"Called the "heart and soul" of the Arizona defensive unit, opposing offensive coordinators feared the dominant and versatile defender. " NFL.com
Spenser Larsen is a unique man and a unique player. As the Broncos look to solve their problems on defense, many of the powerful players in their fledgling youth movement are receiving substantial observation. Looking at Spenser Larsen is easier than it is with most – you only have to look for the ball when the Broncos are punting or kicking off.
In an age when athletes in the NFL are barely old enough to drink alcohol, Spenser Larsen is beginning his professional football career at the creaky age of 24. Born March 4 1984 in Mesa AZ, Larsen is a devout Mormon who took two years off of college to perform his mandatory and much loved mission for his church. In an age of bling and entourages, Larsen sees life through a very different lens. He and his wife Ann, who he met on his mission, simply put his signing bonus in the bank when it arrived. Shrugging, Larsen said, "We’ve never needed that much money." Money isn’t what’s important to this powerful young middle linebacker. Family, church and dedication are. He and Ann have a young son, Tyton, who is named after the Denzel Washington movie "Remember the Titans. They also have a young child on the way.
Although the Broncos have an admitted problem with their defense, there are many bright spots on this very young team. The Denver Post noted,
If you've misplaced your scorecard, that's back-to-back weeks in which Spencer Larsen has played virtual decapitation with a kick returner. Said Shanahan: "As you can see, he's a football player." "However", they went on to say,
"(J)ust so all you e-mailers know, he's not the answer to the Broncos' defensive issues. He was drafted as a fullback/linebacker, but he's a fullback."
For now, perhaps. Mostly, he's a nail gun force on special teams. But a lot of people have bet against Larsen throughout his college career, in part taking into consideration his ‘missing’ two years. Rivals.com summed it up, saying, "He possesses only marginal size and speed." There have been a lot of MLBs in the NFL who were perceived that way but who went on to successful, even laudable careers. Before we bet against him, let’s look at Larsen’s strengths and weaknesses.
The list of strength’s is long. Scout.com noted,
"Some mock drafts had Larsen going as high as second round, so this could be viewed as a real steal for Denver. The Broncos have needs at linebacker and have now drafted a really impressive one. Called the "heart and soul" of the Arizona defensive unit, opposing offensive coordinators feared the dominant and versatile defender. Whether lining up at outside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment or playing inside in a 5-2 formation, few teams could contain Larsen with just one blocker."
That’s a quality that I believe the Broncos are missing right now. Niko seems to be only the special teams ace that he was in Seattle and while Webster has come light years since 2007, he is getting older and is seen as a stop-gap measure at best. The Broncos can draft another MLB, and perhaps they should. But, first…
The two-time team captain made a triumphant return to the gridiron in 2005 after missing the previous two seasons while on a church mission. During his freshman year at Arizona in 2002, the new coaching staff considered his return as an added recruiting bonus. Opposing ballcarriers considered his return a nightmare for fullbacks trying to block him and halfbacks trying to elude him on end-around runs." NFL.com Overview
Rivals.com saw it this way:
"The good: Tough, savvy defender who has lined up at several linebacker positions in his four starting seasons and may fit best on the inside as a pro. His versatility will allow him to play in different situations after playing both inside and outside backer and that experience will allow him to be a flex defender for a front seven. His instincts and sure tackling gives him a chance to start or fill a key backup role. He gives total effort at all times and is a fierce competitor who sets the pace for a defense. He competes as well as anyone in this draft and ranks high as far as special teams skills is concerned. He understands his responsibilities in the defensive scheme and carries out his assignments well."
Others were even more forthcoming.
"Locates the ball carrier quickly, has good initial quickness and can disrupt running plays in the backfield. Takes adequate pursuit angles, works from the snap until the whistle and always seems to be around the ball at the end of the play. Gets adequate depth and reads the quarterback's eyes when asked to drop into zone coverage. Excellent instincts and rarely bites on play action. Vocal, gets players lined up in the right position and is a leader on the field."
Not to take anything away from Nate, but these are qualities that we need right now. DJ isn’t happy with his role as the receiver of ‘helmet head’. Champ has staked out his territory on the left. We lack a powerful force directing the team at safety. Leadership, right now, is at a premium. Here is the NFL.com list of positives:
High-motor type who plays with good intensity and aggression...Very alert and active to key and diagnose plays, showing the awareness, vision and instincts to call defensive assignments...Demonstrated much better ability and strength taking on blocks as a senior than he did in the past, as he refined his hand placement and improved his hand technique to prevent the blocker from gaining leverage...More quick than fast, but keeps his pad level down and shows the loose hips to redirect and chase down plays from the backside (see 2007 Southern California, Stanford and Washington games)...Has the power to take on fullbacks and clog the interior rush lanes. Has the hip swerve to redirect and close from the outside (looked a bit stiff in his hips earlier in his career, but has shown a quicker flow to the ball as a senior. See 2007 Brigham Young and Stanford games)...Shows the lateral agility to flow with the play, staying low in his stance to extend his arms, wrap and secure the ballcarrier near the line of scrimmage...Unquestioned team leader who will not hesitate to take underperforming teammates to task (Emphasis is mine)...Shows no hesitation closing on the ball and is quick to track down ballcarriers...Has good tackling form, taking the ballcarrier's outside leg to impede the opponent's forward progress...Rare to see him fooled by misdirection or eye the backfield too long when playing in the zone... Has greatly improved his body control as a senior, as he no longer overextends when attempting to make tackles...Shows aggression filling the rush lane, lowering his head and driving with his legs to engage the fullback... Shows good anticipation skills and has developed good rip and swim moves to generate a quick outside blitz...Very intelligent, both on the field and in the classroom... On the blitz, he has a solid hand jolt to maintain separation knifing through traffic and the closing burst to disrupt the quarterback in the pocket."
Part of Larsen’s ability to read and understand the offense comes from playing quarterback at the high school level where he won considerable honors. Part is his own innate drive to understand and study the game, a quality that is matched by a substantial intelligence. What may separate Larsen from the other players at Mike is his maturity and comfort in a leadership role. The negative of his age and certain physical issues are offset by his talent at leading, and his continued development in every role he has been placed in. This is not to say that he is without faults as a player.
One source claims,
"He has a stocky build with minimal growth potential, but anther states, : Has a well-proportioned frame with developing upper-body muscles and good thickness in his thighs and calves, with room to add at least another 10 pounds of bulk without losing quickness...Another states, "Does not consistently play under control and pursues the action too aggressively at times." Yet, all agree, " "He possesses only marginal size and speed. He needs to further develop his change of direction skills for improved coverage and pass rushing."
These can’t be debated. Still, consider this report:
"Some mock drafts had Larsen going as high as second round, so this could be viewed as a real steal for Denver. The Broncos have needs at linebacker and have now drafted a really impressive one."
We have seen another 6th round player show a huge desire and powerful technique on special teams and that man, I believe, went on to deserve a place in the HOF. Larsen will not approach that level, but since the Broncos have limited draft choices coming up, a major hole at the DL and another at safety and a third at CB as well as a solid backup OG, perhaps they will develop Spenser into the role they need someone to play.
Regardless, I’ll heed what Jim Goodman stated in establishing this year’s draft. "Sometimes you just know that he’s a football player." Given our need for intensity, desire, drive and passion, in the end that may say it all.