One of the most intense battles has been getting sorted out at linebacker, and that continued Thursday night, with 4 guys battling it out for limited space playing the crown jewel of Denver defensive positions.
We know that Mr. Von Miller has SLB sewn up, and that further he is one of the centerpieces of the defensive gameplan. DJ is battling an elbow injury that could see him missing 2-4 weeks early, but he has his spot cemented, and Wesley Woodyard also has his Nickle LB/backup WLB role locked down. Joe Mays has been drawing rave reviews from staff and teammates alike. Although he comes out in Nickle packages, he is ferocious downhill towards the line of scrimmage and plays the back half of Fox's "vertical cross" in the Tampa-2 adequately.
Projected number of Linebacker spots up for grabs: 2
Mario Haggan: Haggan didn't play Thursday night, which could mean one of two things. Either his shoulder injury which kept him out of several practices made him a game time decision, or else, just like the rest of the starters and entrenched backups, his job was safe and there was no need to put on a show. For a guy that has survived every fan expectation for his demise, from salary-cap cuts, to tweener cuts, to age cuts--he is still around and more versatile than ever. He backs up the LDE spot, the SLB spot, and is listed as the #2 MLB on the Broncos current Depth Chart, and I think the Broncos will be happy to have his veteran presence rounding out their group. Projection: Solidly holds #5 LB spot. Probably shouldn't even have bothered to list him here.
- Nate Irving: Irving started preseason off slow, but has shown he is a quick learner. He plays downhill from the MLB spot with suddenness and violence, but has shown a predilection for getting dinged up, suffering a chest contusion in his latest round of LOS havoc. He is struggling to pick up the finer points of Fox's MLB duties, but he improved significantly in his vertical dropbacks from last week to this week. Projection: Injuries are a concern, but he has come on strong to take one of the final two LB spots.
- Mike Mohammed: Mohammed has been all over the field the last three weeks and has been rotating through the positions, but has primarily played the WLB. He is getting off blocks well and plays around the line of scrimmage well, but has shown very limited range in his dropbacks. I counted 7 attaboys in Thursday's game, but he also had 7 demerits, primarily in the passing game. He also missed a couple of tackles (as did Irving), which prompted flashbacks to 2007. Solid Special Teams player he had two good stops in the final game. Projection: A crowded position battle, edges the versatile Mohammed out. Waived on cutdown day, priority practice squad player.
- Lee Robinson: Robinson also had his ups and downs over the preseason, logging 5 attaboys and 5 demerits in his final outing. He also missed a couple of tackles, but filled nicely on running plays. His range in zone coverage is decent but in man coverage he couldn't really keep up. However Denver will likely not put their LBs in man often. He has come a very long ways from his rookie year, and from transitioning from the middle of 3-4 and 4-3 defenses to the outside edge over the TE. Projection: Waived on cutdown day, priority practice squad player.
- Alvin Bowen: Bowen looked a little lost at times, but he definitely flashed, which I wasn't expecting at all. He rotated in on the wekaside when Irving went down and appears to have been auditioning for a Woodyard-like role. He gets caught up in the garbage around the LOS, which seems to be a result of not reading his keys very well. When he is playside he is a good tackler and sheds blocks. Projection: Waived on cutdown day.
With the above group we have a 6 man corps, of Von, DJ, Wesley, Mario, Joe and Nate, but it is heavy towards MLB depth, and weaker on coverage ability in the SLB depth. Of the group 4 are very good STs players, with two captain-quality STers.
But that is just my projection. Could you see us keeping an extra LB, or one fewer as many 4-3 teams do? Would you rather start the youth movement now?