Denver Broncos camp battles: Predicting who starts inside linebacker next to Josey Jewell

NFL training camp competitions are the ultimate meritocracy. In the sweltering summer heat, players compete as coaches ultimately select the most capable athlete for the starting job.

From the players’ perspective, these are two dogs fighting over a bone with the winner’s financial future rising and the loser’s lifespan in the NFL in question. On the pristine grounds of the UCHealth Training Center, the camp battle process will begin for the Denver Broncos.

General manager George Paton knows the Broncos face off in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. The second-year general manager bolstered the Broncos’ ability to compete by acquiring quarterback Russell Wilson and adding reinforcements at outside linebacker, defensive tackle and slot corner.

Paton opted to re-sign reliable inside linebacker Josey Jewell to a two-year, $11 million deal, leaving the other slot up for grabs. Who will start next to Jewell? Let’s break down the candidates.

Alex Singleton

The former Philadelphia Eagle signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with additional performance incentives of up to $750,000. Singleton began his career in 2016 as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks.

The journeyman has been on five NFL rosters and spent two years in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders. Last season with the Eagles was Singleton’s most notable year.

Like the titular Jewell, Singleton is a smart player with a flair for football. In 2021, as a starting inside linebacker for the majority of the season, Singleton led the Eagles with 94 solo tackles.

He’s shown a gap in pass coverage, but Singleton’s superpower lies in his special teams prowess. He was selected by his Eagles teammates and coaches to be team captain last season. His ability to help resurrect the Broncos’ abysmal special teams unit is one of the main reasons Paton took a chance on Singleton.

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Jonas Griffith

Griffith began his time in the league in 2020 as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers. After bouncing between the Niners and Indianapolis Colts, Griffith was acquired by the Broncos in a trade last year.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defenseman gained significant playing time in 2021 due to season-ending injuries to Denver starters Jewell and Alexander Johnson. Meanwhile, Griffith seemed to gain confidence in the scheme which helped him take steps forward in his run-stopping and pass-defending abilities.

In his first year of significant playing time, he earned a 75.9 run stoppage rating and 55.4 pass coverage rating via Focus on professional football. Griffith’s high level of play could be a contributing factor in the decision to move Baron Browning from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.

Projected winner: Griffith

The biggest threat to the Broncos not making the playoffs is the high-octane passing game of their AFC West rivals. A linebacker who can hinder the production of Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs or Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders will be key in determining who emerges victorious in the camp battle for starting linebacker.

Griffith’s ease in playing in a similar defence, along with his athleticism and quickness (4.62s), give him a clear advantage.

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