2011 Denver Broncos Preview:  Linebackers

Some of the best camp battles can be expected to take place throughout the LB corps as a youth movement, infused with ready to rock draft talent and hungry young vets vies for spots behind and against savvy vets.  WLB seems relatively set, with the annual tackle leader for the Broncos, D.J. Williams looking to move into the role he occupied long ago as a rookie, but Woodyard, playing on a one year 2nd round tender will be looking to make it interesting.  At the Sam spot, #2 overall draft pick Von Miller will look to bring the kind of impact that Denver expects from its LB DNA, and he remains pretty much unchallenged in that role.  In the middle, one of the best camp battles is shaping up with the young vet Joe Mays actively taking on the role of calling plays and audibles in camp, while Rookies Irving and Mohammed look to show some much needed speed and athleticism needed for Fox's zone-blitz to work effectively.  Let's take a look at each of these contenders after the jump.

Weakside Linebacker


D.J. Williams

#55 / Weakside Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-1

242

Jul 20, 1982

Miami-Florida

Contract:  $4.9mil in 2011 ($5.8 vs. Cap), UFA in 2014


 

DJ is finally moving back "home" to the WLB position, which should address some of his flaws (keep him off blocks, leave him in the uncongested side of the field) while playing up to his strengths (can freely rush the passer, will play a flow-will role in coverage).  This is a move I ahve wanted for DJ for quite a while now, but even I think that it might be too little too late.  Whether he can move into an impact role rather than continue to shore up a weak run defense remains to be seen, but if this is his swan song in Denver, he couldn't ahve asked for a better situation, with a defensive head coach, a return to the 4-3, a return to the will and the opportunity to play behind a recovered DOOM. 

The pieces are in place, now DJ needs to make the most of them.


Wesley Woodyard

#59 / Weakside Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-0

222

Jul 21, 1986

Kentucky

Contract:  $1.835mil in 2011 ($1.835mil vs. Cap), UFA in 2012


SBNation Scouting Report

Like DJ, Woodyard is at his best flowing to the point of attack from the Will spot, and he can find his way through most any garbage, a skill that has been enhanced over the years as he has become an elite STs standout. 

After spending the last two seasons as a Team Captain, it is clear that Woodyard has the respect of his teammates, and is a vital cog in the Bronco Machine (a point further enforced by the Broncos tendering him at the 2nd round pick rate...quite a step up for a former undrafted free agent).  However, it isn't likely that Woodyard will be able to suppalnt DJ ahead of him.  However if he can show the chops to at least challenge Williams, he could make the decision to extend him an interesting one, given that DJ has some pretty big cap numbers coming up over the next few years.

Strongside Linebacker

 


Von Miller

#58 / Strongside Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-3

246

Mar 26, 1989

Texas A&M

Contract:  Rookie deal worth $21mil, $375,000 in 2011 ($3.818mil vs. Cap), UFA in 2015


Denver's star rookie, Von will be bringing one attribute to the Denver LB corps that has been sorely missed outside of the person of DJ:  speed.  While Von will be asked to get after QBs and make Philip Rivers' day a long one, perhaps one of his best assets will be his range when pursuing backside runs and making stops behind the line of scrimmage, as well as applying his speed and size to coverage responsibilities vs. TEs and backs in the seam, an area of significant weakness for Denver in 2010.

Von ahs good balance and body control, to go with good lateral speed and quick reactions.  After initial contact he shows good burst when driving into the defender, and can force a hurry or cause havoc in the backfield.  His first step quickness is elite, and will continue to give him a decided jump on the offense even at the NFL level, and his timing was fantastic and will likely translate as well as he gets a feel for NFL offensive timing.  However, because of his size he can sometimes get tied up by big OTs, and can be negated in run defense if he doesn't get help.  He won't get to roam as much as he did as a "Jack " in the Aggie system, but he should still see plenty of variety in dropbacks and coverages, and differnet blitz gaps.  Handles TEs well, and can turn out of a TE block and find the ball while staying upright and keeping leverage, but doesn't always focus on defeating the block and can have trouble with particularly tenacious blockers who attempt to re-engage.  His upper body strength is very good and allows him to display adept hand and arm technique in keeping separated from defenders.  Long arms allow him to avoid the reach of most athletic blockers.  Not a stop and go type perimeter player, he has room to improve in his outside pursuit (great effort there, though, so I expect that the improvement will come against better competition), and in the consistency of the depth of his drops.  Sometimes doesn't break on the route well enough resulting in bad angles to the receiver.

Overall he looks to be a tremendous upgrade on the outside of the defense, with his best years and improvement still ahead of him.

 


Lee Robinson

#54 / Strongside Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-2

256

Apr 23, 1987

Alcorn State

Contract:  $390,000 in 2011 ($390k vs. Cap), ERFA in 2012


Challenging Miller isn't really in the cards, but if used properly, I think Lee could come to occupy a spot very similar to Woodyard's role at WLB.  Like Von he was a roaming LB who could bull rush to the QB as well as drop back in coverage.  While Lee played further inside, his strengths give him a shot on the outside as well, which I think is his best chance of sticking with the team.  His 4.74 40 is similar to Von's 4.6 40, and should be good enough to allow him to stick with most TEs.

He is a good tackler, reads plays well and is instinctual in following the play to the ball.  Like WW, one of his strongest assets is keeping blockers away from his legs and keeping hands out of his frame, which leaves him free to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.  His open-field tackling could use work however, as he doesn't consistently break down but he shows a ton of hustle and is quick to congratulate teammates, making him a respected member of the team.

If he can show strides in coverage and tackling in camp, as well as nail down a starting STs spot, he has a very good chance of being one fo the guys rounding out the LB corp in 2011.

 

Middle Linebacker

 


Joe Mays

#51 / MiddleLinebacker / Denver Broncos

5-11

246

Jul 06, 1985

North Dakota State

Contract:  $555,000 in 2011 ($555k vs. Cap), UFA in 2012



Mays earned a lot fo recognition from Broncos faithful after laying some solid, well-timed hits to opponents during a season where the Broncos spent most of the as the punching bag, and as such, he enters the season as an odds on favorite to man the mike role.  Of all the players on the roster, Mays has perhaps the best mindset and technique for being the explosive gap-stuffer at the line,a nd he does a great job of using his height to his advantage in getting low and beating blocks.  Has a knack for defeating the FB in the hole and destroying running lanes, but doesn't navigate trash laterally  quite as well.  Can lose sight of the play at times, and lacks the kind of vision expected from the top MLBs.

Overall Mays may be up against his own physical limitations when the Broncos eventually move to live action, but this is an area where one can trust John Fox to make the right call.  His LB corps have always beens olid groups, and he knows what he likes, so if he thinks Mays is getting it done in camp, then there is a great chance it can translate to the field once the live bullets start flying.

 


Nate Irving

#56 / Middle Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-1

240

Jul 12, 1988

NC State

Contract:  Rookie deal worth $2.735mil, $375,000 in 2011 ($375k vs. Cap), UFA in 2015


After missing his 2009 season, Irving fell from a high first round pick to Denver in the 3rd round.  His 2008 season at WLB had him ont he national radar, but the accident seemed to sap some of his overall strength and speed.  However, despite what some would call a lackluster senior finish, he still was ranked as "elite" by the College Football Performance Awards, their highest honor.

What he may have lsot in speed, he showed to have made up in technique and savvy, with great timing on the edge and aggressive and explosive play.  It made him a very disruptive player,s oemthing we want to see more of in Denver.  Unlike Mays he has very good vision of the play going on around him and tracks well to the ball.  A solid blitzer, but doesn't have Mays ability to blow up a blocker and keep plowing through.  Irving would too-often get locked up if he did not win his initial move.  Doesn't finish out blocks and will sometimes guess wrong when slipping a block sideways, resutling in being out of position.  Expect some false steps and a lack of deciseviness and quickness in space that may hamper his early competition at the MLB spot.  If he can bring a finishing quality to his play it may encourage the Broncos to take a chance and get his vision and instincts on the field.  Don't expect the battle to be settled completely in the coming weeks.  Or even months.

 


Mike Mohamed

#53 / Middle Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-3

239

Mar 11, 1988

California

Contract:  Rookie deal worth $2.2mil, $375,000 in 2011 ($375k vs. Cap), UFA in 2015


Very similar player to Irving, Mohammed may actually have better long term prospects.  He is also an instinctual, vision-type player who reads and reacts well.  he also plays with good leverage and awareness and can follow the ball even when locked up.  Very disciplined coverage player with expereicne in man to man and zone coverage.  More lean than Irving and can sometimes have trouble hanging with TEs or controlling blockers, but he is willing and eager to fly into the gap to punish the runner.  Agile and productive player, he played every STs unit for the Golden Bears.  Will look to add bulk initially, and over time that should additionally strengthen his ability to man the Mike.  However in the short term he may have difficulty making strides past Irving or Mays.

 


Braxton Kelley

#48 / Middle Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-0

242

Aug 15, 1986

Kentucky

Contract:  $390,000 in 2011 ($390k vs. Cap), ERFA in 2012


Kelley was one of a handful of 2009 CFAs who managed to make it to the practice squad, but in 2010 a freak accident in practice before the season strained a ligament in his knee and sent him to IR before he really had a chance to make an impact.

He gets that chance anew in 2011, amidst one of the best training camp battles for the Mike spot in the linebacking corp.  He played alongside Wesley Woodyard in the Kentucky defensive front seven, as part of a rangy group that focused on speed and athleticism.  In 46 games Kelley racked up 287 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 FF, one fumble recovery, and six passes defensed.  He is probably looking forward to working alongside Woodyard again as he fights for a role behind the starting MLB.

 

Looking For A Spot

 



Derek Domino

#47 / Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-3

255

Age: 22

South Dakota State

Contract:  $375,000 in 2011 ($375k vs. cap)


A standout at South Dakota State, Domino is a productive player who makes his living with well timed impact plays.  he will need several of them, and maybe one of his gaudy INT returns for a TD in order to turn heads at Dove Valley.  He is fighting for a likley STs spot, which means taking advantage of whatever opportunities he gets in games to show that he belongs on an NFL stage.  It is doubtful that he gets a chance to show his other skill, which is his ability to register double digit tackles in every game, pretty much all season long....

 



A.J. Jones

#49 / Linebacker / Denver Broncos

6-1

226

Age: 23

Florida

Contract:  $375,000 in 2011 ($375k vs. Cap)


Despite playing in a realtively depleted LB corps for Florida, Jones managed to show some flashes and be somewhat productive, logging 54 tackles in 2010, and over 30 in two other injury shortened seasons.  he was moved around a lot by a new defensive coordinator in Florida, so there is a good chance that Fox and co. see some trademark athleticism and speed (4.78 40yd) needed for their scheme that was simply mismanaged at Florida.

 


Deron Mayo

#42 / Linebacker / Denver Broncos

5-11

220

Mar 28, 1988

Old Dominion

Contract:  $375,000 in 2011 ($375k vs. Cap)


May has had to overcome a couple of setbacks already in his football career as the Hofstra program he applied to ended up shutting down their football program midstram, which left hims scrambling for a roster spot at Old Dominion which required a switch from DE to LB (not that he was on track to be a DE or anything...too light by far).  These changes didn't prevent him from showcasing a handful of big game plays, and he had a knack for the big play at the right moment, helping the Old Dominion defense hang in some very close games.  Like Domino, however, his big moments need to show up in STs if he wants a chance to stick.

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