BRONCOS

George Paton hasn’t been afraid to return to his roots for help

Oct 27, 2021, 6:32 AM
Stephen Weatherly...
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Saddled with a decimated linebacker corps that’s seen a whopping 10 players go down with injury — more than teams even carry at the position — new Broncos general manager George Paton went to the well once more.

Paton, the assistant GM for the Minnesota Vikings from 2012 until he was hired by the Broncos this spring, has consistently looked to bring players that he was familiar with in the Land of Lakes to the Mile High City. From quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to running back Mike Boone to defensive lineman Shamar Stephen, Paton’s been adding players that he doesn’t need a scouting report for; players that he’s already worked with and seen the results firsthand.

Edge rusher Stephen Weatherly became the Broncos latest Minnesota import, as the 27-year-old Vanderbilt product was acquired along with a 2023 seventh-round draft pick for Denver’s 2022 seventh-round pick on Saturday.

On Tuesday, in his introductory presser next to the Broncos Dove Valley practice fields, Weatherly made it clear that his history with Paton is, in large part, why he’s with Denver today.

“The relationship we developed my first four years in Minnesota was just (how) he saw me come up (as) a seventh-round pick,” Weatherly explained. “I can get in on the defense and special teams. He knows my work ethic. He knows I like to grind, and I like to compete. That really helped in bringing me here. I’m always for new opportunities. I was really excited, because that meant I was going to go somewhere and have another shot to prove that I can do what it takes to play in this league.”

Weatherly, now in his sixth season, understands that Paton’s given him an opportunity that he’s never had during his NFL tenure — a clear shot at significant playing time — and he doesn’t intend to let the opportunity pass him by. That means absorbing whatever he can from future Hall-of-Famer Von Miller and adding it to what he’s already learned from his teammates with the Vikings.

“I spent a long time behind ‘D’ (Danielle Hunter) and ‘Griff’ (Everson Griffen_, and now I’m coming here and seeing another elite pass rusher who’s gifted in a whole other arena,” Weatherly said. “I’ll get to see how he moves, how he looks at offensive tackles, and how he breaks down film. Luckily, there was a spot in the OLB room right next to him, so I snagged that one. I just want to be a sponge.”

The Broncos will need him to be. The Vikings can’t supply the Broncos with all the players that they require due to their remarkable spate of injuries; Weatherly and new addition Kenny Young — acquired on Monday in a trade with the Rams — will have their opportunities as soon they’re ready. Weatherly started cramming for his test as soon as he arrived at Dove Valley.

“(Linebackers) coach (John) Pagano sat me down on day one after he shook my hand, and was like, ‘All right, let’s go through this film,'” Weatherly said, while nodding his head. “I grabbed a notebook and tried to write down as much as possible. (Injured Broncos linebacker) Andre Mintze played at Vanderbilt, so I got on the phone with him — an outside linebacker — so he can try to coach me up and give me some pointers that he used to try to learn the playbook. It’s definitely between the ears at this point.”

Since losing Bradley Chubb to injury earlier this season, the Broncos have been constantly looking for help rushing the passer, while swimming upstream as the injury report grew ever longer. Despite the presence of Malik Reed opposite Miller — who’s status for Sunday’s game against Washington is up in the air after suffering what was termed a “minor” knee injury against Cleveland — Denver needs more size and strength, as well. Weatherly knows that’s where his 6’5″, 265-pound frame comes in; calling his play “physical” on Tuesday.

“I love putting my hands on people in the run game. In the passing game, it’s the same thing; move tackles backwards and then work off at the end, compress the pocket and work together with my dudes on the inside,” Weatherly explained, noting that he already works well with another one of Paton’s Minnesota imports. “Shamar, who I played with, knows how I pass rush — and we read off of each other really well. At the end of the day, it’s about building that kind of chemistry with everyone else, and to (know) that, ‘He’ll come in and he’ll thump.’ I want the guys to know that about me as we come out here and practice.”

During this spring’s draft, Paton mentioned the special-teams potential of every player he selected after the third round. Weatherly’s shown Paton that he can succeed at that role in Minnesota. So as a Bronco, if that’s what it takes again to get on the field, he’s all for it.

“Anything, honestly. Wherever coach sees me playing and fitting in, I want to get out there and do it full speed; special teams and defense,” he said. “I need to go out there and show the coaches that I have an understanding of the playbook. Then after that, it’s a really important step to earn the trust of the guys on the field. If the other 10 guys don’t trust you to be in your gap, to do your assignment, then they’re going to hesitate doing their job. This whole week is about showing the coaches that I understand it, and proving to my brothers that I can go out there — and you don’t have to worry about me if my number is called on.”

The Broncos don’t have much choice, and they can’t afford to wait long, anyway. Weatherly’s on the same schedule; he ended his time at the Dove Valley podium with an audible whoop of excitement and clapped his hands loudly as he left the podium, raring to go.

***

Shawn Drotar (@sdrotar) is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn,” airing weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.

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George Paton hasn’t been afraid to return to his roots for help