Broncos roster: Justin Strnad picking up where he left off last year?

Denver Broncos roster: Justin Strnad: Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos roster: Justin Strnad: Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

As the team assembled for OTAs in June, it was great to see the majority of the Denver Broncos roster in attendance. It wasn’t like the Broncos had a bunch of players with contract disputes show up for offseason work, but the team had so many major injuries in the 2020 season and most if not all of those players were out on the field in some capacity for offseason work.

One of the players on the Denver Broncos roster who was expected to play a big role as a rookie in 2020 was former Wake Forest linebacker Justin Strnad, a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Strnad didn’t get very far, but in the first couple weeks of training camp, he was carving out a role for himself in the Broncos’ nickel defensive package, and we know that it was a rather substantial role because shortly after his injury, the team went out and signed former first-round pick Mark Barron to take his place.

Barron, as fate would have it, never played a down for the Broncos and was hurt all year, too.

As a “redshirt” rookie in 2021, can Strnad pick up where he left off, or is he starting from scratch?

Broncos roster: Justin Strnad a factor in 2021?

Head coach Vic Fangio gave a pretty honest assessment of where Strnad is at heading into his second NFL training camp.

"Justin—other than him being in meetings last year, he really is a rookie. He got hurt last year in camp very, very early in practice five, six or seven. He’s really like a rookie on the field, but he’s doing well. We like the way he moves, and we like his attitude. He’s definitely a very conscientious player. He wants to carve out a role for himself with the defense. It’ll be critical for him to be a mainstay on our special teams. Your backup linebackers have to do that. Overall, we’ve all been pleased with Justin and where he’s at. So far, he’s shown no ill side effects of the wrist injury he had. We’re going to try and be cautious with him in that regard. Eventually he’s going to have to use it and he has been. We think the future is bright for him.Vic Fangio (via Broncos PR)"

Strnad is hungry to find a way to contribute in 2021 as the Denver Broncos — as well as every other team that faces them — struggle to find ways to consistently cover Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, among other tight ends who have seemed to feast on Denver in recent years.

The Broncos’ answer to Kelce and Waller may more likely be someone like Pat Surtain II in his rookie season rather than Strnad, but Vic Fangio can’t really expect Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson to play even close to 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps at the off-ball linebacker positions again in 2021.

A player like Strnad is going to be so valuable if he’s healthy because of how instinctive he is not only in pass coverage but also playing the run and even rushing the passer.

The first order of business for Strnad in helping this Denver Broncos roster? He’s got to stay healthy.

He suffered a biceps injury in his final season at Wake Forest and then a wrist injury in year one with the Denver Broncos. Availability and durability are two traits that cannot be coached, and the only shot Strnad has at substantial snaps in 2021 is directly tied to his physical health.

Still, it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of Strnad as well as he showed in coverage at Wake Forest. He doesn’t have elite metrics athletically like Baron Browning, but Strnad is always a step ahead and always around the football.

With training camp and preseason games on deck, this is a player to keep your eye on.