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Broncos "feel real strong" at questioned inside linebacker position

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
June 3, 2016

 

Perhaps the biggest question mark on the Denver Broncos defense is the proverbial hole left by Danny Trevathan, who bolted for Chicago, at inside linebacker. It was believed that if the Broncos were to draft for need, that would be the direction they would go.

But the Broncos didn’t draft a linebacker with any of their plethora of picks and they didn’t sign anybody in free agency. No, they’re pretty comfortable with what they have at that position.

As Wade Phillips took the podium on Thursday to meet with the media, the Broncos defensive coordinator began to shower his inside backers with praise before even being asked a question.

“I’ll start off [by saying] at inside backer I think Todd Davis is really doing a tremendous job for us,” he said. “He may not seem like it off the field, but he’s really an intense guy. I don’t know if I’ve been around—well, I was around [NFL linebacker Chris] Spielman at Buffalo—but he reminds me of the same kind of temperament. He’s intense every play on the field. And then Corey [Nelson] really has great ability and is utilizing it. We feel real strong there.”

Davis, who Phillips compared to a four-time Pro-Bowler from an intensity standpoint, seems to be the leader on the not-currently-existent depth chart.

“He’s a good football player. He played well for us last year. He played in several packages,” Phillips recalled. “What we do with guys that we feel like we can play and contribute, we try to put them in certain packages or certain defenses that they can play in the ball game. He played a lot of plays last year. He played in all of our short-yardage and goal-line plays and all that. Obviously, he substituted when Danny was out, too. He had some playing time and he played well when he played.”

The third-year man, undrafted out of Sacramento State in 2014, wasn’t sure exactly how confident the Broncos were in him heading into the draft.

“I definitely was tracking it on my phone and seeing what the Broncos are going to do because at the time I didn’t know what direction they were going in,” Davis said. “When they didn’t pick up anybody, it definitely felt good and it let us know that they have faith in the inside linebacker corps that they have now and that they believed in us and wanted to move forward with us for the rest of the season.”

Nelson had similar feelings.

“I actually looked at like, Oh, wow, the pressure is on,” he explained. “Them being able to put enough trust in us to know that we’ll be able to get the job done, there is a lot of pressure with that. There is also a lot of confidence in them seeing that in us. . . I just looked at is the pressure is on. Now it’s time to perform and show them that we can do it.”

Notice the heavy use of “us” and “we” instead of “I” and “me?”

It could be because these guys are a team and that’s a force of habit but it could be because of the special connection the Broncos inside linebackers share. Davis was undrafted, Brandon Marshall was drafted in the fifth round and later released by the Jaguars and Nelson was a seventh-round pick. None of the Broncos men in the middle were handed any of the opportunities they’ve garnered in this league.

“I think we have a big chip on our shoulder,” Davis said. “I think that’s what drives us and what propels us to want to be great and want to be known as one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL. I think when you’re not drafted or even signed and then practice squad, I think you always feel the need to prove yourself no matter where you’re at or what height you’ve reached. . . I think, as a group, we feel the need to let our name be known and continue to prove ourselves, show that we can play in this league and we can be productive linebackers in this league.”

That connection, on top of the fact that Davis and Nelson were both reserves last season, laid the groundwork for what has become a strong friendship off of the field. For some, that could create an awkwardness as the two compete for a starting job. Not these guys.

“With us being close, it actually makes it better,” Nelson told. “We’re actually out there working hard to make each other better. We’re working hard off the field supporting one another. I feel like it is actually a plus instead of a minus. There is no type of friction, no type of negative energy between us. It’s all positive vibes.”

Regardless of who sits atop the depth chart when the Panthers stroll into town, both Davis and Nelson will see time on the field and when they step out there they’re going to be surrounded by guys like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and more, they aren’t exactly going to be on an island and they certainly aren’t going to have to worry about covering somebody else’s ground.

“It helps tremendously, and also being able to play with those guys last year helped as well,” Nelson explained. “They know the type of players that we are and they know that we know what it takes to be able to solidify the defense. I feel like they help us tremendously. Being able to support us when we’re out there and giving us a helping hand in coverage with the DBs or the D-line being able to hold off some of the linemen getting off to us, a lot of that all correlates to having chemistry with one another. [It helps being] out there with them throughout the season in the past.”

“We had such a great season—No. 1 defense,” added Davis. “If we can continue to strive to compete the way they did and pursue the ball the way they did, I think we’ll be on the right track.”

So much of success at the highest level is about being in a good situation, there’s no doubt that when the Denver Broncos starting inside linebacker takes the field next to Brandon Marshall in Week 1, whether it’s Todd Davis or Corey Nelson, he’ll be in a position to succeed.

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