With inside linebacker Josie Jewell for the season with a pectoral injury, Justin Stranad has been cast in the role of Jewel and will make his first NFL debut on Sunday against the Jets.
But according to Von Miller’s scouting report, the Broncos are not expecting the situation to deteriorate. The All-Pro is based on what Stranad saw out of training at the latter’s brief training camp as a rookie in 2020, when Stranad was “on fire” before sustaining a wrist injury at the end of the season.
“Justin is a big, athletic inside linebacker, and he can cover, he can play runs,” Miller said. “With him (starting inside fellow backer Alexander Johnson), we have two big linebackers there.
“No one will be able to fill what Josie did for us. He’s just smart enough, and he can protect a runaway from behind. He can do all kinds of (coverage) stuff for us. But it’s Justin’s turn, and that’s just the league — the Next Man Up mentality. We can’t replace Josie, but we have to play to Justin’s strength and I feel very comfortable with Justin there.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Stranad is leaner and less compact and muscular than the typical NFL inside linebacker. But Stranad’s defensive coordinator at Wake Forest, Lyle Hemphill, said that body type will serve him well once he’s off to the pro game.
“He really started showing up in third place at the end of his junior year in terms of showing his versatility,” Hemphill said. “He could cover the best back in the ACC, the best tight end in the ACC, and that (speed) started in his senior year where we really highlighted him. He’s very dynamic in the position.”
It’s a huge leap from the ACC to the NFL, but having served as a student since being drafted in the fifth round in 2020, Stranad believes he is ready for his breakout. That belief is further underscored by the adversities he has overcome over the past two seasons, first through a torn biceps that prematurely ended his college career, then a wrist dislocation for which he underwent surgery last August. was required.
“Obviously when I had a wrist injury last year I was disappointed because I had never had a serious injury before I was in college,” Stranad said. “So having back-to-back season-ending injuries, it was tough but I took it as a year to learn, almost like a redshirt year. Josie was a good guy to learn from, because he’s He knows stuff, he knows the system. I took that season and this off-season as an opportunity to learn from him and (Johnson) and constantly pick his mind.
Johnson will perform Jewel’s play-relaying responsibilities by wearing a green dot on his helmet, as Johnson did in Jacksonville last Sunday when Jewel was injured. Coach Vic Fangio is confident the Broncos will have no problem with communication between linebackers.
“(Johnson) has dialed in,” Fangio said. “(Relaying Call) puts a little extra on his plate, but he’ll be fine with it.”
According to Stranad’s high school coach, Broncos Country should channel Vaughan’s faith in Stranad as well. Bob Hudson, who coached Stranad at East Lake (Palm Harbor, Fla.) and was in a Jaguars game last Sunday, said the opening opportunity for the 25-year-old “will be good for him and the Broncos.” Stranad made seven tackles against Jacksonville in 23 defensive snaps.
“He plays well in the box, can already run well into coverage, and on Sunday I saw him get some ground (across the field) and make some plays,” Hudson said. “He’s going to step into that role with everything he can to meet that challenge. He’s very opportunistic, and he’ll make the most of it.”