ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At the Broncos' eighth practice of training camp, their third straight in full pads, I focused on pass rusher Bradley Chubb during a team period of the practice. On two consecutive plays, Chubb used a power rush against starting left tackle Garett Bolles. Heading into the next snap, Chubb had the former first-round pick set up where he wanted him. His approach was identical to the first two, but Chubb quickly put his right foot in the ground and cut inside while pushing Bolles to the outside, immediately touching quarterback Joe Flacco (you can't hit the QB in camp) just two steps into his drop and forcing the play to be blown dead.
Chubb is coming off a rookie season in which he finished with a remarkable 12 sacks -- that's 2.5 short of the rookie record set by Jevon Kearse in 1999, but still the most by a rookie since 2011, when Aldon Smith had 14 -- while admittedly not being entirely comfortable with everything that comes with life as an NFL player. Even after being selected fifth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and going on to have a season like that, Chubb is hardly a household name. Yet, he didn't seem to care when I asked him about the lack of national attention he's getting heading into his second season.
"Other people's opinions," Chubb said while shrugging the shoulders that broadly sit atop his 275-pound frame. "If they want to put me in the national spotlight, it doesn't matter to me."
If you know Chubb or have spoken to his parents, you would understand he truly doesn't care. He was raised not to seek the spotlight, on the field or off. Maybe that's why it's relatively unknown that while Chubb was in college, he helped establish the Chubb Foundation with his older brother to give back to children. Yet, in less than a full season in the NFL, attention was unavoidable as he made a quick impression on opposing teams.
Before the Texans traveled to Denver for their Week 9 matchup last season, Houston head coach Bill O'Brien, while addressing the entire team during a meeting early in the week, made a point to mention Chubb by name to show the impact the rookie could have on their game plan if they weren't prepared for him.
Even if Chubb doesn't desire it, it appears N.C. State's all-time sack leader could be destined for stardom in 2019. NFL fans might not have seen it last year, but he has a very marketable personality. It was on display in college, when he stole Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant's towel not once, but twice during a game.
"Now I'm more comfortable," Chubb said. "I'm going to do those little antics. I feel like I'm going to start doing some of the stuff I did, like talking to guys before the play is snapped and stuff like that. A few different things. But just because I'm more comfortable now, I can really open up and be more who I am."
Add the fact that newly appointed Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, who was the architect of Chicago's top-ranked defense a season ago, has Chubb -- not superstar Von Miller -- in the role Khalil Mack played in his Bears defense last season.
"It's his physical tools," newly signed Broncos cornerback Kareem Jackson told me. "He's a guy that has the complete package. He can set the edge and stop the run, he can rush the passer. It's rare that you can find a guy that has both of those traits. Sometimes you have a pass rusher and sometimes you have a run-stopper, but he's kind of built to do both, and he's kind of putting that on display, especially last year. And this year, looking forward to seeing it up close and personal."
Jackson knows a thing or two about watching a great pass rusher work. During their eight seasons together in Houston, he watched teammate J.J. Watt win three Defensive Player of Year awards.
"Chubb] can put his hand on your chest, and you will literally move about 30 steps back," [Broncos safety Will Parks said while demonstrating by putting his hand on my chest. "I've seen Von do it, but when Chubb does it, it's like, 'OK, that's a little bit different.' Chubb is doing it nonstop. Von will hit you with so many different things. Chubb will tell you he's going to put his hand on your chest and still move you. That's the difference. It's insane."
Chubb has always had upper body strength, and the long arm punch has been a go-to move since his sophomore year of college. It helped him become the second defensive player off the board in last year's draft (after the Browns selected cornerback Denzel Ward fourth overall), but his focus this offseason was perfecting it. He is taking that move, along with several others, to another level of precision, working constantly with a variety of experts across the country to better his feet and his hands.
"He can push somebody, for sure," Bolles said, after we talked about the aforementioned three-snap sequence. "And I think he's young enough he's going to get to the point where he's so finesse, like Von. And his mindset is so good, and you never really know what he's going to do. He can beat you around the edge, or he can also knock you on your butt. So, he really has a one-two combo to his game that is incredible."
When I asked Chubb about the sequence of setting up Bolles, he smiled. Told me how his favorite aspect of pass rushing is the game within the game. He compared it to a work of art.
"I feel like you got to do it from the jump," Chubb said of setting up linemen. "One of the things I like to do is just stick to a certain rush the whole game and do one rush, do one rush, do one rush, and I do it like three or four times in a row, and then work something off of it. I feel like people are all different, whatever they do. I feel like I might want to switch it up, because guys might see that on film, that I do a certain thing, but I like to set guys up from the very first one."
All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. also had praise for him: "Oh, his talent is off the charts. He definitely has the talent to be a superstar. We need him at the Pro Bowl with us."
The "us" Harris is most likely talking about refers to himself and Miller. Miller has been to seven Pro Bowls, along with earning three first-team All-Pro selections, and is well on his way to having his signature glasses immortalized on a bust in Canton.
A few years ago, Denver boasted one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen en route to winning Super Bowl 50. It showcased a brilliantly talented secondary and a one-two pass rush from Miller and veteran DeMarcus Ware. Could the 2019 defense in Denver have a similar attack, with Miller (now the vet) and Chubb having spent some time learning from one of the best pass rushers on the planet?
There are certainly aspects of Miller's game Chubb has taken note of. The way Miller uses different techniques to aid his recovery, or the different approaches he takes during the week to gear up for Sunday. You might be surprised that there is much more of a mutual dialogue between the two, as opposed to just a teacher working with a student.
"I mean, at the end of the day, he's one of the greatest to ever do it," Chubb said of Miller. "And I'm still trying to learn different things from him. Even sometimes, he asks me, 'What are you doing over there?' We learning off each other, I feel like. He's been in the league, this is just his ninth year, and I feel like the game is also changing. And I feel like it's changed from when he was a rookie until now. So for me to come in, and me seeing different things that maybe he might not see, so just asking me different things.
"I feel like we're just working off each other. Of course, there are going to be those big brother-little brother moments, where I'm asking him different things, because like I say, he's one of the best to ever do it."
Chubb has the physical tools, talent, work ethic and mental makeup -- plus a perfect mentor -- to become a dominant force in the NFL for the next decade. He has written his goals on his bathroom mirror -- he won't reveal them -- and they'll remain there until the Broncos' season ends, whenever that may be.
I'm going to guess that being recognized as one of the best young pass rushers in football isn't listed. However, if it were, there's a good chance it could be crossed off after the 2019 season.