Yesterday, all eyes were on the Denver Broncos’ reserve weakside linebacker, Brandon Marshall. Marshall was the “next man up” in the team’s linebacker rotation, following the injury to starting WILL LB, Danny Trevathan.
Marshall, a former 2012 5th round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, absolutely shined in his first opportunity to run with the defensive ones yesterday vs the 49ers. He was all over the field, and constantly around the ball.
The defense didn’t seem to miss a beat with Marshall at WILL. For those who don’t know, Trevathan wore the green dot on his helmet, which means that he has the communication device in his helmet that keeps him tuned in to the defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. The DC sends in the play and that play must get communicated to the rest of the defense and translated to the field.
Ultimately, it’s the man with the green dot’s job to make those calls. He is, in effect, the quarterback of the defense. Brandon Marshall has taken over those duties, in lieu of Trevathan’s absence.
It looked like a seamless transition. Marshall was ushering his fellow teammates up and down the formation and the end result told the story. The first-team defense allowed ZERO points and Marshall led the team with 7 tackles, with 3 stops. This collective performance set the tone for the Broncos to go on to demolish the 49ers 34-0, in Levi Stadium.
For what it’s worth, here’s how ProFootballFocus defines a “stop”:
“The number of solo defensive tackles made, which constitute an offensive failure (including sacks)”
These “stops” are a true measuring stick of a defensive player’s impact on the field. With this in mind, I was impressed with Marshall’s ability to fight through double teams and knife into the backfield for the stop. Several times, he beat the ‘Niners’ blockers to the hole and made the tackle. He looked confident and completely at ease with the situation. And in coverage, he executed his assignments well.
That’s what you want in a linebacker, especially one who stays on the field in Nickel and Dime sub-packages. You don’t want them thinking too much. You want them to operate on instinct and react in an almost subconscious way, almost like breathing.
That can only happen when a player has 100% assimilated the playbook, knows his assignments and is a student in the film room. In other words, preparation is key. Those attributes only compound when a player is handed the responsibility of calling the plays on the field.
It takes a player with great football acumen. Brandon Marshall, like the man he is replacing, is smart. And what he’s been able to accomplish thus far is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he’s only been with team since last September.
In preseason play, NFL teams don’t typically game-plan for their opponents. On the field, teams are going to display their most vanilla schemes. They don’t want to tip their hats in an exhibition game, especially if they’re going to face that opponent in the regular season, as the Seahawks and 49ers will with the Broncos.
So it goes without saying that you don’t want to read too much into what happens on the gridiron in preseason play. But even so, Marshall produced. Via PFF, he earned a +1.0 overall grade in 28 snaps. A nice follow up to his +1.2 overall grade last week vs the ‘Niners.
Losing Trevathan, the Broncos’ leading tackler in 2013, is a blow. But the magnitude of the sting will be mitigated by Brandon Marshall. All things considered, the Broncos are very fortunate to have Marshall waiting in the wings.
Under Del Rio, WILL LBs have traditionally been very productive, including Wesley Woodyard’s 2012 performance, and Trevathan’s 2013. I have full confidence that the trend will continue with “the other” Brandon Marshall.