Just when he was starting to get a footing on the Denver Broncos' defense, linebacker Justin Strnad suffered a season-ending wrist injury not long after training camp started. The former Wake Forest stand-out, who missed much of his final year in college due to a bicep injury, was immediately decommissioned as he underwent surgery to repair his wrist.
Strnad didn't curl up or wither following his injury; he stayed plugged in by attending defensive meetings and getting as many mental reps as he could. After going so long without playing football in the wake of the bicep and wrist injuries in successive campaigns, Strnad is champing at the bit to get back to playing football.
"Obviously it sucked not being able to be out there, but still being in here in the facility and being in the linebackers meetings and learning from everybody and just watching the game film [was helpful]," Strnad recently told Aric DiLalla of the team website. "… Just being able to watch those guys play and just put the reps together, watching the film with the guys, was good. It's obviously a learning experience. It's not ideal, but it was obviously better than nothing."
Vic Fangio liked what he was seeing from Strnad before the injury bug jumped up and bit him.
“I’ve liked Justin so far. He’s shown some ability both in the pass defense area—the run game, we haven’t had a lot of shots of it yet," Fangio said last August. "He’s got a lot of work. We have to speed up the process with him. Overall, I think he’s doing well. I like what I see."
The Broncos drafted Strnad in the fifth round last year after his bicep injury caused him to fall from being a projected late Day 2 pick. Mile High Huddle's draft experts viewed it as a 'value' pick because of that but such selections are only justified as such if the player pans out.
Based on what we know of Strnad from his collegiate days, the potential is there. But potential doesn't pay the bills. However, if he can stay on the field this year, the Broncos are optimistic that he, alongside 2021 third-rounder Baron Browning, could vie for a spot in the nickel and dime sub-packages.
Strnad is willing to get in wherever he can fit in.
"I'm just looking to contribute in any way, whether it's base, sub-packages, special teams," Strnad told DiLalla. "Obviously I just want to help this team win in any way. I think we've got a good team this year. If everybody comes together and we have that chemistry, I think we have a chance to have a good year. Obviously, I just want to be a part of that."
The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Strnad projects as an athletic, rangy off-ball linebacker with the skill-set to provide the Broncos some long-needed coverage chops at the second level of the defense. While he only appeared in seven games as a senior, he produced 69 combined tackles, two sacks, and four pass break-ups for the Demon Deacons.
The year prior, he notched triple-digit tackles and five pass break-ups. That's all impressive and while it's certainly what got him to the NFL, past laurels won't allow players to stick long without building on college production.
"I think obviously when you're somebody like me and you haven't played a snap in the NFL, you just automatically have something to prove," Strnad told the team site. "Obviously I haven't played a snap in the NFL, so I still have everything to prove."
Strnad sounds motivated and he should be after having to sit out the better part of the past two seasons due to injury. If the stars align and he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this kid, especially being molded by the great linebacker sculptor that is Fangio and his position coach Reggie Herring.
"I've played my whole life," Strnad told DiLalla. "Football means so much to me because it's what I've done, it's what I love to do. And it means a lot to my family as well. Obviously being out there and being able to help this team win will mean a lot to me. It's something I'm really looking forward to."
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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