Dec 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Nate Irving (56) and linebacker Steven Johnson (53) tackle Oakland Raiders defensive back Taiwan Jones (22) during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
One area where the Broncos had a lot of shuffling to do last season was at the linebacker position. Between the injury and suspension to Von Miller and the curious case of Wesley Woodyard, there was a lot of intrigue and not much of a solution.
Danny Trevathan, a second year player out of Kentucky, stepped up as one of the team’s best all-around defenders and established himself as the starting WILL linebacker for the near future. Nate Irving showed the ability at times that made him a third round pick in this league, and the Broncos got some young players good experience but there will be plenty of turnover on the roster at all three linebacker positions.
With Woodyard off to the Titans, the Paris Lenon days over, and Von presumably back from injury, the Broncos have some things to figure out at this position but they are good problems to have.
SAM – Von Miller; Lerentee McCray; Shaquil Barrett; Jerrell Harris
MIKE – Nate Irving; Lamin Barrow; Jamar Chaney; L.J. Fort
WILL – Danny Trevathan; Brandon Marshall; Steven Johnson; Corey Nelson
As you can see, the Broncos have a lot of depth at the linebacker positions, or at least a lot of players that are going to be tough to cut or let go of. I think you can set in stone at least four guys who will have roster spots this year in Miller, Irving, Trevathan, and Barrow. Outside of those four, you’d think the Broncos will have two – maybe three – spots available for additional guys.
One of those additional spots will be filled by someone who has pass rush versatility, and the guy who is leading the charge for that is Lerentee McCray, a 2013 undrafted free agent darling who spent all of last season on injured reserve. McCray was working with the starters at OTAs in relief of the recovering Miller.
Brandon Marshall and Steven Johnson both have experience now in the playoffs, and Johnson had become a key special teams player for the Broncos. Unfortunately, even in the wake of a variety of injuries, he was unable to crack the starting rotation or even play a significant amount of snaps defensively.
Corey Nelson was the team’s 7th round pick this year, and he’ll be battling it out for that last spot as well. He’s recovering from an injury suffered last season. It’s possible the Broncos are able to stash him on IR while he gets back to full strength if he’s not already.
The Broncos have plenty of guys to look at here, so training camp and the pre-season will be a huge indicator of where this team is headed. We’ve talked extensively about Shaquil Barrett, the UDFA out of Colorado State who was the CUSA Defensive Player of the Year this past season. He’s the kind of guy who will make it really tough for coaches to make cuts, and is a player I could see as a practice squad lock unless the Broncos are forced to roster him after a strong pre-season.
The Dark Horse – Brandon Marshall
The Broncos picked up Brandon Marshall late last year, and this is a young player with some potential. He was a fifth round pick of the Jaguars back in 2012, and came into the league with a reputation for playing with a nasty streak. The Broncos have an open competition for that backup WLB spot behind Danny Trevathan, and Marshall was taken a round earlier than him in the same draft.