Of all the position groups on the Denver Broncos roster, the inside linebacker unit continues to raise the most concerns. After being forced to the sidelines after only one full game last season, Josey Jewell’s future in Denver looked shaky as he was scheduled to hit free agency this past spring.
Ultimately, the decision to retain the now fully recovered Jewell on a two-year contract rapidly became a no-brainer for GM George Paton, especially given the veteran’s NFL experience and talented skill set.
Jewell will find himself paired with former Philadelphia Eagles special teams ace Alex Singleton, or quite possibly, the ascending prospect Jonas Griffith. But in a division that boasts two of the NFL's best pass-catching tight ends, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs and Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders, the Broncos' need for a speedy linebacker in pass coverage remains glaring.
Beyond pure foot speed, the art of playing inside linebacker is unique because it involves huge degrees of anticipation and football smarts. Once mastered, these traits can consistently put a player like 'The Outlaw' in the right place at the right time.
When Jewell checked in with Broncos TV to discuss his NFL journey this week, he detailed his coverage skills which belie his previously sluggish time in the 40-yard dash.
“You can always be a step ahead of everybody, whether it be pre-snap or seeing a play really early in its development,” Jewell explained. “You can catch two steps right there. That’s been my progression of the game, is trying to stay ahead of it... I just try to keep that one second or two seconds ahead of everybody else, and that helps the whole game flow.”
perhaps at first, Broncos Country only projected Jewell as a backup who might provide some punch on special teams after he was originally drafted back in 2018. But over time, fans have come to respect Jewell’s ability to read and react decisively, all whilst moving from sideline to sideline as the starting inside linebacker.
Furthermore, Jewell excels at calling the defensive signals and lining up the defensive puzzle pieces in all the right places. It's a worthy skill set that Broncos Ring-of-Fame linebacker Karl Mecklenburg insisted really counts when he spoke with our Thomas Hall on his Legends of Mile High podcast earlier this month.
“First of all, an inside linebacker has got to be smart enough to control the defense. That is a huge piece of his job," Mecklenburg told Mile High Huddle. "My role was to make sure the front seven were in the right place at the right time. When the offense adjusted, all the defensive linemen are staring at the ball or the nose of the person lined up across from of them, that is all they see, so if anything changes… it is the inside linebacker’s job to get everyone lined up right. I think that is something Josey Jewell is really good at. I watched him—his growth from his first year to his second year was tremendous. He is a guy that you can trust to get everyone lined up right, and then big plays don’t happen.”
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