ENGLEWOOD – With a rash of injuries at inside linebacker, the Denver Broncos went searching for a suitable fill-in, and they didn’t have to look very far.
The Broncos moved third-year safety Jamal Carter up this week to help out at a position that’s been thinned by injuries to Todd Davis (calf), Josey Jewell (oblique) and Joe Jones (triceps).
“Right now, it’s temporary, but if he looks good in there it will be permanent,” coach Vic Fangio said. “It’s twofold. Our numbers have gotten low there and he’s always wanted to play in there, so the timing was good. He wants to be in there.”
Carter, who spent last season on IR with a torn hamstring, jumped at the chance to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
“I’ve been wanting to play this since high school and college,” said Carter, who grew up in Miami and played 50 games for his hometown Hurricanes, all at safety. “I like being in the trenches. I’m a physical specimen. I don’t like being too deep away from contact. It’s going to fit me.”
In some ways, though, Carter feels like a rookie again.
He has to read and react faster than when he was deeper and had a fuller view of the offense, but he said the bigger adjustment is “getting all the checks at the line and the language because the DBs and the LBs have different languages. So, I just have to learn their language.”
Jewell’s return to action this week helps out in that regard.
Switching positions at the pro level is a tall task, as teammate Brendan Langley is discovering as he moves from defensive back to wide receiver in his third NFL season.
“I mean, it is what you make it,” Carter said. “If you think of it as being hard, then it’s going to be hard. If you relax and enjoy the process and attack it, it’ll be all right.”
Carter said he’s always been an inside linebacker at heart.
“At safety, I liked being down in the box, I didn’t really like being in the post – I mean, it was nothing to me. I could do it all,” Carter said. “But I like being more in the box.”
Linebacker is one of two positions ravaged by injuries during training camp. The Broncos also have been hit hard at tight end, losing rookie Austin Fort to a torn ACL last week at Seattle and seeing Jake Butt (knee), Bug Howard (ankle), Jeff Heuerman (shoulder) and Troy Fumagalli (hip) all miss time.
Carter made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017, when he led all Denver defenders with 19 tackles, including 13 solo in a superb preseason. He played in every game that season, contributing key plays on special teams as well as in the secondary.
He tore a hamstring last summer, robbing the Broncos of one of their hardest hitters.
Fangio said he’s relying on the eye test as he evaluates Carter at his new position.
“You kind of know what a linebacker should look like in the NFL,” Fangio said. “And (I’m) just looking to see if he looks like that, because he doesn’t know everything right now, what he’s supposed to do. But obviously all the DBs think they can be linebackers until somebody fires out at them, one of the guards or tackles. So, see how he handles that, too.”
Carter insists he’s been preparing for this contact and this challenge since he was a kid.
“I was always aggressive because I grew up with a lot of uncles and older cousins in one house,” Carter said. “So, they used to always punch on me, rough me up, wrestle me. There was always a fight in our house every day. But at the end of the day we’ll hug each other and be all right.”