Denver Broncos | News

Justin Hollins 'off to a good start' as he learns inside, outside linebacker positions

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When most rookies arrive to their new NFL team, the coaching staff slots them at a singular position.

That doesn't mean they can't move later — or learn other positions — but the stability can give them an initial launching point.

Count second-round pick Dalton Risner among those players. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Friday that Risner will eventually learn the center and tackle positions, but Risner will begin his career by settling in at the guard position. 

"You want to give a guy early in his development a home," Fangio said. "Then once he fills that home, or proves that that's not his home, then we'll move him around."

At least as his Broncos career begins, though, fifth-round pick Justin Hollins will have more than one home.

The Oregon product has rotated between inside and outside linebacker as the Broncos' coaching staff figures out the best fit for the versatile rookie.

"It's a credit to the type of kid he is," Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said after Saturday's practice. "You usually don't do that with a young player. He had a really good background, similar background with the defense he played in college. [Outside Linebackers Coach] Brandon Staley came to us with the idea. He thought he could get it done. He's done a great job getting him ready. It's been some productive days to see him and just get an idea how he can possibly help our defense at a couple positions."

Hollins has participated in individual drills with the outside linebackers during the first two practices of rookie minicamp, but Fangio said Friday that Hollins also practiced with the inside 'backers during the portion of practice that was closed to the media.

There's no indication — at least right now — that Hollins' rotation between the two positions will end. Donatell said Hollins may end up playing both spots for the Broncos on a consistent basis.

"Certainly he can do both," Donatell said. "There's a possibility he can do both. But he might only do parts of each of those or maybe one full time and part of another."

Fangio said Friday that Hollins practiced at inside linebacker when the Broncos were in their nickel defense and moved to outside linebacker in their base package.

Hollins' 6-foot-5 frame makes him taller than most inside linebackers, but Donatell said height is just one way to measure if a player can be effective at inside 'backer. Most tall players can have trouble bending, which Donatell said is an essential skill at a position that requires quick change of direction. 

Hollins, though, has the ability to bend.

"He has the bend and he's versatile and he picks things up so fast that we can take on that task with him," Donatell said.

Hollins has tried to aid the coaches' efforts by spending time watching film and reaching out to defensive backs and inside linebackers for advice.

"I'm pretty familiar with the system already, and Coach has got me in the playbook and we're in the meeting room getting after it," Hollins said Saturday.

Though the Broncos see Hollins' potential, inside linebacker is still a relatively new position to him. Hollins said Oregon had a few packages for last season's bowl game that would feature him at inside 'backer, but their opponent never showed the formations that would trigger that defensive response. 

That means Hollins' only recent game reps at inside linebacker came during the pre-draft all-star game circuit.

But Hollins said the Broncos were just one of several teams during the draft process to see him as a potential inside-outside player.

 "I'm going to play anywhere they need me," Hollins said on April 27 after being drafted. "I'm one of those guys who is just going to get in and play where ever I am needed, whether that is special teams, inside, outside — it doesn't matter. I am here to compete. I am here to play as hard as I can and provide the team with some type of impact."

So far in Denver, he's been needed at two positions. And through two days, Donatell has been pleased with the way Hollins has responded.

"[Staley] saw a vision for the guy, and we're off to a good start," Donatell said. "Again, it's still very, very early. It's great to have these days with him. We'll just try to get to the next day."

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