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Caden Sterns ready to replace injured Kareem Jackson as Denver D takes on explosive Chargers

Sterns: "At dime things happen a lot faster. At safety, you have a whole picture, like a panorama so you have some time to react.’’
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos safety Caden Sterns (30) is congratulated by defensive back P.J. Locke (37) after intercepting a pass during an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. Denver won 30-16. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Kareem Jackson, unquestionably the most physical 183-pound player in the NFL, finally unleashed a little much toll on his neck and shoulder area during the Eagles’ game a couple of weeks ago and is not expected to play Sunday.

This is a concern as the Broncos face one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses in the Los Angeles Chargers, who not only have a fantastic young dual-threat quarterback in Justin Herbert but they are in a rare time when their top weapons Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Eaton’s own Austin Ekeler are all healthy.

The Broncos are counting on Caden Sterns, a fifth-round rookie from Texas, to step up from his substitute dime backer role and replace Jackson as the starting safety opposite Justin Simmons.

“Obviously Kareem Jackson’s a great player so just want to follow in his footsteps and make sure that if he doesn’t play then we’re on the same track and there’s no fall off,’’ Sterns said Friday from the Broncos’ outdoor podium that is usually reserved for coaches and starting players.

Sterns is more of a Simmons’ type in that he’s a terrific ball hawk and playmaker. Jackson, a Houston Texans’ cornerback for most of his 12-year career, has evolved into a hard-hitting box safety in the second chapter of his career with the Broncos. It will be difficult for Sterns to duplicate Jackson’s impact against the run but he has younger legs to cover in space. And as a dime backer, Sterns does know how to play in the box.

“I know with Caden he’s more than capable,’’ Simmons said Thursday. “It’s been great getting to work with him from OTAs all the way up until now. He’s been in the mix in some of our different packages and he’s played a good bit. I don’t think it’s going to be too much for him at all. And I think he’ll do well if he has an opportunity to play on Sunday.”

The difference between his sub-dime role and starting safety position?

“One would be communication,’’ Sterns said. “At dime you take commands. At safety, you have to communicate a little bit more, depending on what the call is and personnel and stuff like that. And at dime things happen a lot faster. At safety, you have a whole picture, like a panorama so you have some time to react.’’

There may be a play or two when his panoramic view will no doubt take in a Herbert scramble, or Herbert pass off a scramble.

“He’s a gunslinger,’’ Sterns said. “Obviously, he can throw it. Obviously, he’s athletic as well. Sneaky speed. And he’s got pretty good threats on the outside (Allen and Williams) to help him and a running back (Ekeler) who is very versatile.’’

Sounds like Sterns is ready. Vic Fangio, the Broncos’ head coach and defensive play-caller, was asked about his confidence level in Sterns filling in for Jackson.

“Really high,’’ Fangio said. “We like Caden. Caden’s done well for us and we think he’ll go in and play good if he has to.”