Health is paramount for the Denver Broncos this season after the team dealt with a multitude of games lost due to injury last year. If the Broncos plan on making a run this season, they’ll need consistent contributions from their outside linebacker position.

Randy Gregory is fully healthy for the Denver Broncos heading into training camp

The Denver Broncos are hopeful that Randy Gregory’s presence this season will be full-time. Last season, Gregory was a disruptive element of the Broncos’ defense through the first four weeks of the season before he suffered a torn meniscus that required him to have surgery and miss a good portion of the season.

He returned in Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals but was still trying to get his feet back under him after missing the previous 11 weeks. He played in Week 16 against the Los Angeles Rams before the team shut him down for the year’s final two games, considering the season was lost.

Gregory enters training camp fully healthy, which is a great sign going into the year. Last year, he missed most of training camp after having arthroscopic shoulder surgery, but this year he has no limitations.

During OTAs, Gregory looked good. Lean, athletic, quick, and strong. As it currently stands, he’s the only guaranteed starter at the outside linebacker position going into camp. Who starts opposite of him will be an interesting storyline to follow.

A look at the Denver Broncos depth at outside linebacker

Aside from Gregory, the Broncos currently have eight other players competing for a spot at the position. Baron Browning was the projected starter opposite Gregory heading into this season, but he may start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list after having surgery on a partially torn meniscus.

Browning’s timeline is currently up in the air, but once he returns fully healthy, he’ll be a significant contributor on defense. After playing his first full season in the NFL as an edge rusher, Browning has all of the elite athletic traits, a quick first step, and a ridiculous bend that will make him an effective pass rusher. Whether he returns as the starter or first option off the bench will be interesting to follow.

Due to Browning’s injury, the Broncos signed former Kansas City Chiefs pass rusher Frank Clark. Clark’s experience at the position and post-season success are valuable things to add to the Broncos’ outside linebacker position room that was impacted too often last season by injuries.

The Broncos’ newest addition has appeared in over 120 career games and has started in 88 of them. While Sean Payton has disclosed that he’ll play outside linebacker, it wouldn’t come as a shock if he were to play defensive end this season opposite of Zach Allen. Going back to the post-season, Clark has come up big when the games matter the most, accounting for 13.5 career post-season sacks — including 2.5 sacks in last year’s post-season, where the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.

Jonathon Cooper is one of the more interesting names to watch at Broncos Camp because he was consistently the most impressive player on defense throughout OTAs and minicamp. Training Camp will be different than OTAs because the pads will officially come on, which makes evaluating a player’s performance easier for a coaching staff, as Payton has eluded to.

Cooper’s relentless effort and disruptive nature off the edge have benefited the Denver Broncos’ defense for the past few seasons, and a possibility exists that he could end up starting opposite of Randy Gregory this upcoming season. Over the course of his tenure with the Broncos, Cooper has exceeded every expectation of him as a seventh-round draft pick.

He’s appeared in 30 games and has started 14 of them in the past two seasons. In those 30 games, Cooper has tallied 4.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and 23 pressures while playing 45 and 47% of the team’s defensive snaps in his first two seasons. That sample size alone is impressive and suggests that Cooper could very well emerge as one of the Broncos’ top players at the outside linebacker position.

Nik Bonitto is one player many Broncos fans want to see take the next step forward. The former late second-round draft pick only played 35% of the team’s defensive snaps last season, despite the position group dealing with various injuries.

The soon-to-be second-year player contributed 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and six quarterback pressures last season, which is impressive in such a small sample size and limited reps at the position. He’ll have to continue to make progress as a natural pass rusher and work toward being a consistent edge defender against the run.

He’ll get every opportunity during training camp and the preseason but will have extensive competition behind him.

After missing last season due to injury, last year’s undrafted rookie free agent Christopher Allen and this year’s undrafted rookie free agents Marcus Haynes and Thomas Incoom will also add to the position room’s depth. With the NFL changing the roster cutdown deadline from 90 players to 53 after the third and final preseason game, the Broncos will have plenty of flexibility when determining how they want to manage a potential preseason rotation.

One of the other names to keep an eye on is Aaron Patrick. Patrick returned to form during OTAs after suffering a torn ACL last season in Week 6. He turned in an impressive offseason program and will likely maintain his spot as one of the Broncos’ top special teams players returning from last year.

Right now, Cooper and Patrick have more experience and consistent production on special teams than any of the Broncos’ other pass rushers at outside linebacker. This gives them an advantage heading into training camp, and if Patrick maintains his position from last year, he’ll likely be guaranteed to make the roster.

Whether or not the team decides to carry five or six players at the position going into the regular season will be one of the storylines to watch.

Denver Broncos outside linebacker overview

Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper, Frank Clark, Aaron Patrick, Nik Bonitto, Christopher Allen, Marcus Haynes, and Thomas Incoom make up the Broncos’ depth at outside linebacker going into training camp.

Storylines to watch

  • Will the Broncos carry five or six players at the position into the regular season?
  • Can the Broncos stay healthy at outside linebacker?
  • Will Nik Bonitto carve out a bigger role for himself?
  • Will Frank Clark start at outside linebacker or play defensive end?
  • If Randy Gregory stays healthy, will he become a double-digit sack producer on defense?
  • Can. Baron Browning further his development into a potential elite-level outside linebacker?

What’s next?
The Denver Broncos will report for training camp on July 28 at the Centura Health Training Center.

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