MHR Position Reviews - Linebackers

Over the next couple of weeks, the contributors here at MileHighReport will be taking a look at the 2008 season, breaking it down by position. Starting with an overview, we'll get more specific by taking a look at certain individual players. At the end, there will be a poll allowing you to grade each position/player. My thanks to each of the contributors for taking on this task and to SirSam for the graphic - TSG


The linebacker situation in Denver in 2008 was really a tale of two seasons. One season saw the so-called "starters" and the other season saw the emergence of the "back-ups". The year started with Boss Bailey, Nate Webster, and D.J. Williams. After a dominating performance by the entire team on opening day in Oakland, the unit began to show some major weaknesses. The weakness was mostly at the defensive tackle position, but tackling quickly became an issue with the linebackers as they and the rest of the defense gave up 38, 32, and 33 in consecutive weeks.

I'd rather look at what the Broncos record was with each LB starting and also as a cohesive unit.

The Review

Individual Linebacker Comparison's
Player Record PPG Tackles
Nate Webster 5-7 29.2 76
D.J. Williams 4-7 30.3 93
Boss Bailey 3-2 30.7 40
Jamie Winborn 5-6 28.0 99
Spencer Larsen 3-1 24.5 22
Wesley Woodyard 4-1 23.0 55

As you can see, statisucally the better players were not the "starters".   The players with far less playing time also had more tackles per game started.  It gets more telling when compared to the stats as a unit.  Jamie Winborn will be counted both as a starter and as a backup.  The Starters basically played from Weeks 1-9 and Weeks 15-17.  While the backup unit was playing full time from Weeks 10-14.

Linebacker Unit Comparison's
Unit Record PPG Tackles
"Starters" 4-7 30.3 223
"Back-ups" 4-1 23.0 122

Now I know my ability to compile stats from every angle is very limited, but the overall point for me was that Mike Shanahan failed to live by his own self proclaimed ethos of having the best players start.  He lied to himself as much as he lied to us fans by placing the struggling veterans back onto the field after being injured when the younger rookies were playing so well.  He broke his own rules and possibly even cost his team a chance at the playoffs. 

Perhaps this was indicative of his players no longer buying into what he was saying.  Shanahan felt the need to keep the veterans happy so as to not lose control of the team.  Perhaps he couldn't afford to put the best players on the field because he knew his message wasn't as important as having the veterans support him as head coach.  Scary thought and I am by no means suggesting that was the case, but it is also the only thing that really makes sense when you look at how well the defense was playing when Nate Webster and D.J. Williams got healthy in Week 15.

The Future

My overall prognosis of the linebacker position must be broken into two segements.  The "starters" were mostly horrible all season long and all should be looking for a pink slip this training camp.  I think D.J. Williams will be kept because he does have a proven track record and all great players have a bad year now and then.  Nate Webster is a career back up that will not likely give up his starting position without creating divisiveness in the locker room and should therefore be cut if only to save the Broncos coaching staff from an unwanted headache.  Boss Bailey was playing well before his injury and it won't hurt to keep him around, while Jamie Winborn has proven he can play.  I think those two could have an interesting training camp to compete for that starting spot on the outside.  An even more titillating move would be to experiment using Jarvis Moss or Elvis Dumervil at that OLB position.  While I am not sold on either players ability to make the transition to LB, I would like to see one of the two find a place in this new scheme as neither is very likely to fit well on the line as a DE.

As for the other "backups", Spencer Larsen is sort of the odd man out with the switch to the 3-4 defense and he could make the permanent switch to FB during training camp.  He is a big hitter and could make an excellent FB and his contributions on special teams is also worth keeping him around.  Wesley Woodyard may be undersized, but he can hit with the best linebackers in the league and also reminded us all how important it is to have linebackers that can wrap up and bring down ball carriers.  I will look for him to get the starting job ouside D.J. Williams in our new defense. 

As for the other ILB position, I have made it no secret that we need a top draft pick and my hope is that we grab Rey Maualuga to compliment D.J. on the inside.  I will be looking for a major improvement in 2009 from our defense.  A top 20 defense would make me jump for joy as expectations shouldn't be too high as we have so many holes to fill along with a brand new scheme to employ.  Though I am quite excited going into this reloading season.

And looking towards the future -


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