The Denver Broncos are 2-0 but in many ways, the team is reeling. Two weeks into the 2021 season, the Broncos are already down four starters.
While that aspect of Denver's first two games smacks of 2020, the results in the standings couldn't be more different. One thing that'll help Vic Fangio's squad this year is that, while the injury bug has taken a sizable bite out of the Broncos early, the team hasn't exacerbated the personnel losses by digging itself a hole in the standings.
On Sunday at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Broncos lost two starters — rush linebacker Bradley Chubb and inside linebacker Josey Jewell — to injured reserve. Chubb will return after ankle surgery 6-8 weeks down the road while Jewell's torn pec has sidelined him for the season.
Meanwhile, the Broncos have maneuvered to counteract the sting of the injury bug by making several active-roster moves. The team announced on Wednesday the signing of fourth-year linebacker Micah Kiser (6-0, 244 lbs) off the L.A. Rams' practice squad.
To go along with Kiser, the Broncos signed practice-squad running back Damarea Crockett to the active roster and linebacker Pita Taumoepenu to the practice squad — the latter of whom spent the summer competing in the team's training camp. Along with those additions, the Broncos confirmed that both Chubb and Jewell have been placed on injured reserve.
Crockett has been a gameday 'elevation' in each of the first two weeks and has thus used up his eligibility to be directly placed back on the practice squad without being exposed to the waiver wire. Considered a key contributor on special teams, the Broncos knew he'd be called up again on Sunday so instead of risking him to the wire, the team promoted him to the active roster, essentially filling Chubb's spot, while Kiser fills Jewell's.
Week 2 marked the second consecutive game the Broncos lost two starters after wideout Jerry Jeudy and cornerback Ronald Darby suffered injuries against the New York Giants and landed on IR. The team is set up to weather those two losses smoothly due to the depth at both positions but Chubb and Jewell's absence will be much trickier for Fangio and company to overcome.
Malik Reed — Denver's leader in sacks last year — can step into a full-time starting role opposite of Von Miller but he's no Chubb. Behind Miller and Reed, the Broncos have zero proven depth with rookie Jonathon Cooper and Andre Mintze rounding out the rush linebacker depth chart.
At linebacker, losing Jewell means Fangio has to find a new defensive signal-caller, which is no mean feat. Alexander Johnson took over duties when Jewell exited in Jacksonville but there's a reason Fangio put the radio in Josey's helmet.
Depth-wise, the Broncos will also have to lean on untested players behind Jewell with Justin Strnad stepping into the starting role next to Johnson. A fifth-round pick last year, Strnad missed the 2020 campaign due to a training-camp wrist injury.
Behind Strnad, the Broncos have rookie third-rounder Baron Browning, who's a very talented linebacker but he's still very raw and very much in chrysalis after sitting out much of OTAs and training camp with an injury suffered during rookie mini-camp. The experience of the newly-signed Kiser should mitigate some of that sting but despite playing in a Fangio-like scheme in Los Angeles last year, it'll take him some time to fully assimilate and settle into his new football environs.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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