Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Nate Irving (56) against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Broncos‘ Executive Vice President of Player Personnel, John Elway took to the podium on Friday at the 2013 NFL Combine in Indianapolis to address many pressing questions about the 2012 Playoffs, the upcoming combine and draft, and the future of the team beyond 2013.
One of the biggest question marks and areas of need reside at the middle linebacker position. The Broncos have a long tradition of great players at the middle of the linebacking corps.
Whether it was the likes of (should be) Hall-of-Famers Randy Gradishar and Karl Mecklenberg in Joe Collier‘s legendary 3-4 defense or more recent versions of the 4-3 with heart-and-soul guys like Al Wilson and Allen Aldridge, the Broncos have had the peace of mind in knowing that the middle of their front seven for the better part of three plus decades was in good hands.
Since the premature retirement of Al Wilson in 2008 (he played his last game Denver in 2006) of a neck and various other injuries, the Broncos have a hard time filling that spot with the level of excellence they had come to expect.
The question of the state of the Middle Linebacker position came up during the presser:
”I believe where we are with Steven Johnson and Nate Irving, we’re excited about those two. I know it’s been a topic of conversation, but we drafted Nate two years ago in the third round to be the guy that took over at middle linebacker. So I’ve got a great deal of confidence in the fact that he’s going to come in, once he’s given that responsibility, that he’ll step up to it. I think if you look at where the league is and where we are, 65 percent of our snaps last year were nickel. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of that position, but nickel is so important, too. As I said, I think Nate will step in. He did a tremendous job for us on special teams, and I think he’ll step in, in the competition with Stevie Johnson, who was a CFA for us. They’re both guys very capable of handling that job.”, Elway said.
A short time later, a question about maybe the most ubiquitous topic of the entire combine and draft was directed at Elway: Notre Dame ILB Manti Te’o.
“I just want to talk to him. Personally, I don’t get caught up in everything that is swirling around him. I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking to him. I know him as a football player. He’s a very good football player. He’s going to have a successful career in the NFL. I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking to him.”, said Elway.
Te’o's availability at the 28th selection will be largely determined on how he scores at the combine, as much in the written test as in the physical drills.
“No. 1 for me is competitiveness in these guys. How competitive are they?”, professed Elway, one of the most competitive players to ever step on a football field.
Whichever direction John Elway and the Denver Broncos take in relation to the anchor spot of the defense, no stone will be left unturned in returning the position back to its historical greatness in the Mile High City.