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Justin Strnad brings versatility, high football IQ to Broncos

Fifth-round linebacker ready to make strong impression
Posted at 2:12 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 02:31:01-04

DENVER -- Justin Strnad is comfortable in front of the camera. Zoom or otherwise. He has long had interest in the media.

However, no need yet to become a broadcaster with a career waiting as an NFL linebacker. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Strnad brings athleticism and breathtaking burst as he tries to carve out as a role as the Broncos' fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft.

In Denver7's latest installment of Meet The Picks, which airs Wednesday at 6 p.m., we learn about Strnad, a potential gem from Wake Forest. Strnad grew up a huge football fan, first in Chicago and later during his impressionable youth in Tampa, Fla. He regularly attended Buccaneers camp, and now the reality is sinking in that he will be a member of one later this month if the season starts on time.

"So obviously that Bucs' Super Bowl run was crazy. My brother and I would go to their camp. I was hoping we could mix it up and he could visit me at my camp this year if allowed," Strnad told Denver7. "This year's training camp, the two most important things are: one coming into camp in good shape. We have been on our own here, and have been for months. I have to be in great shape and hit the ground running. And, secondly, I have to have a good understanding of the playbook. I am not going to sit here and say I have it down pat because we need those physical reps. But I have to be ready."

Strnad remains an interesting addition. The Broncos elected not to add a veteran inside linebacker to challenge Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson for playing time. And they let safety Will Parks exit as a free agent, signing with Philadelphia. Strnad brings hybrid skills that could help him find a niche in coverage given his range in space and resume of big hits.

However, it will be a challenge. He's learning a new scheme.

"I didn't play in a 3-4 in college. So it's a little different terminology. Where I fit is either (inside linebacker) spot. We have Todd, A.J. Josey (Jewell), Joe Jones, Josh Watson, a great group. I see myself fitting in that group. I need to find a way to help wherever, whether that's on special teams or on third down against tight ends," Strnad said. "We have some of the best tight ends in all of football in our division. So it's going to be an interesting year for sure."

Versatility is critical. Especially for rookies who experienced an upside offseason.

"The thing with Justin, you’re going to see the speed and explosion to the players that are in the coverage areas whether it be DBs or linebackers," Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "He brings that coverage element and the adaptability to match up with some great offenses in our division.”

Put on Strnad's game tape, and you can practically hear his motor running at redline acceleration. As he became confident with more playing time, Strnad played faster. And his intensity never wavered, a testament to his ranking as a team captain.

"When you watch me play, I think you are going to see someone who loves football. I will be playing with 100 percent effort I will always give the game everything I have got," Strnad said. "I believe I am an intelligent player. I believe I can anticipate things. That’s what I am looking to do at the next level. But obviously I need to get the playbook down. I am hoping I am able to do that as soon as possible because nothing would be better than to contribute to this team in year one."

Strnad is no stranger to special teams. And if he's not a true backup and cast as a utility player, this will prove critical. He played special teams for three years at Wake Forest.

"The two most important things in special teams are technique, one, and effort, honestly. A lot of the guys don’t want to put a lot of effort into it," Strnad said. "In college you are dealing with tempo offense with 100 snaps. If you aren’t playing a lot of snaps, you should be fresh and be able to get quick and be able to make some plays."

Growing up in Florida, Strnad didn't follow the Broncos closely. His introduction them, like many players his age, was watching the Broncos' demolish the Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 victory. Being a teammate with Von Miller was a pinch-me moment. And earlier this offseason, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning provided advice on a Zoom call with the rookies.

"The day before he was on, some guys were saying to make sure to be ready to take notes. I am thinking it’s going to be a finance meeting or what to do with your money. Then Peyton Manning pops up. I am texting my dad and trying to sneak a snap chat with my friend, 'Look at this I am zooming with Peyton Manning,'^" Strnad said. "He talked to us about really treating practice like it's the game. It might not be a good day everyday, but you have to put everything into everyday in each practice. That was something he was really big on."

As a football junkie, Strnad has embraced his experience. He has spent time training with his dad -- they put a bench press and other weights in his garage -- and worked out at local park with a childhood friend.

"I have always been around sports my entire life, and I am a big, big football fan. I would like one day to have an opportunity to build a team, a championship roster or be in the media," Strnad said. "But I have time for that later. My focus is on helping the Broncos in any way I can."