For Broncos LBs, what will life after Josey Jewell look like?

Jul 8, 2024, 8:50 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2024, 1:44 am

Not having Josey Jewell around takes some adjustment. And no one has to adjust more than returning inside linebacker Alex Singleton.

By the end of their second season as a linebacker tandem, the two didn’t even need to speak to communicate. A pre-snap gesture or even a look exchanged between the two veterans was enough to get them on the same page. And with both working at the core of the defense, they were able to use that foundation to get others properly aligned before the snap.

But Josey Jewell is now a Carolina Panther, having signed there in March to reunite with former Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

“Josey leaving, I’m happy for him. He got a lot of money, so, that’s all you can ask for your friends,” Singleton said. “But it’s obviously different. We shared a lot last year, just back and forth.

“Now, I can step up and take a bigger leadership role, not just in our room, but on the whole defense. And where we’re at age-wise on defense, I have to do that. So, yeah, it’s good.”

It also forces some adjustment.

“I mean, you can ask Jonas (Griffith) and Cody (Barton) and Justin (Strnad), those guys that I’ve taken reps with. There’s times I’m like, ‘Hey, Josey — I mean, whoever is out here,'” Singleton said.

“You know, it’s just so natural, to have played with him really the last two years.”

When Singleton arrived, he was the newcomer battling for playing time with Griffith alongside Jewell, who was the constant. Now, that baton passes to Singleton — who must be ready for whatever the coming competition reveals in training camp.

Any one of them — or perhaps others — could align next to Singleton in Seattle this September.

“I think all of those guys,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said during minicamp. “We have a young guy from Fresno [Levelle Bailey]. All three of those guys are competing at ‘mike’ (linebacker). We’re rotating their reps, much the same way (as) quarterback. We’ll continue to do that.”


Signed just after the Broncos lost Josey Jewell, Barton seemed to be the putative replacement.

A 2019 fourth-round pick of the Seahawks, Barton became a full-time starter for the first time last year with Washington. While he struggled at times against the run, he blossomed in coverage.

“We saw he had a chance, really for the first time in his career, to play a large part of his season as a starter. So, we saw that,” Payton said.

“We saw the good; we saw the things that weren’t as good. We always knew that he was an ‘A’ special teams player. The vision became easy relative to, ‘Hey, he comes in and competes for ‘mike,’ and we know he’s someone that also can play a core four (special) teams role for us. …

“Cody was someone that we got to see more defensive snaps from last year than at any point in his career. So there was a clear vision relative to, ‘All right, what he can do at linebacker and then what he can do in the kicking game,’ and he’s young.”

But …

“There’s open competition there, and we have Jonas, we have like three or four players that we’re going to rotate through,” Payton said. ” Again that’s one where once the pads get on, I think it will be a little bit easier to evaluate.”

To that end …


If he is, that gives the Broncos at minimum valuable depth, given that he possesses starting experience from his work in 2021 and 2022 prior to a season-ending injury.

Griffith looked to be completely healed from his torn ACL suffered last year in training camp.

“I mean, I definitely have room to grow from conditioning and everything, but I’m 100 percent,” Griffith said last month. “I participated fully in OTAs and minicamp, and honestly, my knee feels better than it did before. …

“It’s great, man. And I have no pain. And I’m itching.”


Veterans Justin Strnad and Andre Smith are both known more for their special-teams prowess. Smith, who signed with the Broncos last month, has been a core special-teamer throughout his career. Strnad hasn’t played a defensive snap since 2021, when he made five starts.

There could be room for both, even if neither is a significant factor on defense. The new rules on kickoffs — which make them more like punts in terms of how they’re played — could favor bigger players, leading teams to use more linebackers at the expense of cornerbacks and wide receivers on kickoff coverage.

Undrafted rookie Levelle Bailey, a Fresno State product, was also noted by Payton during OTAs. At 226 pounds, the proof will come when the Broncos don pads; if he flourishes, he could be the surprise of the position group.

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