Williams Will Dive Head-First Into His New Role
The Linebacker position has long been a strength of the defense and the team. Throughout the team's history, names like Jackson, Mecklenburg, Simon Fletcher, Bill Romanowski, John Mobley, and of course Al Wilson. The release of Wilson, a 3-time Pro Bowl selection, this off-season due to injury left a huge hole for the Broncos to fill on and off the field. It also signaled a changing of the guard in the middle of the defense, with D.J. Williams taking over for Wilson. How Williams progresses, as well as who else from a cast of veterans and unknowns steps up to replace Williams outside will have a huge impact on the Broncos success this season. Let's take a look at the cast of characters and who I think might make a name for himself in 2007 --
Ian Gold(6'0, 223) --
Gold has been a solid contributor for the Broncos in both his stints in Denver. While he has never really regained his top form from 2002, the only season he eclipsed the 100 tackle mark. Gold started strong in 2006, with double-digit tackles in 2 of the first 3 weeks. His production trailed off after, breaking the 7 tackle mark only twice the rest of the year. It is safe to say that Gold will now be the leader of the group, and his performance will need to improve in 2007 in order to fill the Wilson void. Gold, the smallest of the Broncos linebackers, may benefit the most of the added beef in front of him, keeping blockers away and allowing Gold to fly around the field and make plays.
D.D. Lewis(6-1, 241) --
Two days before the draft the Broncos signed two linebackers, including Lewis who had spent his first 5 seasons with Seattle. Lewis is known as a special teams ace when he can stay healthy, and while that is a big if Lewis has the potential to fill in nicely for Keith Burns who traded his helmet and shoulder pads for shorts and a coaches whistle during the off-season. In 48 career regular-season games (19 starts), Lewis has totaled 141 tackles (103 solo), one sack, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He also has played four career postseason games (3 starts), including a start in Super Bowl XL during the 2005 season. Lewis, who played five games (1 start) for Seattle in 2006 before he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 12, started all 12 games played for the NFC champion Seahawks in 2005. He finished the season with a career-high 64 tackles (46 solo), one forced fumble and one pass breakup. There are several questions surrounding Lewis' durability, but if he can come back and stay on the field the Broncos, at the very least, have a solid special teams player.
Warrick Holdman(6-1, 243) --
Holdman was the other LB signed by Mike Shanahan prior to the draft in hopes of adding depth and experience to the linebacking corps. For the most part Holdman, who will be joining his 4th team in 5 seasons, has been a durable player with the exception of the 2002 season when injuries reduced him to only 4 games for the Chicago Bears. In addition to Denver and Chicago, Holdman spent one season in Cleveland and the last two seasons in Washington where Holdman played in 30 games for Joe Gibbs amassing 92 tackles and 1 sack. Overall in 105 career regular-season games (84 starts), Holdman has totaled 501 tackles (390 solo), five sacks (46.5 yds.), one interception and 20 pass breakups. Holdman, who has started at least 10 games in a season five times, also has added seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries during his career. Holdman should bring solid depth to the position.
Eddie Moore(6-1, 234) --
Eddie Moore is certainly a player to watch as we move toward Training Camp. Moore, brought in at the request of new D.C. Jim Bates, spent his first three seasons with Bates in Miami and looked to be on his way to a solid career. All that changed in 2005 when Moore was placed on IR after only 5 games with a chondral defect in his right knee. Moore's career seemed to be over and the Tennessee product spent the entire 2006 season out of football. Desireing to give it one more try in 2007 Moore was brought on board to assist the Broncos current stable of linebackers get acclimated to Bates' system and so far Moore has spent a lot of time running with the first team. Whether that lasts is questionable because of Moore's past medical history but he has impressed coaches and teammates alike. Moore, 26, appeared in 46 games (24 starts), posting 219 tackles, including six sacks, an interception a fumble recovery, two forced fumbles and 13 passes defensed at the University of Tennessee. As a senior, he was a second-team All-SEC performer.
Louis Green(6-3, 228) --
Green has seen limited action in 3 years in Denver after a standout career at Alcorn St. Green has become a solid special teams contributor for Denver, and his role will likely increase with Wilson's absence. Green has good size and speed to be a solid contributor, and the Broncos recently rewarded him with a 3-year contract extension. Green was a three-year starter at Alcorn State University, where he totaled 215 career tackles, including 114 solo, and earned All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors. As a senior, he finished second on the team by posting a career-high 88 stops. He also posted a team-high seven sacks (57 yds.) that year.
TJ Hollowell(6-0, 235) -- Hollowell hasn't seen much action in his two seasons in the NFL. After a year with the Jets the Broncos signed him before the 2006 season. While inactive for every game in 2006, it is safe to say TJ will see action on special teams in 2007, especially if Green gets more action on the first team. Little should be expected from Hollowell in the immediate future. Hollowell finished his playing career at Nebraska with 173 tackles (76 solo), 3.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble in 49 games (14 starts), including appearances in the Rose and Alamo Bowls. As a senior, he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades as he registered 75 tackles and 1.5 sacks while starting all 12 games.
Cameron Vaughn(6-4, 237) -- Vaughn, undrafted coming out of LSU, was also inactive every week in 2006, but the Broncos seem high on his future. Still rough around the edges, Vaughn does has all the physical tools to be an impact player. Only time will tell if Vaughn can break into the lineup, but my feeling is he'll be a solid special teams contributor in 2007, with greater things to come in the future. He was a three-year starter at LSU, where he played 52 career games (33 starts) and totaled 239 tackles (121 solo) along with seven sacks (44 yds.)
Nate Webster(6-0, 237) --
Webster was on his way as a linebacker, signing a lucrative contract with Cincinnati before the 2004 season only to see it all come crumbling down because of knee injuries. Webster missed 13 games in 04, then all of 2005 before being signed by the Broncos prior to last season. Webster spent much of the season getting back into game shape, though he did start the season finale against San Francisco. I get the feeling the team saw enough of Webster to feel confident he could be a major contributor next season, even with the proposed move of D.J. Williams inside.
D.J. Williams(6-1, 242) --
Take money and health out of the equation, the main reason Al Wilson is no longer a Denver Bronco is to get Williams on the field more often. After an awesome rookie campaign, Williams regressed a bit the past two seasons and never seemed to fit in to Larry Coyer's defensive schemes. It became obvious right off the bat that it was going to be different for Williams under new D-Coordinator Jim Bates, who loves to coach aggressive, freak athletes like Williams. It appears to many that Williams will get the first crack at replacing Wilson inside, a better fit, in my opinion, than the outside. Williams was known for running himself out of position, but on the inside should be freed up to just go make plays, sideline to sideline, similar to Brian Urlacher in Chicago. Whether or not Williams can handle the mental aspect of being a middle linebacker remains to be seen, but there is little doubt Williams can physically do it all.
My Depth Chart
LOLB - Louis Green, D.D Lewis
MLB - D.J. Williams, Nate Webster, Eddie Moore
ROLB - Ian Gold, Warrick Holdman
This is by far the hardest depth chart to predict because there are questions all over the field. Green is more proficient over on the right side, but Ian Gold seems to have that manned. D.J. Williams will try to shift inside and fill the huge shoes of the departed Al Wilson. Lewis and Holdman and Webster provide the Broncos with some experienced depth and will see heavy action. Moving forward, the development and ability of the unknowns, T.J. Hollowell and Cameron Vaughn will be go a long way to determining what the Broncos do next off-season. We should know pretty quickly whether Linebacker is a position of strength or weakness which after years of relative stability sounds strange for me to say. With fortifications in front of them and behind the Linebackers should play well just because of the quality around them. One can only imagine how good the defense could have been with Wilson around after the roster upgrades this off-season.