Denver Broncos Camp Battle: Linebackers

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystJuly 12, 2012

Denver Broncos Camp Battle: Linebackers

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    The Denver Broncos have a lot of competition for roster spots at the linebacker position. The starting job at middle linebacker is up for grabs and so are reserve spots at both outside linebacker position. A great training camp by any player could force the Broncos to re-evaluate the entire group.

    The theme for the Broncos' offseason was college production, as the team brought in several productive college players through the draft and undrafted free agency. The Broncos desperately need a player to surprise in 2012 and step into a reserve role, and any help the linebackers can provide on special teams may help their chances of sticking around on the 53-man roster or practice squad. 

    Let's take a look at each linebacker on the roster and figure out where he figures into the competition during training camp. 

SLB: Von Miller

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    How acquired: Round 1, Pick 2, 2011 NFL draft

    2011 Role: Starting Strong-side Linebacker

    2012 Role: Starting Strong-side Linebacker

    The Broncos used a premium draft pick to select outside linebacker Von Miller and he did not disappoint in his first professional season. In 15 games in 2011, Miller recorded 11.5 sacks, 64 tackles and two forced fumbles. It didn't take long for opposing offenses to start shifting protection schemes to Miller's side.

    After missing Week 13 in Minnesota, Miller would record only one sack the rest of the way. The New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and most surprisingly the Kansas City chiefs kept him from sacking the quarterback. Miller was wearing a cast after having surgery to repair significant ligament damage in his thumb and that certainly limited him.

    Prior to the thumb injury Miller was averaging 0.95 sacks per game. A healthy Miller is probably capable of more than a sack per game and should only continue to get better for the next few years.

    He's one of the cornerstones of the Broncos defense in 2012 and beyond.

SLB: Mike Mohamed

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    How acquired: Round 6, Pick 189, 2011 NFL draft

    2011 Role: Practice Squad

    2012 Role: Competing for reserve role

    The Broncos released Mike Mohamed after he initially made the active roster and was active for the first two games of 2012. He was immediately signed to the practice squad.

    He was elevated to the 53-man roster in Week 13, but was inactive for the final seven games of 2011 including playoffs. 

    Mohamed will have an opportunity to earn a reserve role in 2012, but he'll be competing with several other players. 

SLB: Cyril Obiozor

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    How acquired: Signed 2012

    2011 Role: N/A

    2012 Role: Reserve

    Cyril Obiozor is with his fourth team in three years. He went undrafted in 2009 and signed with the Green Bay Packers before stops in Arizona and San Diego

    Obiozor has seven tackles in 13 career games. He'll have a chance to compete as a reserve behind Von Miller due to the Broncos' lack of depth.

SLB: Steven Johnson

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    How acquired: Signed 2012

    2011 Role: N/A

    2012 Role: Special Teams Possible

    The Broncos brought in several productive college players that didn't get drafted due to their physical limitations. Johnson isn't the biggest, fastest or most agile athlete, but he's an instinctive, high-motor linebacker and that could be a valuable asset on special teams.

    There are roster spots to be won at the linebacker position, and the added value of special teams could be a major determining factor on which linebackers make the team.

MLB: Joe Mays

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    How acquired: Re-signed, 2012.

    2011 Role: Starting Middle Linebacker

    2012 Role: Competing for starting middle linebacker with Nate Irving

    Mays is a two-down middle linebacker that is a solid run defender, but he's a major liability in coverage. He's not a guaranteed starter and should be pushed by 2011 third-round pick Nate Irving during training camp for his job.

    Most teams would like to have a three-down middle linebacker that can stay on the field on most situations, but the team doesn't have that luxury with Mays. The Broncos will pay Mays over $4 million this season, and it's clear they are neither sold on Irving or comfortable with their depth at linebacker. 

    Wesley Woodyard played middle linebacker on passing downs in Mays' place, but with weak-side linebacker D.J. WIlliams suspended for the first six games, the Broncos need Woodyard elsewhere. 

MLB: Nate Irving

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    How acquired: Round 3, Pick 67, 2011 NFL Draft

    2011 Role: Reserve

    2012 Role: Competing to be the starting middle linebacker

    Irving was active for all 16 games in 2011, but saw very limited action at middle linebacker. He enters camp in competition with Joe Mays for the starting job at middle linebacker. 

    The lockout undoubtedly hurt Irving's chances of contributing during his rookie campaign and he registered only four tackles in 2011. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is a former linebacker and reportedly likes to mix it up wit the linebackers during practice.

    Irving needs to make the competition interesting and at least push for more playing time in 2012. 

MLB: Elliot Coffey

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    How acquired: Signed 2012

    2011 Role: N/A

    2012 Role: Practice Squad

    Coffey moved from outside linebacker in 2010 to middle linebacker in 2011 at Baylor. The Broncos are looking for someone to step up at middle linebacker, but Coffey is a long shot to make the roster without an amazing training camp and contributions on special teams. 

    As Robert Griffin III's counterpart on defense, Coffey was productive interior linebacker and the Broncos are hoping some of that will translate to the NFL level. 

MLB: Jerry Franklin

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    How acquired: Signed 2012

    2011 Role: N/A

    2012 Role: Practice Squad Possible

    Franklin is a lot like the Broncos' current starter Joe Mays in that he's a liability in coverage. Franklin was a productive starter in college like Trevathan, but provides no added special teams value. 

    Franklin will have to really impress to make the team and typically practice squad linebackers are expected to have a role on special teams. 

WLB: D.J. Williams

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    How acquired: Round 1, Pick 17, 2004 NFL Draft

    2011 Role: Starting Weak-side Linebacker

    2012 Role: Starting Weak-side Linebacker (after six game suspension)

    D.J. Williams has been a solid outside linebacker for most of his career, but he's recently become plagued with off-the-field issues.

    In 2010 WIlliams was stripped of his captaincy and fined for his second drunk-driving related arrest. Williams was suspended for six games in 2012 for providing a non-human urine sample during a routine drug test in 2011. It was a charge Williams defended in court, but his appeal was denied. Williams could ill-afford anther public embarrassment, but when he tweeted a picture of a page of his playbook, it sparked fan outrage.

    Despite these issues, Williams is a solid linebacker on the field and is averaging nearly eight tackles per game over the past five seasons. He's also developed a pass rush in recent years. He's not great in coverage, but that's not uncommon for many linebackers. 

    Some have speculated that Williams is no longer in the Broncos' plans, but until the team has a better option, he should continue to be the starter. 

WLB: Wesley Woodyard

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    How acquired: Re-signed, 2012

    2011 Role: Key reserve as weak-side and middle linebacker

    2012 Role: Key reserve as weak-side and middle linebacker (Starter for the first six games)

    Woodyard will likely be the starting weak-side linebacker for at least the first six games of the season while Williams is suspended. Last season, Woodyard started in place of Williams for the first three games and started another four in place of Mays at middle linebacker.

    Seven starts resulted in a career year for Woodyard and he tallied 97 tackles on the season, included over eight per game in his starts. 

    Woodyard would come in as a coverage linebacker when Mays and Williams were healthy and that should continue even if he loses the starting job once Williams returns. 

WLB: Danny Trevathan

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    How acquired: Round 6, Pick 188, 2012 NFL draft

    2011 Role: N/A

    2012 Role: Reserve

    Danny Trevathan had 287 tackles, 27.5 for a loss, six sacks, four interceptions, 12 passes defensed and nine forced fumbles over the past two years. Apparently NFL scouts didn't believe that kind of production in the SEC was worth more than a sixth-round draft selection. Trevathan lead the SEC in tackles in 2010 and 2011.

    With Williams missing the first six games, Trevathan should make the roster and have opportunities to contribute as a rookie. He's undersized at just 232 pounds, but the game in the NFL is changing and quicker, more agile linebackers are required.