Former undrafted free agent Lerentee McCray might just be the Broncos’ most important backup linebacker. Don’t believe me?
With Von Miller sidelined and recovering from ACL surgery last year, McCray has been working as the Broncos’ first-team SAM linebacker since OTAs, and has been thriving and showing off his playmaking ability. McCray wasn’t much coming out of Florida, at least on the surface, but the Broncos found out quickly that they had unearthed a gem.
McCray first started showing out on special teams in last year’s pre-season, even blocking a punt against the St. Louis Rams. His ability on defense started showing up and in the final pre-season game, he had generated enough hype and built up a heck of a reputation, so much so that it appeared he would make the Broncos’ final roster as an undrafted rookie.
An ankle injury sent McCray to injured reserve, his rookie season over. Spending the year rehabbing and getting back into game shape, McCray came out in 2014 with a chip on his shoulder and a much improved, more well-rounded overall game.
That was abundantly clear in the practices I was able to take in, where McCray was winning one-on-one battles in pass rush situations, moving past offensive linemen with ease, and even showing off nice ability in coverage drills.
This is seemingly a prospect who’s got the total package, and right now, he’s preparing for the biggest role you could draw up — fill in for All Pro Von Miller.
The Broncos couldn’t adequately replace Miller last year, while suspended or injured. The loss of Elvis Dumervil was bad enough, but losing Miller for a significant portion of the season both at the start and finish really took away a dimension from the Broncos’ defense in terms of pass rush that was absolutely essential to keeping Peyton Manning and the best offense in league history out on the field.
That was exploited big time in the Super Bowl, where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks had all day to make plays and if they didn’t, there was no one that could chase Russell down.
Now, with improved team speed defensively, the Broncos still will miss Miller in the rotation if he’s to miss any significant time, but at least this time around, they have someone that can provide a rush from the edge, someone that has the look of the team’s most improved young player.
Kirk Davis at Mile High Report snagged this quote from McCray after practice on Saturday.
“I’ve just grown as a better player. Just a better football player overall—special teams to defense, anything I’m asked to do. I have an understanding of what I have to do to get my job done and all I have to do is go out there and get it done. Not being out last there year, it just hurt me. So I bring that energy and that attitude and that emotion out there to the field when I go play.”
Officially, McCray finished the Broncos’ first pre-season game with three tackles and one tackle for loss. He’s part of a group of pass rushers in the front seven that is as deep as I’ve seen it for the Broncos.
He’ll produce in 2014, and he’ll be one of the Broncos’ biggest reserves on defense in terms of his role backing up Von Miller, coming in for sub packages, and working on special teams.
The Broncos are ready to unleash McCray.