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'He's a force': With benefit of healthy offseason, OLB Bradley Chubb seems poised to return to elite play

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the third quarter of the Broncos' Week 14 game, the Broncos' edge rusher started over the left tackle's outside shoulder before he looped inside.

A clear lane ahead of him, Bradley Chubb grabbed Nick Mullens' scarlet jersey and tore him to the ground.

At that moment, Chubb's future seemed nothing but bright. That sack in 2018 was Chubb's 12th of his rookie season, which gave him the Broncos' new rookie franchise sack record.

The ensuing years have been tougher, as Chubb has battled ACL and ankle injuries and missed 26 games over the past three seasons. The former fifth-overall pick earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2020 with 7.5 sacks and 19 quarterback hits, but he's otherwise yet to enjoy the type of sustained health — both in the offseason and regular season — that would allow him to return to the heights of his rookie season.

That time, though, may have arrived.

For the first time since the end of his rookie season, Chubb entered the offseason without any lingering ailments. He didn't have to rehab from an ACL tear or undergo a pair of ankle surgeries. He's simply been able to focus on his craft — and on providing the consistent pressure of which he and the Broncos know he's capable.

"100 percent," Chubb said Monday when asked if he feels like he's returning to his old heights. "The beginning of [the offseason] was challenging for me. It was my first time in this position where I wasn't worried about recovering from an injury or worried about this or that. For the first couple weeks, I was trying to figure out what makes me, me. What things can I do to make me feel good [that will help me] come into different workouts feeling my best? I got that formula, and I've been sticking with it ever since. I've been feeling good coming out here to practice with these guys, and it's been fun. People say, 'be a pro' and 'have that schedule.' I feel like I finally have that down."

On the field, the creation of — and ability to maintain — a routine has been evident. Chubb has been a constant presence in the backfield during the open media portions of OTAs, and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett credited him with a couple of disruptive plays during Monday's session.

"He's done a really good job," Hackett said. "He's starting to feel it a little bit, both his pass rushing and his ability to stop the run. He's a force. When he knows what he's doing, he's definitely somebody that we would have to take account for."

Chubb's teammates have noticed a difference, as well. Nose tackle Mike Purcell said a year ago, as Chubb tried to battle an ankle injury before eventually undergoing surgery, the pain was clear.

"Now, you can see him running around that edge and it's nothing," Purcell said. "He can bend, he can move. So he's looking like how he was his rookie year."

Chubb has previously noted that he'd deem the 2022 season a success if he's able to play all 17 games — and there's a clear benefit the Broncos would receive from that sort of availability. When healthy, Chubb has been among the league's most disruptive pass rushers. In 2018, he was also among the most productive.

As the Broncos look to make a run back to the postseason, Chubb's ability to rush the passer could prove critical. Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr are just a few of the dangerous quarterbacks on Denver's schedule, and the Broncos' newly revamped defense will need to apply pressure. Chubb won't have to do it alone — Randy Gregory, Nik Bonitto, Malik Reed, Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper help comprise a deep outside linebacker room — but it's not a stretch to call him the presumed leader of the group.

No one else on the Broncos' roster has reached double-digit sacks, and Chubb is the lone edge rusher with a Pro Bowl nod.

For years, Chubb's pass-rushing ability has been evident. When he's been on the field, he's been a force. After a frustrating set of years, the stage is now set.

Chubb appears poised to deliver.

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