After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In just a couple of weeks, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at how the Broncos' outside linebackers.
CAN THE BRONCOS' OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS LEAD A PASS-RUSH RESURGENCE?
When the Broncos last made the postseason, their pass rush led the way.
Von Miller posted one of the best playoff stretches in history en route to Super Bowl 50 MVP honors, and DeMarcus Ware helped the Broncos batter Tom Brady and Cam Newton to lift the Lombardi.
Ware is now long retired, and Miller is off in Buffalo to try to earn his third world championship. The Broncos, meanwhile, will look to regain the pass-rushing magic that will be critical to finding success this season.
New Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero inherits one of the top secondaries in the NFL, but the pass rush will need to deliver for the Broncos to reach their desired heights.
The unit is led by Bradley Chubb, who as a rookie paired with Miller to combine for 26.5 sacks in 2018. Chubb, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will look to recapture the magic of his 12-sack rookie season. Since then, Chubb has at times struggled to stay healthy, though he earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2020 behind 7.5 sacks. There's reason to believe Chubb can rebound and return to being a No. 1 pass-rush threat; the former fifth-overall pick entered — and exited — the offseason program at full health for the first time in several years. Plus, he'll have help.
The Broncos made their biggest splash in free agency when they added Randy Gregory, who recorded three forced fumbles, six sacks and 17 quarterback hits in 12 games last season. Gregory did not participate in the offseason program following a reported procedure, but when healthy, Gregory should provide a dangerous option opposite Chubb. No player forced more turnovers from pressure than Gregory last year, and he also recorded the most sacks in less than three seconds of any player.
"We needed to add a difference-maker," General Manager George Paton said during Gregory's introductory presser. "I feel like we have [that] in Randy Gregory. We feel like Randy's an impact-type player. When you look at the free-agent class, he stood out, just the way he plays the game. We played Dallas this year, and he's a guy we had to game-plan for. He puts the fear into offensive coordinators, because he can impact the game at any time."
Gregory, though, will also need to stay available, as he's missed at least five games in four of his five seasons on the field.
The Broncos will need both Chubb and Gregory to make an impact, especially in a loaded AFC West. Denver can keep pace with Wilson under center, but Chubb and Gregory must get to Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr if the Broncos hope to win the AFC West. Of course, Chubb and Gregory alone may not be enough. Paton spoke this offseason about needing "waves" of pass rushers — and the Broncos should have that.
Denver used their first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft on Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto, whose bend off the edge has drawn comparisons to Miller. Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper both return, and Denver shifted Baron Browning to outside linebacker during the offseason program. Undrafted rookie Christopher Allen could also make a push for a spot, if he returns to full practice participation following an injury last season.
As much as training camp and the preseason will be about Chubb and Gregory finding a rhythm together, it will also help determine who constitutes the second wave. Bonitto's draft pedigree suggests he'll get an early shot at playing time, but Browning, Reed and Cooper will likely battle for the fourth edge rushing position. Browning's teammates have praised his ability to make the transition to edge, and it's possible he can find another role a year after starting at inside linebacker last season.
The final question the Broncos must answer is how to distribute the snaps among the waves of pass rushers. Former head coach Vic Fangio preferred for his starting edge rushers to play 90 percent of the defensive snaps. Will Evero and Outside Linebackers Coach Bert Watts follow a similar strategy with Chubb and Gregory? Or will they find a way to work Bonitto and others onto the field at a higher clip?
Whoever is on the field will need to have more of an impact than the Broncos' edge rushers had a year ago, when they ranked just 18th in the league in sacks.
The Broncos' offense may put them in position to win, but the defense must close the deal. Denver's edge rushers will be critical to that effort.
The Broncos let their personalities shine during the annual portrait shoot. Get a closer look at the linebackers' time in the spotlight with these photos.