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After missing 24 games to injuries, can Broncos' Bradley Chubb be a reliable force again?

Bradley Chubb is healthy and ready to make the kind of impact he generated as a rookie, when he had 12 sacks. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- These are different times for Denver Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.

The 2018 first-round draft pick is completely healthy for the first time since he was a rookie, and he’s entering his contract year. This is the season when Chubb can reassert himself as a pass-rushing force while setting up his next contract. And it's an opportunity to distance himself from recent struggles.

"The injuries, of course, always bring you down," Chubb said. "When you’re injured, you kind of feel like you’re away from the team. You don’t feel like the person they brought you in here to be.

“I had a lot of battles with myself internally. My (family) knows, and everybody around me that’s close knows … It was a tough ride, but I’m glad I’m on the other side of it.’’

For some, Chubb is known as the player the Broncos selected instead of quarterback Josh Allen. Chubb went No. 5, and Allen was selected by the Buffalo Bills at No. 7. And it hasn’t mattered much to the critics that Chubb finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting after he collected 12 sacks, or that he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2020 when Von Miller missed the season with an ankle injury.

The toughest part for Chubb has been the injuries. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the fourth game of the 2019 season and missed the remainder of that year. Then last season, he had to have bone spurs removed from both ankles in separate surgeries, weeks apart, and he played in just seven games. As a result, he's missed 24 regular-season games and hasn’t played a full season or finished with more than 7.5 sacks since he was a rookie.

“I’ve said my main thing is playing all 17 games, having an impact in all 17 and making sure I can do that,’’ Chubb said. “Everybody knows I haven’t been the healthiest player out here.’’

The Broncos traded Miller to the Los Angeles Rams last November and then signed Randy Gregory in March to a five-year, $70 million deal in free agency – their biggest offseason move this side of the franchise-shifting trade to acquire Russell Wilson.

Gregory has never played a full season, due to suspensions or injuries, and he has never had more than six sacks in any season. He had arthroscopic knee surgery this past January and had shoulder surgery just after the Broncos signed him.

If the Broncos got this right, Gregory and Chubb could become one of the best pass-rush duos in the league.

“Bradley Chubb is going to have a monster year,’’ Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles said recently. “I have seen the moves, I’ve seen the demeanor.”

Now it's just a matter of seeing him stay healthy.

“[Chubb] is in a really good place,’’ Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “The guy just has a lot of ability -- that’s always the bottom line. And he’s healthy, and that’s going to allow him just to play at his highest level.’’

Miller always said it’s Chubb’s quickness off the snap in a 275-pound body that gives him the chance to be one of the league’s elite, if Chubb’s body will just cooperate.

“I just want to finish this year out healthy and be able to provide for this team as much as I can -- go through everything, through the highs, through the lows, and make sure I’m the same mellow-headed guy every single day and give it my best every single day,’’ Chubb said. “ … That and sacks, and takeaways, impact plays on a defense that makes those plays and wins. That’s what I want.’’

And if all that happens, the momentum might carry through the contract situation, although that’s not a subject Chubb cares to discuss.

"It’s the first offseason he hasn’t had to rehab and hasn’t had a surgery,'' Broncos general manager George Paton said. "We’re seeing the Bradley that I thought we were going to get when I got here [in January 2021]. He’s playing with reckless abandon. He’s looked as good as the year when he had 12 sacks as far as I’m concerned ... We want him here a long time.''