After the surprising decision to release Andra Davis, who was a key contributor on defense last season, the Broncos have a vacancy to fill in the starting lineup at inside linebacker. While Denver could address the position early in the draft, sources expect Spencer Larsen to get a shot at winning the job in training camp. Larsen is not a well-known player outside of Denver, but he plays a variety of roles on the team, which has made him a valuable backup. He can play fullback or inside 'backer and helps out on special teams.
We have already floated this idea at MHR, but to actually hear the idea sourced puts it into a whole new light. I got to thinking about just what it is we are looking for in our "other" ILB, and how well Spencer lines up with those needs.
Larsen is a hard hitter, a thinking man's linebacker, and very tough, as his two-way play, especially his rookie year, can attest to. I remember him being tentative as a rookie starter, back when he replaced We..... Web..... , back when he subbed at MLB in late 2008. He had already supplanted Hillis as the starter at FB at that point, and was a constant on special teams, including a jawbreaking tackle against the Chiefs' Dantrell Savage. As a rookie I can forgive some tentative play, especially when I remember how much more settled down the defense seemed in that game (note that I do not say the defense seemed "good"... no, it was more like it had taken its ritalin when Spence was out there). But the question is, has he progressed as an ILB through 2009 and into 2010?
Additionally, our weakest area in the ILB corp was pass coverage, so it makes sense that if Larsen is going to make a run at the starting job, he had better bring something to the table in that vein. This made me remember a play in his rookie season. He backpedaled into zone, trailed across the middle of the field, and then at the last minute leaped out and defensed the pass, reaching around the receiver. Beautiful coverage. BUT does one play a possible coverage 'backer make?
I then went back and looked at my scouting notes from 2008, to see if there was any hint there. Mostly it talks about things we already know about him, his toughness, good tackling. He was also a "stand-up and shout in the lockerroom" kind of leader, willing to call out other players. There is a mention of "not great man-to-man coverage" but under zone I have him with "good read and react, instinctual player. Too slow for the WILL, can play MIKE, would probably be an ideal fit inside in the 3-4." I highlight the last part because I couldn't believe I had forgotten that about Larsen. When Shanny drafted him, the thought of Larsen in the 3-4 was the furthest thing from my mind, and I never really thought about it again.
For his negatives I listed out the standard knock against him at that time: 2 years out of football to go on his Mormon mission. I also had "injury concerns" listed (though this was before I kept track of actual injuries). This to got me to thinking... Larsen's rookie season he injured his hip in his first full game. The next week he would injure his groin which took him out for the last several weeks on a rotating basis. Then to open 2009 he hurts his shoulder and misses a half dozen weeks. Do we think the guy is injury prone?
I'll leave you with some video (I looked all over for the pass defense video, or some clue which game it was in so that I could rip it from my own video, but I found nothing. If you remember the play and who it was against, let me know and I'll look it up and make a rip of it.) and a poll.
Just how comfortable are we with Larsen manning the middle?