ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos' starting defense trots back on the field at UCHealth Training Center, the unit will feature a couple of new faces.
Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye were acquired via trade this offseason, and both of the veterans figure heavily into the Broncos' defensive plans. Casey and Bouye, though, won't be the only welcome reinforcements for a defense that finished 10th in points allowed last season.
In both the front seven and the secondary, the Broncos will return a pair of players who either missed the majority of the 2019 season or the entirety of the campaign.
As Casey aims to provide an inside rush for the Broncos, he could meet Bradley Chubb in the backfield, as the third-year player returns following a partially torn ACL.
Chubb set the Broncos' rookie sack record with 12 quarterback takedowns in 2018, but he didn't enjoy similar success during his sophomore campaign. Chubb suffered the season-ending injury in the Broncos' Week 4 game against the Jaguars and finished the year with just one sack.
Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, though, said Thursday that the NC State product "fit in very well" in the Broncos' scheme last year and that the pass rusher will be ready to go for the 2020 season.
"He's just good in all areas," Donatell said via Zoom conference call. "He's such a solid, consistent person in all areas of his life. 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."
Bouye, meanwhile, will be joined by Bryce Callahan, whom the Broncos signed in 2019 as a free agent. Callahan, though, reaggravated a foot injury in training camp that he originally suffered in late 2018. He didn't appear in a single game for the team, and he eventually went on injured reserve.
Callahan, too, is ready to return.
"On the medical side, he's ready to go," Donatell said. "He's running full speed. He'll be right in our camp and be ready to go. And he's been totally engaged."
As the Broncos look to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2015 season, Casey and Bouye should play major roles for Denver. Don't discount, though, the impact that Chubb and Callahan could have on the Broncos' defense.
After disappointing seasons, both players could rebound in major fashion.
Speaking of Casey and Bouye, Donatell spoke highly of both players and what they would bring to the defense.
On Casey: "This is a great veteran in our league, and he's been a great interior player, but he adds to the pass rush. And that's really important to us, to get that push up inside with the edge rushers we have, that's very valuable."
And on Bouye: "He plays in the outside lanes, and he brings size and length. Very instinctive player. He's been very productive over the years. And he's really fit in well with our group. We didn't know that until after we got him, but he's fit in in these virtual settings. He had played with Kareem Jackson at Houston, and he's a guy who's just poured his heart out to the Broncos."
'HE'S WAY AHEAD OF WHERE HE WAS'
At this point last year, linebacker Alexander Johnson still hadn't played a defensive snap in the NFL. He joined the Broncos in 2018, but he played purely special teams in his limited time on the active roster. During Week 5 of the 2019 season, though, Johnson entered the Broncos' starting lineup and made the most of his opportunity. As a key piece of Denver's resurgent run defense, Johnson started 12 games to end the year and recorded 93 tackles, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles, an interception and five tackles for loss.
"He's sure in a better place," Donatell said. "We didn't know much about him. He was a depth player kind of fighting his way onto the roster at this point last year, and he made the most of his opportunity. He got in there and played, and we found a role for him and a way to feature his style. He kind of brings that roughneck element to our defense. So we really like where he is. I don't know how to explain it, but he's way ahead of where he was, because he's got a major role on this team right now."
'HE'S REALLY ON SCHEDULE AS A TACKLER AND A HITTER'
The Broncos added to their offense with their first two picks of the 2020 NFL Draft before they selected Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia with the 77th-overall pick.
Ojemudia, a three-year starter at Iowa, should have the opportunity to compete for playing time as a rookie — and Donatell has been initially impressed by how the young cornerback has adapted.
"We're delighted to have Michael," Donatell said. "Michael brings size, he brings speed and he can judge a ball down the field deep — and those are very important parts to a DB. He's really on schedule as a tackler and a hitter, which we know is very important to the Broncos' style of defense. How he fits in, we want him to do as much as he can as a rookie — time will only tell that. What I can tell you is he's really, really in the top part of the class, as far as his learning curve. He's picked up our scheme in a virtual sense and about as good as you'll find in a rookie. So he's off to a good start. We're just really eager to get him on the field and get started coaching him in a physical sense."