ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Chicago Bears compiled the best scoring defense in the NFL in 2018, then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio helped install Roquan Smith as the anchor of the Bears’ defense.
The eighth-overall pick missed all of the team’s offseason workouts and the beginning of training camp due to a contract dispute, but Fangio folded Smith in on the fly — and the results followed.
Smith played all 16 games — starting 14 — and tallied 121 tackles, an interception, five passes defensed and five sacks.
And though the Bears’ defense featured several playmakers that included Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, Smith played a pivotal role in the center of the unit.
As Fangio approaches his first season as Denver’s head coach, the Broncos could soon find themselves with a similarly impactful player at linebacker.
In his first mock draft of the offseason, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah predicted the Broncos would take LSU linebacker Devin White — and he added Monday that Fangio would likely use White in the same vein as Smith.
“That’s the blueprint for how you would use him,” Jeremiah said.
Smith and White have similar accolades — they won the Butkus Award, given to college football’s best linebacker, in consecutive seasons.
But the 6-foot-1, 240-pound White could be even more athletic. In Jeremiah’s latest prospect rankings, he said White was his ninth-best player available in the draft.
“White has what teams are looking for at the position: the ability to run, cover and blitz,” Jeremiah wrote.
That could be key in the Broncos’ hopes to improve their defense in 2019. Jeremiah, who spent the season doing radio coverage of Los Angeles Chargers games, said he saw firsthand what can happen when teams have linebackers that can play the run but not the pass.
“When you have linebackers that can’t cover … it’s a liability,” Jeremiah said Monday. “You will get picked on repeatedly. It’s tough to hide out there when you have a linebacker that can’t cover. So to me, you start right there. [White]’s going to be able to run and cover and help match up against some of the better tight ends and even some of these backs [with] how they’re used in the passing game. That’s a huge asset.”
And then, when you add Fangio’s schematics to White’s skill set, that’s when the fun could really begin.
“Vic has a way [where] he can cut it loose as a blitzer, too,” Jeremisah said. “He’s outstanding. Not only blitzing inside but coming off the edge, [White]’s got a good feel. He’s got real strong hands.
“So I think he’d be a big-time difference maker there for the Broncos.”