In the collective hearts and minds of Broncos Country, all-time legendary linebacker Randy Gradishar is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. Despite his ever-puzzling (and maddening) omission from the ranks of greats in Canton, when Gradishar speaks about the current state of the Denver Broncos defense, fans should immediately sit up and take heed.
Gradishar checked in with Phil Milani of the team site last week to give his expert opinion on how the Broncos defense is shaping up for 2020, especially after losing four-time Pro Bowl CB Chris Harris, Jr. and long-time DL Derek Wolfe via free agency this offseason.
“Well, I think they are good. And they are only getting better," Gradishar told Milani. "[LB Bradley] Chubb’s going to be coming back and [LB] Von’s [Miller] there and the other guys. We only lost Chris [Harris] and so you know, with that they have stability they have built over the years.”
GM John Elway’s decision to give defensive guru Vic Fangio his first head-coaching position in Denver 18 months ago was largely designed to maximize the pass-rushing talents of Chubb and Miller. That carefully designed master-plan was left in tatters early in Fangio's tenure when Chubb suffered an ACL tera during Denver's Wweek 4 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Gradishar’s decade spent in the NFL with the Broncos certainly qualifies him to comment on how such injuries can conspire to derail a season. He also believes that the coronavirus and its impact on the players' traditional offseason preparations can only serve to throw another wrench in the works of the Broncos' planning.
“Because of injuries, and that’s one thing that you can never figure out. You know you get those types of injuries throughout the year that certainly hurt your team,” Gradishar told the team site. “And so, this coming up year is certainly going to be different…going to be with the COVID-19.”
Broncos stars have mostly been trusted and empowered to embark on a virtual offseason training program and have been working out on their own or in smaller splinter groups as organized by QB Drew Lock upon his return to Denver.
Recently, CB Bryce Callahan revealed that his ongoing recovery from a serious foot injury had actually benefited the healing process absent from any on-field OTAs, allowing him to focus fully on working with his own doctor in Houston. Alternatively, Chubb had commented that his recovery had been aided by the Broncos trainers at UC Health Center and how having access to them suited him better, which shows that every player has a contrasting approach to his own preparations.
If the Broncos can be trusted to get themselves ready for the season, it could all be in vain as the road ahead to actually playing real games is still a bumpy one, to say the least. NFL directives continue to come down the pike for the Broncos to implement in order to return to football as safely as possible.
Added to the fact that other teams are currently making provisions for limiting fan attendance in stadiums and the gloomy prospect of playing to empty bleachers is getting more real by the day.
Gradishar remains steadfastly positive about the 2020 NFL season moving ahead but is also fully aware that fans might be forced to root for the Broncos from their armchairs this coming season.
“I just hope they are able to play with fans in the stands, or if there are no fans in the stands, at least be able to watch that. And you know, [I'm] looking forward to it because I’m one on the sideline as an NFL uniform inspector of the guy’s uniforms. So [it] gives me an opportunity to stay close to the Broncos and be part of that for home games.”
Fans have always provided an extra boost to the Broncos at Mile High games so losing that edge will perhaps hurt the team more than it might other NFL teams. Fans of professional sports in Europe have quickly adjusted to simply watching games on TV, with the artificial crowd noise and bright graphics to cover the empty seats certainly providing a whole new experience.
In the meantime, perhaps the best approach is to view any kind of football as a glass half-full rather than half-empty. If indeed the NFL proceeds sans fans in the stands, after this weird and wacky last four months, most fans will be counting their lucky stars to root for the Broncos at home on the couch.
More obstacles await and will need to be overcome before we know exactly how the NFL season will play out. Gradishar’s confidence in the improving Denver defense is well-founded, though. When the Broncos finally hit the field.