Oct 6, 2012; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Lerentee McCray (34) and LSU Tigers running back Kenny Hilliard (27) exchange words during the fourth quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
As players start coming back from injuries suffered a season ago, one position to keep a close eye on in the SAM linebacker position, which Von Miller has locked in with the Denver Broncos.
But like many other Broncos players, Miller is working his way back onto the field after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago, and while he’s progressing really well, the truth remains that it’s going to take some time.
While Miller works his way back and continues strengthening his surgically repaired knee, second year player and 2013 undrafted free agent Lerentee McCray is taking snaps with the first team defense, at least according to the Denver Post.
With the injuries the Broncos suffered last season, their pass rush unit obviously took a major blow, but that all figures to change this year with so many new faces, so many players who have potential to fill roles they were unable to last year.
In terms of pass rush, the Broncos were reliant upon Malik Jackson, Shaun Phillips, and Derek Wolfe to apply pressure a season ago. This year? A whole different story.
With the return of Miller, the Broncos have also added superstar DeMarcus Ware, who just came in at 56th on the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2013 list despite playing through some pretty serious back problems.
Miller and Ware are the foundation pieces, the cornerstone players that the defense is built around, but Denver’s pass rush has also gotten a boost from the return of 2013 rookies McCray and Quanterus Smith, a defensive end out of Western Kentucky.
But McCray is the story here. He was a player that started to turn heads at training camp, and then it was amplified in pre-season play where he was applying pressure on QBs, getting in the mix blocking a punt on special teams, and showing the Broncos an all-around ability that would have undoubtedly kept him on the team as a part of the 53-man roster had he not been injured.
The plus side to having him on IR all year was he wasn’t able to leave Denver. The downside to that is obviously that he wasn’t able to practice with the team, but he was still able to work out and watch film, being around the facility in whatever capacity the league would allow.
McCray’s hard work in getting back on the field has at least paid off in terms of already achieving some type of seniority, filling in for the Broncos’ best defensive player while he recovers from an injury suffered in December.
With the Broncos’ newfound depth in terms of players who can rush the passer also comes versatility. Miller can play as a defensive end or linebacker when rushing QBs, as can DeMarcus Ware. McCray was a hybrid defensive end/linebacker at Florida and will play that same “SAM” role with the Broncos.
With guys who can play all over the formation, Jack Del Rio is going to have a lot of fun putting together sub packages, and feeling comfortable about putting young guys in the rotation.
To have McCray back is a much bigger addition than is being led on, and his insertion into the first unit defensively is evidence of that.