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Broncos’ Bradley Chubb embracing “humbling” experience of torn ACL as defense throws a pair of rookies into the fire

Denver Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb pulls up after a play early in the fourth quarter as the Denver Broncos take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver on Sept. 29, 2019.
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb pulls up after a play early in the fourth quarter as the Denver Broncos take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver on Sept. 29, 2019.

Bradley Chubb tore his left ACL on Sunday, seven years to the day since he sustained the same season-ending injury while in high school.

The Broncos outside linebacker — who admitted crying upon receiving the news that his second professional season would be cut short after four games — took that as an omen. After posting a franchise rookie record 12 sacks last year, Chubb said the injury is “a humbling experience” that’s re-stoked his fire.

“That (high school injury) made me who I am today,” Chubb said. “I was in the hospital bed not knowing if I was going to get college offers and look where I am now. I can only imagine what this injury is going to do for me.

“I’m happy this actually happened to me because I feel like in life, I was getting a little too complacent. With 12 sacks as a rookie, it’s hard to keep that same grind. This is going to get me back to being the same guy who was hungry to get college offers, and who was hungry to go out and prove everybody wrong.”

Chubb hasn’t decided on a surgery date yet but is expected to miss the rest of the season. His injury occurred early in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville, and, after getting checked out on the sideline, he returned to the game. Despite waking up Monday with stiffness in his left knee, Chubb didn’t think it was anything serious and was surprised when X-rays and an MRI exam revealed the partially-torn ACL.

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Now, the winless Broncos (0-4) have a huge void to fill in Chubb’s absence.

The 23-year-old played 93% of the Denver defensive snaps this season, recording 20 total tackles (15 solo) and one sack.

Currently, the next men up to replace Chubb are a pair of rookies — Malik Reed (undrafted) and Justin Hollins (fifth round out of Oregon). The Broncos have also added veteran linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, whose signing was announced Tuesday after he worked out for the team.

A former second-round pick by the Chargers in 2014, Attaochu, 26, was among the Kansas City Chiefs final cuts in training camp this summer. He has 12 sacks in 49 games for the Chargers and New York Jets.

“(Reed and Hollins) don’t have to do anything spectacular — they just need to do their job every play, over and over at a consistent rate,” cornerback Justin Simmons said. “The plays they need to make will come to them, so they just need to find ways to make them. They don’t need to go out there and be spectacular and be Chubb. They need to be their own player.”

Reed and Hollins have combined for seven tackles and one sack this season. Hence, it’s a big ask of either player to replace the production of Chubb, a defender equally apt at playing the run or pass who also draws blocking attention away from Von Miller.

Denver’s defense, already third-to-last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 149.3, was gouged for 225 yards by Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette on Sunday.

Reed showed well at training camp to make the roster, while Hollins has played both outside and inside linebacker this season.

“They’ve been here for a while now, so ready or not, they’ve got to get thrown into the fire,” defensive lineman Shelby Harris said.

Meanwhile, Chubb intends to be a locker room and sideline leader over the final 12 games. After the loss to the Jaguars, verbal sparring could be heard through the locker room doors.

“The way I look at it at least: I’d be a little bit concerned if after an 0-4 start, especially after the loss we had to Jacksonville, if guys weren’t a little frustrated,” Simmons said.

“Coming into the locker room, obviously things got heated, but it all comes from the understanding of trying to win a game. We’re all in this and we pour our hearts into it every week to go win a game. You can imagine being up 17-3 and then blowing that lead and losing that game at home and you’re already off to an 0-3 start — frustration was at the highest. … We’ve looked past that now. It’s been addressed. We’ve talked as a team. Now we’re focused on getting win No. 1 in L.A.”

Left tackle added. In addition to signing Attaochu, the Broncos acquired offensive tackle Calvin Anderson off the New York Jets practice squad and waived inside linebacker Keishawn Bierria.

Anderson, an undrafted rookie, played at Rice and Texas. For the Longhorns last year, he started all 14 games at left tackle.

Bierria was waived after training camp but re-signed two days later. He likely became expendable because Joe Jones is nearing a return from a triceps injury sustained Aug. 8.