The Broncos' 2020 season is almost here, and as training camp approaches, we're taking a look at each of the Broncos' position groups. In this set of previews, we'll take a deep dive into what we know about the given position group and what we still need to learn. We'll also identify a player to watch and choose a battle that bears watching. At the end of the series, we'll provide an overarching look at the best training camp battles and which players have the most to prove.
We continue the series with a look at outside linebacker.
What we know:
After Bradley Chubb suffered a partially torn ACL in Week 4 of the 2019 season, the Broncos' outside linebacking group was limited for the remainder of the year. In Chubb's absence, Von Miller recorded his lowest sack total since 2013 as he battled a knee injury for a portion of the year. Undrafted rookie Malik Reed started eight games in Chubb's stead and tallied two sacks and 27 tackles, and veteran Jeremiah Attaochu provided a late surge as he started the final five games of the year and recorded 3.5 sacks.
The Broncos didn't add to the group in free agency, but they spent a seventh-round pick on North Dakota State edge rusher Derrek Tuszka. The 6-foot-4, 251-pound player earned FCS first-team All-American honors as a senior as he tallied 13.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Second-year player Justin Hollins, whom the Broncos selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, could also compete for snaps at outside linebacker after he rotated between both linebacker positions as a rookie. Tre' Crawford and Malik Carney will also compete for roles.
What we need to learn:
Miller has had quite the offseason. The eight-time Pro Bowler became the first prominent NFL player to announce a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, as he battled the disease in late April. He has since recovered, and he recently posted a series of Instagram videos showcasing his muscle-toned body and speed.
As he enters Year 10 of his career, we'll be watching closely in training camp to see if a now-healthy Miller shows off his patented bend and explosiveness. At 31, Miller can still be an effective player. We should get an indication during training camp, though, if Miller is poised to reach his own lofty goals.
"Going forward I have to lead the league in sacks, get a Defensive Player of the Year. I have to figure out a way to do that," Miller said. "I feel like sacks and the Defensive Player of the Year Award go together. If I can lead the league in sacks, I think they just go hand in hand. It was about sacks before and it's still about sacks now. It's about sacks and winning games."
If both Miller and Chubb can remain healthy, we should also get our first extended look at the duo in Vic Fangio's defense. In their lone full season together, they tallied a combined 26.5 sacks.
Player to watch:
Heading into training camp, Chubb should face no limitations. Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said in early June that the third-year player is back to full speed.
"He's such a solid, consistent person in all areas of his life," Donatell said. "He's just got a lot of skill and ability. But this is a [player] that's going to be a great Bronco for a long time; we just didn't get to see enough of it last year, because of the injury. We've seen him running on tape, and he's full speed and ready to go. You'll see a really good year from him."
Chubb set the franchise's rookie sack record with 12 quarterback takedowns in 2018, and we should get an indication once pads come on in training camp if Chubb is poised for another strong season. The 2018 fifth-overall pick dominated offensive tackles with his power rush as a rookie, and he'll test both Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson as they compete for the left tackle spot.
Battle to watch:
Miller and Chubb are the team's unquestioned starters, but it's possible that any combination of Reed, Attaochu, Tuszka and Hollins could make the roster. Given the lack of offseason reps, Reed's and Attaochu's relative experience could give them a slight edge over Tuszka. The North Dakota State product has talent, but he may benefit from a year on the team's practice squad.
Hollins may not be a pure pass rusher like the other three players, but his positional versatility could provide him a path to a roster spot.
If preseason games are limited or eliminated as the NFLPA has reportedly requested, it may be more difficult for young players to make an impression. Especially at a position that is predicated on bringing down the quarterback — which only happens during live snaps — will practice snaps be enough to decide a roster spot in favor of a young player?