Bradley Chubb was easy to find last year. Right outside linebacker. Two-point stance. Period.
And it worked for Chubb, who was selected fifth overall by the Broncos. He led all NFL rookies and was tied for 14th overall with 12 sacks (also a franchise rookie record).
But more should be expected from Chubb this year and more will be required for the Broncos to climb into AFC West contention.
“Overall (improvement), that’s what you want to see,” general manager John Elway said recently. “Even though he played very well his first year, you (should) see a big jump in confidence.”
To help fuel the next step, new coach Vic Fangio may have multiple new wrinkles for Chubb.
It makes complete sense to add layers to Chubb’s job description. Last year represented a soft transition for Chubb, who played as a 4-3 defensive end for North Carolina State but became a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Broncos.
Per the Denver Post’s game charting, Chubb had 38 1/2 pass-rush disruptions (12 sacks, seven knockdowns and 19 1/2 pressures) in 844 snaps. All but three came when he started the play as the stand-up right outside linebacker (92.2 percent).
Chubb had two disruptions starting from the left outside linebacker spot (including a clean-up sack to start the Seattle game) and a hit when he lined up at left defensive end.
The Broncos kept him at one spot and he used three moves: The bull rush to get into the left tackle’s pads, the speed rush to win around the corner and the inside stunt to knife by a guard.
As the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator last year, Fangio said he “did a lot of work” evaluating Chubb even though the Bears did not have a first-round pick. Coaches being coaches, they always take a look at the top guys just in case. Fangio’s work became beneficial when he was hired by the Broncos.
Fangio used that baseline of knowledge to provide some hints during his two media sessions last week. As a potentially elite pass rusher, moving Chubb around the line of scrimmage to probe match-ups in concert with Von Miller could be a boon for the Broncos.
Could Chubb line up inside of Miller on the same side?
“Sure, that’s a possibility,” Fangio said. “I think he obviously has the ability to play on the edge of our defense, but I will also be interested to see how much we can move him around. And if It fits what we want to do in that regard, I think he can.”
Versatility has become a Fangio buzzword. He wants cornerbacks who are able to play inside and outside. He wants safeties that can play in the box and deep middle. He wants defensive linemen who can play end and nose tackle. And having Chubb and Miller at his disposal will give him myriad options.
“I do get excited about it,” Fangio said of scheming pressures for Miller and Chubb. “But until we see them on the field and how 11 all can fit together, anything we might want to draw up (is something) we’ve probably already drawn up in the past.”
Translation: Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell may not reinvent the pass-rushing wheel, but it could look new to Broncos fans.
What Fangio shouldn’t do is use Chubb in coverage. A player at 269 pounds is built to move forward, not track a smaller man in coverage or back-pedal into a zone.
What Fangio should do: Everything else.
Use Chubb as a hand-on-the-turf defensive end, which was his college position, allowing Miller (or another rusher) to line up on his outside hip to give opponents a pick-their-poison option. … Use Chubb as a floater in a stand-up position, use pre-snap deception to make the center and two guards guess where he will be rushing. … And for a change of pace, use Chubb as an interior defensive lineman on third down to see if his power-to-speed can catch a center off balance.
Using Chubb inside would eliminate him getting chipped by a tight end before engaging with the left tackle. Sure, he would face a center-guard double team, but that means one of his teammates has a single matchup.
Twelve sacks was a good start for Chubb as a rookie. But it should be just that — the start.
“For him to make a big jump and improve from Year 1 to Year 2, I think he’s very capable of that,” Fangio said. “He could play outside backer like everybody knows in the nickel. He’s a guy you can sync down inside and play some as a d-lineman. I’m anxious to work with him and see how versatile he might be.”
Said Elway: “Especially with the type of guy he is with how much football means to him and how great he wants to be, I’m sure we’ll see a big jump from him.”