The Denver Broncos ended having to ask a lot more of rookie rush linebacker Malik Reed last season than the team expected, particularly after Bradley Chubb went down with an ACL tear in Week 4. Reed, an undrafted rookie out of Nevada, replaced Chubb in the starting lineup for a stretch, filling the void admirably.
Reed went on to start eight games during his rookie campaign and registered a pair of sacks along the way.
For many undrafted players, serving as a starter for half the season is a fair achievement for a career, nevermind all eight starts coming in year one. Chances ar,e Reed’s starting opportunities will be limited in 2020 with a healthy Chubb returning to the lineup. It’s more likely Reed will be once again fighting it out to make the team and contribute to the Broncos' pass-rush rotation.
Just like many young Broncos, Reed has concentrated on making strides over his accomplishments in his maiden season. He has fully embraced the virtual team meetings that the Broncos have had to resort to in the wake of a pandemic.
Still, the virtual OTA meetings have allowed Reed to get deeper into Vic Fangio’s defensive system, as he explained to Broncos media reporter Sydney Jones on Sunday.
“They’ve been good; you know putting in that defense for the first year, learning that and going through the whole season of learning that defense and the reinstalling, just I feel like gives us a better understanding of what we are trying to do,” Reed explained to the team site. “Help us understand how we fit into the defense and how…what we are trying to accomplish as a defense. So, really, I feel the Zoom meetings, we’re good to hear the terminology again…to get the guys together again.”
All across league, players have had to be creative in order to keep in shape, mostly due to team facilities being off-limits. Further COVID-19 restrictions have made accessing gyms more difficult, but Reed revealed that he had stuck around in Denver and had been using the private facility of Broncos' Strength and Conditioning Coach Loren Landow’s to keep in shape.
“I think it’s really been a breath of fresh air. I’m talking about…I heard some of the veterans say you know it might be an advantage that you don’t have so much wear on your body coming into training camp," Reed told Jones. "That you really get your mind right, get your body right…make sure you get yourself 100% ready to go when training camp starts."
Focusing on keeping fit and ready both mentally and physically has helped the Alabama native win a roster spot last year, so he knows what is required to push on in Year 2. That challenge has been made all the more difficult with the arrival of new rookie talent like seventh-round rush linebacker Derrek Tuszka, and experienced professionals on the defensive side of the ball.
Reed sees all the new additions as being a positive for an improving defense that he hopes to find a role within.
“I’m excited coming into this year," Reed said. "As far as the defense, I’m excited too. As far as the acquisitions we got this year, Jurrell Casey, AJ Bouye, to really the guys on offense as well. But for us on defense to have veteran guys come in and still be playing at a high level and have a defense like we had last year, and still, I felt like we did real good last year. I felt like we got better each and every week.”
While the young pass rusher sees himself finding a role among all the blue-chip talents, it will be up to him to soak up all the experience and guidance that’s now available to him from his teammates and coaches. Reed was quick to note how stacked with explosive talent he feels the Denver defense is on all three levels.
“So, I feel like we got play-makers on the front end, play-makers on the back-end and play-makers at linebacker as well," Reed said. "I’m excited to see us fly around this year."
Year 2 of the Fangio defense is expected to trigger a more aggressive approach. With a year under their collective belt, Broncos defenders will be playing much more instinctively having found their collective feet within Fangio's teachings.
Even with the new additions on offense, the Broncos' defense will be counted on to show up big in games — in particular, vs. the divisional battles against the Kansas City Chiefs. If Reed can chip in with some increased production, albeit in a reserve role this season, he could prove his worth as yet another Broncos' undrafted gem.