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Mile High Morning: After Randy Gregory's injury, Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto have big shoes to fill

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The Lead

With Randy Gregory on injured reserve after he suffered a knee injury against the Raiders, the Broncos will rely on their reserve pass rushers to step up — particularly outside linebackers Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto. While replacing Gregory's production is no easy feat, Bradley Chubb expressed confidence in the backup players' ability to fill in.

"When I've got guys like Baron … and Nik around me, I know I don't have to [do too much]," Chubb said. "... I've got guys around me that are still going to bring it, same production, do the same things. I know that we've been practicing all throughout camp, all throughout OTAs, and those guys are going to play hard. I know it's going to be one of those things that, we're just going to have to stick together as a group, make sure everybody's on the same page and do the things we know we can do as outside 'backers. We call ourselves the playmakers, so we've got to continue to do that."

Browning, a second-year player who moved from inside to outside linebacker in Year 2, showed throughout training camp and the preseason how dominant he could be on the edge. In three preseason games, Browning recorded a sack for a 12-yard loss, four total tackles, one tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Browning is expected to get the start in Gregory's place, and Chubb said he is up for the challenge.

"I know he's going to step up," Chubb said. "I know he's going to be that presence on the edge that Randy was. ... With Baron, I just know he's going to fill into that role and do the same things. I've seen it in practice, I've seen the freaky athleticism that he has and stuff like that, so I'm not worried about a drop in anything. I know that he's going to do everything that we ask of him."

Bonitto, the Broncos' second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma, was a prolific pass-rusher in college. As is the case with most NFL rookies, Bonitto is still developing and adjusting to the professional level — but his teammates believe he has what it takes to become a great player in the league.

"I can't wait to see him grow, evolve as a rookie," Chubb said. "I feel like you get better with the more time, the more plays you get, and he got a couple here and there throughout the season. So, I can't wait to see his role expand and see how he responds to having good games, having bad games, good plays, bad plays and just rolling with the punches. I know he's going to do everything he can to make sure he's available every week, and I'm going to make sure I'm being a leader in that room and making sure that guys are up to the challenge each and every week."

Bonitto has taken limited snaps during the regular season, and now he has a big opportunity in front of him. When asked if the pass rusher would be ready for an increased role, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett was clear: He needs to be.

"He has to be ready," Hackett said. "It's that simple. He's a young guy, and he's played in some big games in college, and we're excited to see him get out there. He's developed every week, he's gotten better and better. Even in practice, his practice habits have gotten better. As [with] any rookie, there's a process of learning how to be a pro, a process of learning throughout everything, so it's just going to get better."

Below the Fold

After a tough week against the Raiders, the Broncos' defense has a great opportunity to bounce back against the Colts. NFL.com's Michael Florio noted that fantasy football managers should start the Broncos' defense with confidence in Week 5.

"The Broncos have been the 10th-best defense in fantasy through the first four weeks of the season," Florio wrote. "But they have a chance to be much better than that this week against the Colts, who have allowed the second-most fantasy PPG to opposing defenses (11.5). The Colts have allowed the fourth-most sacks (15), the most interceptions (five) and third-most fumbles (four) through four weeks. Additionally, Jonathan Taylor is dealing with an ankle injury and is up in the air on a short week. The Broncos have a shot to be one of the top scoring defenses in Week 5."

The Unclassifieds

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