The Broncos have yet to play a preseason game and this is already a night-and-day difference training camp for inside linebacker Josey Jewell.
Last year: A rookie backup behind veteran Brandon Marshall. … A base-package player when he was on the field. … A core special teams player.
This year: A starter now that Marshall is in Oakland. … An every-down player in coach Vic Fangio’s defense. … A spectator during special teams practice drills.
Playing for a head coach in Vic Fangio who will call the defensive plays and is a renowned developer of linebackers, Jewell has a golden opportunity.
“He’s definitely putting some time into us and just looking at us,” Jewell said. “He’s almost like a second coach for (us) — to just really be able to pick up (things in) our game and tell us what we need to work on and what we’re doing good and just really perfect each part of our game. It’s great.”
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The Broncos’ linebackers need to be great in Fangio’s system.
So far in training camp, the main sub-package personnel has been nickel, which means two inside linebackers stay on the field. That will place additional pass-coverage responsibilities — man and zone — on Jewell’s plate.
“He’s been good,” Fangio said. “Josey’s been on top of his stuff from Day One.”
Jewell played 459 of 1,077 defensive snaps (42.6 percent) last year, starting nine of his 16 games. He was a special teams player only until Marshall’s knee tendonitis shelved him. When Marshall returned, Jewell kept the starting base-package spot and Marshall played in dime (six defensive backs) personnel.
In the year of the NFL Rookie Linebacker (five 100-tackle players), Jewell had 51 stops and only three missed tackles, proving to be a solid run-defense performer. He had at least five tackles in five of the Broncos’ last seven games.
The Broncos passed on Michigan’s Devin Bush with the 10th overall pick and every other inside linebacker on the draft board. If Jewell and fellow starter Todd Davis needed a vote of confidence, that was it.
A hallmark of Fangio’s defense has been stellar linebacker play, all the way back to New Orleans, when he had Pat Swilling, Sam Mills and Rickey Jackson plus San Francisco (Patrick Willis) and Chicago (Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan).
“I love this playbook,” Jewell said. “This defense allows you to have some wiggle room — if you see something coming, go bite on that; if you see something else, play off your instincts. I think (Fangio) is a really big guy with instincts. Our defense relies on that.
“We saw some 49ers’ film from a while ago and this past year’s Chicago film, which really related his defense and his playbook. And there were examples of them running it well.”
The Broncos will play well at outside linebacker with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. But inside linebacker has some questions.
Davis (calf) hasn’t practiced since July 19 and is expected to miss another 2-3 weeks. That has left Jewell to play with a revolving door of candidates: Alexander Johnson lined up next to him on Thursday. Also seeing time have been rookie Josh Watson and veteran Joe Jones.
Those backups have been leaning on Jewell to confirm where to line up, what the coverage is and how to defend a run play.
“I think every day, although he’s been pretty sharp, he learns something new, a thing or two that’s new to him or an adjustment or a route that he hadn’t seen yet and it’s good for him,” Fangio said. “He’s doing very well.”