One of the biggest concerns for the Denver Broncos this offseason has been the middle linebacker position. After signing Keith Brooking and Paris Lenon the last two seasons to fill a void in the short term, it’s understandable that fans were a bit uneasy going into OTAs and training camp with Nate Irving and Lamin Barrow primarily competing for snaps and the starting job at one of the most important positions on defense.
But the Broncos, as they have done in previous years with other positions with question marks, have put faith in their scouting department and saw an opportunity with two young players to create competition and let the best man win.
Right now, it looks like it’s Nate Irving’s job to lose, but Jack Del Rio spoke to the media on Friday and voiced his pleasure with the development of both players since the start of training camp. Specifically, he noted how Lamin Barrow doesn’t even look like the same guy who started camp with the team, showing just how far he’s come.
Barrow was a leader for the LSU defense the last two seasons, one of the best in the country, and comes to Denver as one of the team’s most coveted prospects in this past year’s draft.
In recent years, the Broncos have dipped into the SEC in the mid-late rounds and found defensive starters and strong role players. In the 2012 draft, they were able to come away with both Malik Jackson (5th round) and Danny Trevathan (6th round), and both players figure to have a significant impact on the Denver defense in 2014.
The Broncos also unearthed a gem at outside linebacker in former Florida Gator Lerentee McCray, a college defensive end who played somewhat out of position for Florida and is now thriving in a role with the Broncos as a potential backup to Von Miller this season.
Barrow is another guy that John Fox reportedly paced around the draft room waiting for. Obviously Denver loves his ceiling, and he might reach a point where he could see significant playing time sooner rather than later.
Irving has been somewhat lost in the shuffle since being drafted in the third round by the Broncos back in 2011. Coming in the same class as Von Miller and Rahim Moore, Irving was supposed to be a key piece of a defensive rebuild for the Broncos but has been hindered by injuries, position changes, and what one would have to assume is just a lack of being ready to play significant snaps at MLB at this level. That’s why the Broncos have brought in guys like Brooking and Lenon, looking for some stability and veteran presence at a key position.
Even though Brooking and Lenon performed okay statistically, they weren’t the Broncos’ strongest players defensively and now Irving is one of the elder veterans in the linebacker group. He has played backup SLB to Von Miller with those older veterans coming in, but now the Mike LB spot is his to lose.
Pre-season games could be a huge determining factor as to what player is in the ‘starting lineup’ for the Broncos but you can bet that, at worst, Lamin Barrow will be seeing snaps defensively as a rookie and Irving has a chance to be one of the team’s breakout players if he can hold onto the job full time.