Rewind back to day one of training camp. I'm standing in a shaded area on the far field, watching defensive backs. All of a sudden, I see a cart whiz by with Knowshon Moreno sitting on the back of it. Moments later, Correll Buckhalter limped into the locker room.
My point is, since day one of training camp, it seems like the Broncos have been having problems with injuries, and this week was no different. Following a brutal beatdown courtesty of the Baltimore Ravens, Josh McDaniels informed the media that five key defensive players will not play in the Broncos' week six matchup against the New York Jets.
Robert Ayers played and finished the Baltimore game with a broken foot, and will miss six weeks or more. Brian Dawkins will likely miss three weeks, and the extent of injuries to Andre' Goodman, Wesley Woodyard, and Darcel McBath is unknown at this point. Combine that with the uncertain status of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno, and the Broncos cannot be feeling good about their chances against the New York Jets, who are one of the best teams in the NFL.
Who will step up for the Broncos if these guys cannot play? Right now, Broncos fans are in a state of panic, which is somewhat warranted. I mean, it's not often a coach, much less McDaniels, would rule out five key players nearly a week before a game unless their injuries were serious.
Luckily (if you want to call it that) the Broncos experienced a similar barrage of injuries in the pre-season. Though some players are merely held out of pre-season action because of experience and minor bumps and bruises, the depth of Denver's roster was seriously tested. Perhaps it wasn't this severe, but there seems to be a theme in the league right now of guys having to fill huge roles unexpectedly.
The Broncos are no exception.
The biggest injury in my mind is the one suffered by Robert Ayers. The Broncos were already ailing at the outside linebacker position with Elvis Dumervil having torn his pectoral muscle in the early part of training camp. The last thing this team needed was for an emerging second year player to go down for an extended period of time, especially from the outside linebacker spot.
Ayers will miss a significant portion of the season, and the Broncos will be lucky to have him back for the final five or six games. Jason Hunter, who was acquired this offseason from Detroit, has been a pleasant surprise thus far, and had a sack against the Ravens. As solid as he has been, the Broncos cannot solely rely on him. When you look at it though, the Broncos are left with a few different options:
1. Move Mario Haggan back to the outside, start Joe Mays on the inside
This is not an ideal scenario for the Broncos. This move leaves them unusually thin at the inside linebacker position. They literally have no depth behind Williams and Mays in this case, so you would have to move Haggan around from outside back inside all game long. That is a headache.
2. Start Jarvis Moss
If there's any dude on this team who has had more window for opportunity, it's Jarvis Moss. Elvis Dumervil went down, so who did the Broncos expect to answer the call? Jarvis Moss, who then shortly there after broke his hand. Moss has been a complete non-factor this season, so who knows what might happen if he is thrust into a starting role? Teams will then know they can run right at him, but he is the Broncos' only option at this point.
3. Promote from within
The Broncos have two outside linebackers on the practice squad right now in rookie Kevin Alexander and second year pro Diyral Briggs. Briggs was being talked up as a great acquisition by the 49ers, and Alexander has an intriguing combination of size and athleticism. It's hard for a Broncos fan to get on board with either of these moves, because these guys have no NFL experience and are very much unknown commodities.
4. Sign from the outside
On Monday, I suggested before I heard of the Ayers injury that the Broncos sign Antwan Barnes. Barnes is a pass rushing specialist and has proven in this league that he can be productive with limited snaps. He is a guy I like. Another option is bringing back Baraka Atkins or Jammie Kirlew, two guys we cut this year. I think Adailius Thomas is still a free agent, but if he was good for anything, he would have been signed by now. They could also look at signing some inside linebacker depth and going with option one. If Darrell Reid is healthy, you can bet his phone will be ringing. In fact, it wouldn't shock me to see the Broncos bring back Reid as well as add another pass rushing option off the edge.
This is a tough position for the Broncos to be in, and their depth is certainly being tested. My best guess is that they will promote from within. Signing Darrell Reid has to be an option as well. He was recovering from sugery at last word, and was released by the Broncos this offseason.
The injuries to Dawkins and McBath hurt on multiple levels. McBath is a key special teams player and has been seing action on the defensive side of the ball as well. Dawkins is the emotional leader of this defense, and has been playing quite well this season. The replacement at safety will likely be David Bruton, though you could also see Nate Jones in on certain packages as well.
Personally, I want to see what Bruton can do. He was a fourth round pick in 2009, so as a fan, I'm hoping they drafted him for mroe than his special teams prowess. Bruton has great speed and is tough as nails, but his coverage skills have been questioned. With the depth of the Jets' wide receiver corps, we will need all the help we can get.
Dating back to the draft, I was a huge fan of Myron Rolle, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are very deep on the backend of the secondary, so he was waived and placed on their practice squad. Now is not the time to play Mr. Nice Guy. The Broncos need to sweep this kid away from Tennessee and develop him on their own.
Rolle was the top high school player in the country five years ago, and was a Rhodes scholar. He's a smart kid with an outstanding combination of size and speed. With safety being a need of the future for this team anyway, I see no reason not to pluck Rolle off the Titans' practice squad.
We also have Kyle McCarthy, who proved to be a solid special teams player but not much more in the pre-season. He could definitely be promoted. You could also try using Syd'Quan Thompson in certain packages as a safety.
The Broncos have been coping with Andre' Goodman's injuries for weeks, and it's been good experience for Perrish Cox who has had an up-and-down season, but has looked good for a rookie.
It's time for these young players to step up for the Broncos. They were drafted to be developed, but much like our 2008 season, we have a lot of young guys who are being forced into roles. Whether or not they are ready remains to be seen, but their first test will be a tough one against the New York Jets, who are the Baltimore Ravens wearing green uniforms. They are a tough, physical team that will smack you in the mouth.
With a game's worth of film where the Broncos are getting smacked in the mouth and knocked out, they should be able to make some necessary corrections.