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 the Broncos' inside linebackers.
WHO WILL EMERGE AT INSIDE LINEBACKER?
There are more glamorous positions on a football team than inside linebacker, and perhaps that's why the interior of Denver's defense has flown a bit under the radar during the 2022 offseason.
Following the end of last season, General Manager George Paton had the ability to rebuild the room, if he wanted. Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson and Jonas Griffith all became free agents after the 2021 campaign, which was played largely by reserve players after Jewell and Johnson suffered injuries early in the year.
Paton, though, believed in several of his existing players. He called Jewell "the glue" of the team's defense on several occasions this offseason, and one of the Broncos' first moves of free agency was to re-sign Jewell to a two-year deal. Denver also tendered Griffith, who was an exclusive rights free agent.
The Broncos also in free agency added Alex Singleton, a veteran player who led the Eagles in tackles in each of the last two seasons.
Despite the lack of hype around the moves, the three players form the core of an inside linebacking group that the Broncos hope can help the team improve against the run. The group, though, will have several questions to answer during training camp and the preseason.
Jewell is an unquestioned starter — he was the best player on the field in Week 2 against the Jaguars before tearing his pectoral muscle — but there has been no proclamation about who will start alongside him. Griffith may have an edge based on the media-viewing portions of the team's OTA and minicamp practices, but the young player must prove he's up to the task. Griffith started four games last year — the first starts of his career — and does not have the same on-field experience as Singleton. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Griffith's size and athleticism could make him an ideal candidate to start alongside Jewell if he can show he's ready for the responsibility.
If Griffith earns the job — or if Singleton can maintain his starting role — the next question will be about their effectiveness. Jewell is a proven run stopper, but the Broncos struggled without him last season. With a revamped defensive line, the Broncos should have the size and talent to rectify that issue. Then there's the matter of stopping the pass. In a division with athletic skill players — and dynamic play callers like Chiefs head coach Andy Reid — inside linebackers are sometimes asked to take on the unenviable task of covering running backs and tight ends in space. The Broncos' inside linebackers will be challenged at times this season, and Jewell, Griffith and Singleton must show they're up to the task.
The focus at the position expands beyond the top three players. After last season, when the Broncos had their depth severely challenged early in the season, Denver must hope it also has the right reserve players. The Broncos did not draft an inside linebacker after Paton said the board did not fall their way, so the team will currently rely on Barrington Wade,Justin Strnad and rookie undrafted free agents Kana'i Mauga and Kadofi Wright for depth. At least one of those four players has a real chance to make the roster and contribute, particularly on special teams.
If the Broncos aren't pleased with what they see after training camp and the preseason, though, this feels like a spot where the team could place a waiver claim to bring in a veteran option. The Broncos could also potentially shift Baron Browning back from outside linebacker, though Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said near the end of the offseason program that they'd like to keep Browning at his current position.
The center of Denver's defense hasn't gotten the same attention as some of the other positions on Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero's unit. During training camp, though, it's certainly a group worth watching.
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.