of his opportunity.

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