It doesn’t take an expert to know that the Denver Broncos have a solid roster heading into the 2017 season.
After a disappointing 2016, they’ve done their best to fill the holes they believed existed on both sides of the ball.
Fortunately for the Broncos, there are a few position groups that didn’t need any touching up at all, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
The Broncos found themselves atop the defensive leader boards for the second consecutive season in 2016, and that’s largely in part to the play of the ‘No Fly Zone,’ but their linebackers were major contributors as well.
Von Miller was his typical, other-worldly self in 2016. The Super Bowl 50 MVP earned All-Pro honors and was just a few votes shy of taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors. Opposite Miller, Shane Ray stepped into a starting role and racked up eight sacks, one forced fumble and 33 tackles. Ray’s on an upward trajectory that has him primed for a big 2017.
Things weren’t quite as productive on the interior in 2016, but things are looking up for this season.
Injuries and a learning curve with his new partners made 2016 a little more difficult for inside linebacker Brandon Marshall. Entering his fourth year as a starter, Marshall knows that some of the problems the defense encountered last season (specifically, stropping the run) arose because of the lack of familiarity between him and Todd Davis, the Broncos other starting inside linebacker.
“I’m thinking that no matter who is in there, I’ll be fine,” Marshall said during OTAs last month. “But, I think it’s a transition period because you have different chemistry with different people.”
Marshall was a dominant force inside in 2015 next to now Chicago Bears’ linebacker Danny Trevathan. When Trevathan left in free agency, Davis was promoted to the starting role. As they enter their second year together, Marshall feels like he now has Davis all figured out.
“Todd is just a different player mentally than Danny, so we had to get on the same page,” Marshall said of his teammate. “I think we’re going to play beautifully together this year. It’s going to be beautiful.”
After a season with Marshall under his belt, Davis is also feeling the connection.
“Just playing together, I think we have a chemistry like nobody else,” Davis said. “We read off of each other really well. Just the last year has given us more time to grow with each other.”
While the inside looks to be growing stronger, the Broncos have encountered a little bit of trouble as far as outside depth is concerned.
Shaq Barrett, the third-year linebacker that was supposed to back up Ray and help take over for a retired DeMarcus Ware, suffered a hip injury during a personal workout at the end of May. Although the injury didn’t require surgery, he was projected to miss anywhere between two and three months of time.
“He’s a guy we signed because he can rush the passer,” Joseph said of the fourth-year linebacker. “Then he’s a big body when he’s on the edge and in the run game. He’s a guy that’s going to have to step up until Shaq returns.”
In mid-June, Barrett said he’s on schedule for a return midway through training camp.
As long as Barrett is able to successfully work his way back from his hip injury, the Broncos linebackers should be ready for a big season.