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Denver Broncos position breakdown: Linebackers a potential force

Ken Pomponio Avatar
July 11, 2015

 

BSN Denver is previewing the Denver Broncos, position by position, as the four-time defending AFC West champions prepare to kick off training camp July 31 at their new and improved Dove Valley headquarters. In this segment, we tackle the linebackers …

With a switch to the 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Denver Broncos’ linebacker corps could be one of the league’s best.

But as with any could-be proclamation, there are some “ifs” involved:

  • If DeMarcus Ware can remain a force at age 33
  • If rookie first-round pick Shane Ray can make an instant impact
  • If – and probably the biggest question mark – inside ’backers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall show that last season’s injury issues truly are behind them.

And, we will start there – on the inside.

Trevathan led the Broncos in tackles in 2013 with 152 and added three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a pair of sacks for good measure.

But last season, Trevathan was limited to three games and one start before finishing the year on injured reserve after sustaining three separate injuries to his left leg. He had surgery to replace his kneecap in early January and has at least been able to get in limited reps in individual drills this offseason.

Meanwhile, Marshall – a 2012 fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars who had played in all of six NFL games with no starts prior to the 2014 season – started 13 games in place of Trevathan last year and wound up with a team-leading 119 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interceptions before a Lisfranc foot injury cut his season short.

He has since had two screws placed in his foot but was unable to participate in any drills this spring. He started running a few weeks ago and claims he’ll be ready to get on the field early in training camp, but it very much remains a wait-and-see proposition.

Ex-New Orleans Saints practice-squad player Todd Davis, undrafted rookie Steven Johnson, 2014 fifth-round pick Lamin Barrow and/or free-agent pickup Reggie Walker will be called upon if Trevathan and/or Marshall prove to need more recovery time, but it’s a clear step or three down from the starting two to the just-mentioned back-up quartet.

There also are questions about Ware, who finished with 10 sacks, 45 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles in Denver debut season but clearly wore down as the campaign wound down, notching only a single sack in the final six regular-season contests.

This time around, though, the Orange and Blue will have the luxury of keeping the aging vet fresh with Ray, a top-10 talent on many draft boards who slipped to No. 23 due to health (two) and character (pre-draft pot incident) issues. Last fall at Missouri finished third in the FBS with a single-season school-record 14.5 sacks en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year recognition.

The other bookend OLB position will be manned, of course, the three-time Pro Bowler Miller who is another year removed from the ACL tear and substance-abuse suspension that marred his 2013 season. Miller, though, bounced back strong a year ago, recording a team-leading 14 sacks and 20 QB hurries.

Lerentee McCray and former Colorado State standout Shaquil Barrett provide outside depth behind the Broncos’ Big Three.

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