ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Positioned in the middle of the field, inside linebackers are often referred to as the quarterbacks of the defense. They have a clear vision of the offensive formation and can line up accordingly, typically calling for adjustments right before the snap. Getting a good read on the offense can often be the difference between giving up a big play or making a defensive stop.
With such a crucial responsibility, inside linebackers must be able to communicate effectively with each other and with the rest of the defense.
Inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Jonas Griffith, who have played nearly every snap together with the first-string defense during training camp, understand how important it is to be on the same page. They are in constant communication throughout each play, analyzing the offense and moving the defense around.
"It's been going well," Jewell said of playing with Griffith. "Communication is still coming along; you can never be perfect on that end. It's definitely coming along, [and] pre-snap communication and post-snap communication are getting a lot better, too. It's been good and with a new player out there, it's always a little bit of an adjustment, but I think we are doing really well together so far."
Jewell and Griffith are in sync despite never having played on the defense together in a game. Griffith, who was dealt to the Broncos ahead of the 2021 season after playing on the 49ers practice squad, only saw special teams snaps until Week 14. Jewell was one of multiple linebackers who suffered season-ending injuries last year, and Griffith was eventually called upon to fill in.
The duo took a lot of snaps together back during OTAs, and it has continued through the first 10 days of training camp. Facing a Russell Wilson-led offense is no easy feat, particularly for a second-year player like Griffith, who noted that his communication with Jewell is helping him develop a better understanding of the game.
"I'm around [Jewell] 24/7 with camp going on right now, but on the field I think we get most of our chemistry going on," Griffith said. "[On Saturday] we were talking about a play on the sideline, and we read it perfectly off each other's mind. I said, 'Okay, I'm here, you'll be here.' You know, just having that live rep with each other kind of gives us that confidence that we can get the trust [between] each other."
Both Jewell and Griffith have made key plays during training camp. Jewell broke up a pass on a backwards dive on Monday and recorded a tackle for loss during a run play on Tuesday, while Griffith seemed to record a sack on Monday and had a near-interception in Thursday's two-minute drill.
With their vision of the field and constant involvement in plays, they have established themselves as leaders on the defense. For Jewell, a fifth-year player who signed a new two-year contract with the Broncos in the offseason, having the trust of the coaches and front office to lead this group means the world.
"[The contract] makes me feel good about it," Jewell said. "It makes me feel like I don't have to worry about [my job] too much, even though I still am. There's always a worry about it. You can never be comfortable, and you can never be complacent. It makes me feel refreshed that they wanted me back, they wanted me to be in the middle of the defense, [to] be controlling things [and] communicating between everybody. I appreciate that and hopefully we take advantage of that."
Griffith, who has endured a difficult journey to earn an opportunity with the first-string unit, said that working with his teammates during training camp has helped him feel much more in sync with the defense.
"[I feel] substantially more comfortable," Griffith said. "I feel a lot better with the reps with the [starters] — getting those mental reps during walkthroughs and the reps out here with the guys … I think we're just jelling together just perfectly at the right time."
The harmony among the defensive players has paid off, as Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said on Saturday that he believes the defense has had an edge over the offense so far during camp. It is not just Jewell and Griffith who have made plays, but a variety of defenders at all different position groups.
That success, regardless of who makes a play, all starts with the inside linebackers and how they read the offense. As long as Jewell and Griffith continue to communicate effectively, the entire defense should keep reaping the benefits.