Todd Davis’ injury presents an opportunity for Broncos inside linebacker Josey Jewell

With starting inside linebacker Todd Davis sidelined by a calf injury since last week, now is the time for Josey Jewell to prove what he can do in his second year in Broncos coach Vic Fangio’s system.

“Last year, I was playing a little slow with the mental part of the game, and not just letting myself go,” said Jewell, who has been taking Davis’ reps with the No. 1 defense. “This year, I’ve gotten a lot better about that and I’m flying around the football without thinking about it too much.”

Jewell, a fourth-round pick in 2018, earned a starting role midway through his rookie season and carried that job into 2019. But he lost it after three games, when he injured his hamstring at Green Bay. Alexander Johnson eventually took over his spot and did not relinquish it.

Now, with Davis out of training camp indefinitely — Fangio said Tuesday he hopes the team’s leading tackler in 2019 will be ready to play in the season opener Sept. 14 — an opportunity has presented itself for Jewell.

“He has had a good camp so far,” Fangio said. “He’s showing the benefit of being here a second year. The system hasn’t changed much. He’s a smart player to begin with. When he knows more of all the fine things, he’s one of those players that can put it to good use… We’re pleased with where he’s at.”

Jewell, 58, had 58 tackles (38 solos) and 11.5 run “stuffs” in 459 defensive snaps in 2018, but his time on the field diminished greatly last year as he primarily became a special teams player. Jewell played 221 defensive snaps, 179 of which came in the first four games.

The former Iowa star, who tended to cattle growing up on his family’s 1,200-acre farm, said his hopes of regaining a starting job are rooted in the “hard work, toughness and communication” he learned growing up and while establishing himself as a unanimous All-American for the Hawkeyes.

“On every play, I’m trying to outwork the hardest worker out there,” Jewell said.

Specifically, Jewell is focused on being more prepared pre-snap this season in terms of understanding leverage points, coverage responsibilities and coverage help.

“That first second is where you win or lose downs a lot of the time,” Jewell said. “That’s one thing I’m trying to get better at, is the first second, and not guessing — but having a good knowledge about what could or what won’t happen.”

Jewell isn’t the only one in the Broncos’ linebacker room with an open door for more playing time. Davis’ injury was followed by the loss of rookie Justin Strnad this week. The fifth-round pick out of Wake Forest, who was competing for a backup role behind Johnson and Davis, underwent season-ending wrist surgery Sunday.

Those injuries prompted the Broncos to move Justin Hollins, a fifth-round pick in 2019, from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Hollins played in 15 games as a rookie, with no starts, and recorded 21 tackles (12 solo).

“We were originally planning on leaving (Hollins) at outside in this camp with the thought of knowing that he might be able to play inside some, particularly in nickel,” Fangio said. “Now, with the injuries that we’ve had at (inside linebacker), it’s forced our hands to do that a little earlier.”

Joe Jones (a fourth-year pro who has mainly played special teams) and Josh Watson (a CSU product who appeared in eight games as a rookie last year) are also seeing increased opportunity because of the injuries to Davis and Strnad.

But as Fangio emphasized, the Broncos don’t just want a mere fill-in behind Davis and Johnson, whether it’s Jewell, Hollins or someone else. They want a bonafide No. 3 inside linebacker who can confidently call out the defense if necessary, as Jewell will do if Davis isn’t ready for Week 1.

“We’re looking for all those guys to surface and be a competitive ILB in the NFL — one who can go in there and play and we feel fine calling our defense, and we don’t feel like we have to protect him (from mistakes) or worry about him,” Fangio said.

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