Dolphins' Chubb on a roll as he faces ex-Broncos teammates

MIAMI — Bradley Chubb just wanted to find somewhere to eat.

The then-Denver Broncos linebacker had just gotten back from London, where the team snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 30, 2022. With the Broncos' season looking like a bust, Chubb's name had been floated in trade rumors as a way to recoup a draft pick or two -- hopefully a first-rounder.

With the 4 p.m. deadline approaching Nov. 1, Chubb’s girlfriend suggested they wait it out, but he wanted to take his mind off the uncertainty of his future. They decided on Sierra, his favorite restaurant in Denver. Five minutes away from home.

Then, Broncos general manager George Paton's name flashed across the screen inside Chubb's car as an incoming call.

"I looked at her and said, 'We're going to Miami,'" Chubb said. "After that, I just had to shift my focus on this [Dolphins] team and help us win as many games as possible."

Chubb faces his former team Sunday (1 p.m. E.T., CBS), one week after his best game in a Dolphins uniform.

In a road win over the Patriots in Week 2, Chubb had a game-high seven pressures, a sack and a forced fumble -- the type of production Miami was hoping for when it sent a first-round pick and Chase Edmonds to the Broncos.

Now Chubb will have a chance to build on that performance against the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2018.

"I'm not gonna even lie to you and say it doesn't," Chubb said when asked if Sunday's game had any special meaning. "You know, it's gonna mean a lot to go out there and play a lot of those guys that I built relationships with, I called brothers for a while.

“Yes, it's a big thing, but I can't approach it like that on Sunday, you know what I mean? It's just like you said, another game, and got to go out there with the same mindset that OK, this is a team that has a scheme and is going to try to run the ball, pass the ball, and so got to go out there and just do it."

The Dolphins' 49% pass rush win rate through the first eight games of the 2022 season was the eighth-best mark in the league, but it wasn’t translating to sacks. They'd brought the quarterback down only 15 times, the ninth-fewest in the NFL in that span, and with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah out for the season with a torn tricep muscle, they needed another edge rusher.

Miami zeroed in on Chubb, who had 5.5 sacks for a 3-5 Broncos team. It was a risk of sorts. Chubb was productive as a rookie with 12 sacks but partially tore his left ACL the following year. He recorded 7.5 sacks in 2020 but an ankle injury kept him out of 10 games in 2021. In total, he missed 23 games since his rookie season, but Dolphins general manager Chris Grier wasn't concerned about Chubb's injury history -- certainly not enough to deter him from acquiring a "very good football player" at a "premium position."

"We did a lot of research and analytics looking at that as well," Grier said after the trade. "With him, obviously the ACL, but if you go around the league and look at some of the other guys that are premium pass-rushers, historically there’s been guys that have had ACLs and multiple ACL injuries, too. So with him, he’s 26 years old. He’s a tough kid. He keeps himself in great shape.

"Talking to people about him, [they] talked about his character and love for football and drive, and it matched everything we had had on him. We studied him coming out of [North Carolina State] a few years back. Listen, injuries happen. But we feel good that at his age and how he plays and the things we do that it was a risk worth taking.”

Miami signed Chubb to a five-year, $110 million extension with $63.2 million guaranteed on Nov. 3, but the results didn't necessarily jump off the page.

Chubb recorded 2.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss in seven games with the Dolphins. He was better than the surface-level stats suggest -- Chubb (19.2%) and fellow linebacker Jaelan Phillips (21.5%) ranked 13th and eighth in the league in pass rush win rate. But he felt like his best performances would come after a full offseason with his new team.

"Going through OTAs, going through the offseason program, getting closer with the guys, because football, man, the game is the game, but I feel like it’s the relationships that take it to the next level," he said. "I came in, made good relationships with guys, but I want to take it to the next level and be there when their kid gets born and they’re saying, ‘Uncle Chubb,’ and stuff like that -- take it to that level. I feel like we can do that, we’re going to do that and it’s going to be fun when it all comes together.”

Chubb spent the offseason training and bonding with Phillips, and acclimating to life in South Florida. He found a more permanent home than the condo he was renting in downtown Fort Lauderdale, got used to the traffic patterns and even found a new favorite restaurant.

The Dolphins had a busy offseason as well, hiring former Broncos coach Vic Fangio as their new defensive coordinator. Fangio felt like Chubb's tenure in Denver was marred by injury but was blunt about the young tandem he now forms with Phillips.

“They have great potential. But potential -- we got to see it," Fangio said in February. "Talking about it is easy, projecting it is easy, but we got to see it. And I’m confident knowing those two guys’ work ethic that they’ll do everything they can to put a good product out there on the field. They both have the tools. They both have the makeup to be really good players on the edges for us.”

That approach is one of the reasons Chubb called Fangio "one of my favorite coaches."

“He expects so much out of his players, and he’s going to keep it straight up with you," Chubb said. "If he calls a play and you didn’t execute, he’s going to ask you, ‘Why didn’t you execute? I put you in a position to execute. Why didn’t you?’

“So in this high-paced game we play, that’s what you need. You just need that transparency. You need somebody to be on you a little bit to hold you to that standard that we hold ourselves to."

Chubb and Phillips also keep each other accountable as their relationship grows.

“We definitely spend a lot of time getting closer off the field, and I feel that just helps on the field," Phillips said. "And I think when you have relationships with your teammates, then it just brings up the motivation and makes you want to play with them even more. I think it’s just iron sharpening iron with us.

"We’re competitive, but we’re for each other. Whether it’s the weight room, whether it’s off the field with our habits, whether it’s out here; we’re always making sure we’re on point. It’s nice to have an accountability brother when it comes to that.”

The 2023 season got off to an innocuous start -- two pressures and no sacks for Chubb in Miami’s 36-34 win over the Chargers. It's hard to be too upset after a win, but his performance didn't sit well with him.

His teammates took notice in the days that followed.

“He wasn’t satisfied and he came prepared [for New England]," linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said. "He worked his tail off all week, and you could see that he was determined. He was going to get to the quarterback, and he came out and got the sacks and hits when we needed him to.”

The coaches knew the production would come eventually.

“I think there hasn’t been a day that has gone by since we were able to acquire him that I haven’t been thankful," coach Mike McDaniel said. "Production is more of a when, not if. I think what’s unique about Bradley, and one of the reasons why we chose to acquire him, and we chose to pay him, is because he is a difference-maker that is also selfless.

“So when you’re fortunate enough to have a guy that can get sacks, but also takes extreme pride in the overall complexion of the defense and his part in it, you feel very, very fortunate to have that.”

Chubb and Fangio aren’t the only Dolphins with ties to the Broncos. McDaniel was once a Broncos ball-boy.

“There are some people with ties to the Broncos organization for sure, but one of the great things about this team is they would feel enormously guilty if they approached it with anything other than the team’s best interest,” McDaniel said. “Thinking about last year, or where you’re drafted -- I’m sure there are memories and stuff, and I will never speak for them -- but the one thing that I can tell by actions is that their primary focus is the Miami Dolphins and not their score to settle or whatever may be created in the media. That’s not really going on in-house. They are focused on this team getting better.”