The Denver Broncos felt they had a versatile chess piece in Justin Hollins when they drafted him, and he’s proving them right so far.
The Denver Broncos had a plan for rookie linebacker Justin Hollins before they even brought him into camp.
New outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley, who came over to the Denver Broncos along with Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell from the Chicago Bears, envisioned Hollins becoming a versatile weapon for the Broncos’ defense, and is quickly making that vision a reality.
The Broncos had Hollins in town for a pre-draft visit. They got to know him and probably grilled him on his understanding of the position he plays but perhaps also positions he would play.
Just like every other team, the Broncos had to be intrigued by Hollins’ combination of size — he’s 6-foot-5, 250 pounds — and speed (4.50 in the 40-yard dash), but unlike most teams, the Broncos have a defense that fits Hollins based on what he did in college.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said at Broncos rookie minicamp months ago that Hollins was not only capable of playing multiple positions in their defense, but he also played in a defense at Oregon similar to the one Denver runs.
“It’s a credit to the type of kid he is. You usually don’t do that with a young player. He had a really good background, similar background with the defense he played in college. [Outside Linebackers Coach] Brandon Staley came to us with the idea. He thought he could get it done. He’s done a great job getting him ready. It’s been some productive days to see him and just get an idea how he can possibly help our defense at a couple positions.”
Ed Donatell (quotes via Broncos PR
The foundation and groundwork that was laid in rookie minicamp and OTAs has paid off tremendously, as Hollins already has cemented himself as a top backup off the edge behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He’s also already running with the top defense when they go to the nickel at inside linebacker.
Hollins was flexed out in coverage early and often in training camp, lining up in man coverage against tight end Noah Fant and other times split out way wide like a cornerback.
It’s a testament to Hollins’ adaptability and athleticism that he’s capable of doing this, but he’s not just getting thrown out there to the wolves. Hollins was actually excelling in the practice reps I saw. He didn’t win every one-on-one, but it’s clear he’s capable of sticking with faster tight ends in coverage and his fluidity as an athlete allows him to do that.
His phenomenal upper body strength allows him to put his hand down and play in the trenches if need be as well.
The Broncos not only got themselves a potential matchup player in coverage, but they also got a guy who brings elite speed and strength off the edge as a pass rusher.
Despite the fact that Hollins is not a finished product, he’s working overtime to make sure he can help this Broncos team both as an inside linebacker (not his natural position) and as a pass rusher (his natural position).