Ever since Vic Fangio arrived as the 17th head coach in Denver Broncos’ history, fans and media alike have questioned whether the roster features the prototypical off-ball linebacker that the defensive wizard’s scheme demands.
The Broncos have two incumbent starters at off-ball linebacker — Todd Davis and Josey Jewell. Jewell is entering his second season as a pro, after the Broncos selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Iowa.
Jewell’s rookie campaign was promising. He started nine games in place of an injured Brandon Marshall, which was more playing time than the team brass likely expected Jewell to receive as a rookie.
Fast forward to year two, however, and Jewell is now learning a new defensive scheme under Fangio’s watchful eye. The good news for those who doubt Jewell’s fit with Fangio’s scheme is the fact that Fangio liked Jewell in the 2018 draft and studied his tape as a potential fit in Chicago.
With the Broncos kicking off the second week of OTAs, Jewell addressed whether he’s a fit for Fangio’s scheme, which typically demands it’s off-ball linebackers to be speedier and able to turn around and run in coverage.
“I hope so. Only he can answer that one,” Jewell said on Monday. “I definitely hope that’s what he’s looking for. I’m definitely working on a lot of parts of my game here today and through these OTAs.”
Since Fangio took the job in Denver, the coach has been asked multiple times about Jewell. Each and every time, Fangio has lit up at the mention of Jewell’s name — in so much as the brusque, all-business Fangio lights up over anything.
There’s little doubt to me that Fangio believes Jewell is a fit for his scheme. Jewell is a very similar player as former Wisconsin stand-out, and San Francisco 49ers third-round draft pick, Chris Borland.
Borland was selected and groomed by Fangio to take over for the then-recently retired Patrick Willis. Jewell’s skill-set and measurables bear a striking resemblance to Borland’s. However, Borland ended his NFL career early due to concerns about concussions, with no small amount of media attention.
But in the one year he played under Fangio in 2014 — the coach’s final campaign in San Fran — Borland totaled 107 combined tackles (84 solo), a sack and two interceptions, while only starting eight games. Jewell’s going to be just fine in Fangio’s system but there will be differences in responsibilities and assignments, compared to last season.
“There are just small tweaks,” Jewell said. “We are still running the same style of defense if you want to say that. There are just different types of coverages, different kinds of drops, different kinds of man alignments and stuff like that. It’s small little tweaks and different communications styles.”
Fangio’s base scheme shares the same type of attacking philosophy that the previous regime inherited from Wade Phillips. At the coverage level on the back seven, however, it’s very different and very multiple — for a reason.
“With a bunch of different coverages that he has and the way he disguises things, sometimes a quarterback is not going to know what you’re in and not going to know where to pick on you at,” Jewell said. “Say you’re in Cover-3 and he thinks you’re in man or something like that. He’s not going to be able to pick it out and know exactly where to go right away and have those quick throws.”
Although Fangio has 19 years of NFL experience as a defensive coordinator, his specialty is the linebacker position, where he started. That means that Broncos’ LBs Coach Reggie Herring occasionally gets a little help and additional input from his boss during practice. Jewell and the linebackers love it, though.
“Maybe he walks by us a couple extra times during practices,” Jewell said. “I don’t know (laughing). He might say a couple more things here and there. I think the criticism is good when we pretty much have two linebackers coaches like that. We have Coach Herring and then we get a little extra from Coach Fangio if he feels the need. I think it’s good we’re getting two sets of eyes on us and really getting a lot of work.”
Herring has his own bonafides, having won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015 and surviving now another coaching regime. There’s a reason Fangio chose to retain him in Denver to coach his pet-project position.
At the end of the day, fans shouldn’t worry about Josey Jewell fitting with Vic Fangio. They are a fit. And call it a ‘bold prediction’ if you want, but the second-year linebacker is poised to have a phenomenal and productive season under Fangio’s tutelage.
Like all Broncos’ defenders, Jewell figures to benefit from the ‘Fangio bump’. But the young linebacker also brings his fair share of ability and football IQ to the table, which Fangio will help shape and mold into a formidable tool to bludgeon opponents on gamedays.