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Broncos middle linebacker still a question heading into training camp

Our position-by-position 2014 Denver Broncos training camp preview continues with a look at linebackers.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Given the turnover at the linebacker position it would be interesting to take a quick poll of how many amongst us could name five linebackers that the Denver Broncos currently employ. There is noueau riche Von Miller, Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving, those astute to the finer contributors on special teams may know of Steven Johnson, but beyond that? Maybe a familiar name like Brandon Marshall (the linebacker, who is definitely a Bronco, not a member of the Chicago Bears).

Those who studied the roster last season may find Lerentee McCray a familiar name, McCray is arguably the best college free agent Denver signed following the draft. The Broncos whether intentionally or unintentionally were able to stash McCray away on their injured reserve last season.

One of the biggest stories from this season's draft was that the Broncos did not draft linebacker in the first four rounds of the draft, despite fans and media alike pegging them with a linebacker in the first or second round. Though KCNC-TV's Vic Lombardi did mention post-draft that Denver was trying to move up in the draft to the 16th pick in the first round, which may or may not have been to draft C.J. Mosley. Mosley ended up being drafted at 17 by the Baltimore Ravens.

The Broncos did come away with two linebackers in the draft, LSU's Lamin Barrow and Oklahoma's Corey Nelson. College free agents Chase Vaughn (CSU-Pueblo) and Shaquil Barrett (Colorado State), while veterans Jamar Chaney, L.J. Fort and Jerrell Harris are all on the 90-man roster heading into camp.

How many will make the team?

Last year the Broncos kept six linebackers active on the roster, though injuries were a major problem (Stewart Bradley, Miller and McCray were all on injured reserve by the end of the season). Paris Lenon and Wesley Woodyard have left via free agency, but despite an abundance of youth, Denver is likely to go with six again this season. The Broncos could get away with five "full-time" linebackers since DeMarcus Ware could theoretically be used outside a la Shaun Phillips and Von Miller a year ago.

Roster locks

Von Miller (#58)
Von Miller will possibly start training camp on the PUP list. With his 2013 backup Shaun Phillips out of Denver, it will be interesting to see who lines at strongside linebacker for the Broncos entering camp if Miller is indeed PUP'ed.

Danny Trevathan (#59)
Trevathan is arguably the best all around Linebacker on the Broncos roster right now. Danny will be the starting weak-side linebacker who will also play in sub-packages.

Nate Irving (#56)
It looks like Irving will finally take over as the starting inside linebacker. Even if he's passed by someone else he'll make the team as a valuable depth/special teams player

Roster bubble

Steven Johnson (#53)
Johnson is a fan favorite by some here on Mile High Report. He's mostly seen time on special teams, and can be considered a special teams ace. Johnson offers versatility at all three linebacker spots as well as his special teams work. I think Johnson can crack the roster for his special teams work, but he's not quite a lock to make the final roster.

Lamin Barrow (#57)
Barrow was selected in the fifth round in the 2014 NFL draft, and it would be pretty shocking if the Broncos decided to cut ties with him after drafting him only four months prior. Here's the thing - they did it twice a year ago, releasing both sixth round pick Vinston Painter and fifth round pick Tavarres King out of training camp. I think Barrow will make the team, but don't think he's quite a "lock." Barrow could push for the starting Inside Linebacker job, and will compete for playing time in sub-packages.

Corey Nelson (#47)
Nelson was a seventh round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. Nelson's draft stock sunk after suffering a pectoral injury suffered last year. Nelson is a bit undersized 6'0 231lbs, and is destined to be a weak-side/sub-package linebacker. Nelsons' best shot at making the final roster is to excel on special teams and show some coverage skills that could get him some playing time down the road.

Shaquil Barrett (#48)
Barrett was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft concluded. Barrett offers an intriguing skill set as a pass rusher. Barrett is listed at 6'1 260lbs so it will be interesting to see if Barrett is used as a defensive end, a linebacker, or a Hybrid edge rusher. He's a talented linebacker who has a decent shot at cracking roster.

Lerentee McCray (#55)
McCray would have made the roster last season if it weren't for an ankle injury that put him on the season ending IR. McCray has been getting 1st team reps this offseason with Von Miller recovering from an ACL injury. That leads me to believe that McCray is first in line to be Von Millers backup, and could earn some playing time early on with Miller still on the mend. McCray is listed at 6'3 and 249 lbs., and he offers some pass rush ability. I will be keeping a close eye to see how McCray does in camp and in the preseason. I like McCray's chances to make the roster, but anything can happen.

Brandon Marshall (#54)
Marshall is a linebacker in whom I'm pretty interested. I really do not know a ton about the former fifth round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, however he looks to have an athletic build(6'1 237lbs) and per scouting reports Marshall has a nose for the ball. Marshall is a smart player who gives his all on every snap. Marshall looks to be competing for a backup linebacker spot, and a spot on special teams. If Marshall can show his worth on special teams, and can show he can excell in coverage he could make the final 53.

Jerrell Harris (#52)
Harris is a 6'3 242 linebacker for is entering his second year in the league. Harris played College football at the University of Alabama. As a member of the Crimson Tide, Harris was a member of two national championship teams. Harris has bounced around the league with stints with the Patriots, Chargers, Raiders, Jaguars, and Montreal Alouettes before signing with the Broncos. It appears that Harris is a long shot for the roster, but will have a chance to show his worth in camp.

L.J Fort (#50)
Fort is entering his forth year in the NFL, and will be competing for a roster spot on the Denver Broncos defense. Fort played his first three years for the Cleveland Browns, and totaled 20 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception. Fort is a bit undersized at 6'0 230lbs so he's competing for a spot as a weak-side linebacker. Fort has a chance to make the roster but it looks to be doubtful.

Jamar Chaney (#51)
Jamar Chaney was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Chaney has totaled 117 tackles, 1 sack, 4 pass deflections and 3 interceptions during his career. I like Chaney's chances of making the roster. He has shown to be a decent NFL player, and he has experience as a starter. With the depth at middle linebacker spot being pretty thing, he could make it as a reserve linebacker.

Chase Vaughn (#49)
Vaughn was a member of the Arena Football League's Spokane Shock in 2013. Vaughn is now getting his shot in the NFL. He's a 6'1 242lb linebacker who has some pass rush ability. Vaughn will be an interesting guy to watch in camp, and how well he transitions to the NFL.


"You’ve got a whole new look on what it means to play in the National Football League and what football really means to me. I can play football 24/7 every day out of the year. This is my dream and I’m living the dream." - Von Miller on focusing on getting ready for the season.