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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – If the Denver Broncos can scrape, clever or push themselves into the off-season over the next seven weeks, a trade before Halloween will at least have played a role.
The Broncos’ defense was flooded with injuries in October, especially with inside linebackers when Kenny Young arrived from the Los Angeles Rams, and his expressway move to the starting lineup has been a marked boost.
As general manager George Paton put it: “This guy has a lot of juice and I feel like we need a little more juice. He can run, he’s athletic … he’s causing some disruption.”
Young, a fourth-year linebacker, has caused some disruption to opposing offenses, but has settled things on the Broncos. He has gone from playing 56% of the defensive snaps against Washington a few days after arriving in week 8, to 66% of the defensive snaps against the Dallas Cowboys in week 9 to 97% of the defensive snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles this week 10, just before the Broncos’ farewell.
Young had started all seven games for the Rams this season before the surprise trade that also prompted the teams to swap draft picks in the late round. It came at the right time for the Broncos, who saw both inside linebackers – Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell – go on injured reserve in four weeks.
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Jewell sustained a chest injury in Week 2 against Jacksonville and Johnson suffered a chest injury in Week 6 against the Raiders.
“Wow, [Young] was just around the clock, “said Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. He came in and it was a crash course. … I think the arrow will keep going up and up and up. “
Young’s quick start has been aided by a knowledge of the Broncos’ system. He spent the 2020 season with then-Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, after Staley had just spent three years on the staff of Broncos coach Vic Fangio (two in Chicago, one in Denver).
“[Fangio] has been … helped me tremendously – just allow me to play honestly, “Young said. I think he has this confidence. I’m just excited I got here and I was able to help the team very, very early. [I will] keep learning, learn from him, and just keep building this thing with my guys. “
Young has 11 tackles in his three games, including a fourth-down stop in the first quarter of the win over Dallas. His inner linebacker position is important to the Broncos’ current defensive plan, given how much time they spend in the nickel (five defensive backs), because he often has the task of defending the race with only six players in the tackle box.
“Kenny has played a lot of football, he picks things up,” Fangio said. “… The position, inside the linebacker, there is a lot in what we do, a lot to learn, harder than the other places in the top seven, so for him to get into the schedule he was, was really good “I felt like I met him the day he came here, and then he was on rotation for training like an hour later.”
Young has been traded twice in his career since the Baltimore Ravens selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. The Ravens had sent him to the Rams in 2019 as part of the deal to acquire cornerback Marcus Peters.
He joked in recent weeks when asked to be swapped twice before even playing out his first NFL contract that “I think I’m a likeable guy.”
Young, who is in the final year of his original deal, will be an unlimited free agent by the end of the season and has shown enough to put the Broncos in a position to make some choices. Young, Johnson and Jewell are all scheduled to be among the team’s list of unlimited free agents.
It’s all weeks and months along the way, but Young has already at least considered it.
“I actually do. I actually do, man,” Young said when asked if he could see himself rewriting with the Broncos. “… I’m from the Louisiana country, so being out in LA for six years, it’s a lot calmer. … I’m definitely seeing myself here in the long run. It’s a special place to be – good coaches, great players, and just the atmosphere for a linebacker and for a defensive player – that’s one of the places you definitely want to be. “