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Carolina Panthers

Taking the long way home, Jewell arrives to his new team

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CHARLOTTE—Josey Jewell woke up in the dead of night. He and his wife, Micole, hit the road at 2:30 am, driving through the Iowa fields, two hours to the nearest airport. Jewell had agreed to terms earlier in the week with the Carolina Panthers, for the free agent to join Ejiro Evero's defense as middle linebacker.

Carolina wanted Jewell in the building as soon as he was able, to make things official, so he was going to get there right away, even if it meant a long night, a longer day and taking the long route.

Even Jewell's one day journey to Bank of America Stadium though was emblematic of his path to this point in the NFL. Always willing to go a little farther, do a bit extra, put in the work plus some, just to get to where he wants to be.

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Growing up, before Jewell could leave for school, much less sports, he would head out to the farm. Each day, he'd do his part to help his family on their 1,100-acre farm. He and his wife, along with their two young children, built their forever home within a short drive of their family, still taking part in the work when the NFL calendar allows.

"So we had a cow operation about anywhere from 120 to, I think they're almost up to 200 sometimes," Jewell said of his family's farm, which his parents still run. "And then they have turkey, organic turkeys and sometimes they get 16,000 in one flock and then they got about 1,100 acres and I think, like, 700 acres are tillable."

The chores were every day, and especially during the summer. But that's just the way of the farm. The work comes first, everything else comes second. And it set the precedent for Jewell's football career.

In high school, Jewell became a star. As a senior, he led his team in rushing, receiving, scoring, tackles, interceptions, interception yards and punt returns. He completed the only pass he attempted, intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles. He played all three phases of the ball, and was named MVP after leading his team to a state championship in 2012.

"I grew up in a small town so there was, I guess, we did a bunch of different stuff," Jewell recalled. "If you're a good football player, you could play a bunch of different positions, which was fun for me to play the offense and defense side of the ball."

Despite all that, he was a two-star recruit with offers from only two schools; Iowa and Northern Iowa. He went with the Power Five school, and the kid who willed his team to a state championship, sat on the sidelines for the first time in his playing career. But Jewell was used to taking the extra time to reach a goal, familiar with the process of working twice as hard as everyone around him. He spent his redshirt year adding weight, and accessing the game.

By the time Jewell left Iowa, it was as an unanimous All-American, a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (for best college defensive player in the country) and after being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Josey Jewell

After arriving in Denver as a fourth-round pick, Jewell was set to be a backup linebacker, developing behind veterans. Injuries ahead of him on the depth chart put Jewell on the fast track though. Coupling a starting role with his penchant for working twice as hard, he became a full-time starter by 2020. Along the way, he used his past to help play in the present.

"It's nice that I did play running back, back in the day, to understand what running backs are somewhat looking at, understanding their gap integrity, where they're looking to run zones and stuff like that," explained Jewell. "So, it's always good to have that in the back of my brain."

Now in Charlotte, Jewell reunites with Evero. The linebacker's best year came under Evero in Denver, in the 2022 season. That year, Jewell finished with 119 tackles, 2.5 sacks, four passes defended and two interceptions.

"He's a calm DC that talks to you very well and understands how to display his defense verbally and up on a board," Jewell said of Evero. "He can draw it out, he can talk it out very well. Everybody knows it, everybody understands it well. And our job as a middle linebacker is to communicate that to other guys and it's fun to play it. You can play a very instinctive, very fast. You don't have to think, you can just go. So I'm excited for that."

It also means he'll play behind a line that now includes Derrick Brown, Shy Tuttle and A'Shawn Robinson. Jewell has posted 100-plus tackles all three seasons in which he started each game he played. The idea of playing behind a lineman that could reach that number as well is almost unheard of—"I don't think I've reached that one yet. So that'll be interesting"—and could lead to a few barters between Jewell and Brown—"There's always a competition that's for sure"—but ultimately is one of the things the linebacker is looking forward to most this season.

"I'm excited. The guys in front this year are gonna be pretty fun to play behind. So I've already talked to the, the D line coach and other guys and it's exciting," Jewell said.

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Next, he'll talk to the rest of the locker room. And in typical middle linebacker fashion, he'll focus on establishing lines of communication within the defense.

"You've just got to open up," said Jewell. "I think that's the biggest thing and, you know, I'm from a small town so sometimes it's a little hard to do that. But, I've learned that over the years meeting new people, meeting new coaches, new players on the team, you've got to be able to open up and let people know who you are."

It's no surprise Jewell would take the long way to Charlotte, literally on a Thursday morning in March, and figuratively. The work, the effort, the patience, it's all he's ever known. So using that same approach with his new team, if Jewell's history is any indication, will pay dividends.

Said Jewell, "That's the best way to really, truly understand your teammates and have them understand you and be able to communicate with them daily and have them trust you and you trust them. And that's the biggest thing in this game for me is trust. And to be able to do it every single down is, that's very important."

View action shots of linebacker Josey Jewell throughout his career.