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Fangio notes: Why didn't Alexander Johnson play earlier?

Von Miller's performance Sunday drew tepid praise from his head coach.
Credit: AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Carson, Calif.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Alexander Johnson made such a noticeable impact at inside linebacker Sunday in the Broncos’ 20-13 defeat of the Los Angeles Chargers, it stirred wonder as to why he had not played earlier.

Johnson did get considerable playing time with the Denver first-team defense during training camp and the preseason in place of the injured Todd Davis.

But then through the first four regular-season games, and with Davis still injured through the first two games, Johnson didn’t get one defensive snap. Not one.

It was clear through his nine tackles against the Chargers that he can stop the run. So why did it take Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette to rush for 190 yards in the second half against the Broncos a week ago for Johnson to finally get his chance?

Broncos head coach Vic Fangio offered a thorough explanation.

"He’s a young guy who needs to master his craft a little bit better, meaning assignment-wise and details, but I always knew he was going to eventually get in there somehow, someway because he does have talent," Fangio said in his usual day-after-game press conference Monday – but first following a game in which his Broncos won. "The worst thing you can sometimes do with a guy like that is get him in there too early for a lot of reasons. One, he might not be ready, and he might think he had it made.

"He needed to earn some stripes on the special teams and improve there. I had a feeling he would go in and play well yesterday. Now, was he perfect? You saw a lot of good plays, but the plays you didn’t notice—there were some accidents ready to happen that didn’t get exploited and he needs to clean those up. That’s part of the reason, not the only reason, that he hadn’t played much earlier."

Fangio did say Johnson and defensive tackle Mike Purcell, who also got his first start of the season Sunday, would do so again this week against the Tennessee Titans.

"They both played well enough to continue," Fangio said.  

Von evaluation

Fangio is always going to push Von Miller. That might be a novel tactic around these parts but that’s how Fangio does it.

It was suggested to Fangio that Miller played well against the Chargers even though he didn’t have a sack. The coach tapped down the hype a tad.

"He was close a few times," Fangio said. "I thought his rush was OK. I think he’s capable of better, but he was coming free some and did help the pass defense in that way.

"Run defense was up and down a little bit and made some good plays. A lot of stuff was away from him. It was kind of uneventful."

Hollins, Bausby to miss time

A league source told 9News that linebacker Justin Hollins suffered a low-grade sprained knee and bone bruise in the first half of the game Sunday and will miss a week or two.

Cornerback De’Vante Bausby is also expected to miss time following the neck injury he suffered when he was inadvertently clobbered by Johnson as both were trying to tackle running back Austin Ekeler.

The good news for Bausby is he experienced no concussion symptoms. There was a compression in the cervical area that will require some rest.

Question is, can the Broncos carry two cornerbacks – Bausby and Bryce Callahan – on their 53-man active roster even though both are injured enough to sit out a couple more weeks?

The Broncos are pleased with how two young cornerbacks they picked up, Duke Dawson and Davontae Harris, are coming along. But Isaac Yiadom continues to slide down the depth chart despite the injuries. Fangio said the team will look at possibly adding a cornerback but such a decision probably wouldn’t be made until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Let it go, Diontae!

At least twice in the still young season, Broncos punt returner Diontae Spencer retreated back from his spot at the 10-yard line and caught the ball inside the 5. And at least twice, the Broncos’ offense started in a hole.

Maybe three years of playing in the bigger field Canadian Football League has distorted Spencer’s perspective.

That doesn’t mean those punts wouldn’t have stayed in play rather than bounce into the end zone. But we’ll never find out.

"He’s not doing what he’s been coached to do there," Fangio said tersely.

Bronco Bits

There’s a chance the Broncos will return right tackle Ja’Wuan James and inside linebacker Josey Jewell from injuries this week. James missed four games with a sprained left knee. Jewell missed the past 1 ½ games with a hamstring injury. The question with  Jewell is how much playing time will he get following the emergence of Johnson. …

Now it an be told. Miller was supposed to fill the gap on Fournette's 81-yard run last week, but Fangio said there was good reason why his outside linebacker couldn't get there. 

"He was grossly held on that long run that we gave up last week right at the point of attack as was verified (by the league office)," Fangio said. ...

The Broncos will hold their Ring of Fame ceremonies for cornerback Champ Bailey and late owner Pat Bowlen this weekend. This year, the Ring of Fame celebration will combine with the Broncos’ Top 100 Players team.

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