Denver’s looking to have one of the NFL’s best defenses this season, but for that to happen, they must figure out their inside linebacking situation.
Luckily for the Broncos, their head coach is a linebacking master in Vic Fangio.
Last year, Fangio found Alexander Johnson hiding in plain sight on Denver’s roster. Johnson was quickly a sensation, picking off Philip Rivers in his first of 12 straight starts. When the season was said and done, Johnson ranked 9th-best among all inside linebackers according to Pro Football Focus and is in line to start this year.
But, who will start next to him?
It was supposed to be Todd Davis, however, Davis injured his calf in training camp and is now working to get back to full health. In his last update about the veteran linebacker, Fangio said, “Todd’s getting better—not practicing yet, but it’s nowhere near the calf injury he had last year. He is getting better. I think we’ll see him out there sooner rather than later. Sooner doesn’t mean tomorrow, but I think he’s getting better.”
That was on Thursday. Davis didn’t take part in Denver’s practice at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium on Saturday, and then on Sunday evening, the Broncos signed another veteran linebacker in Mark Barron.
Barron most recently played for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year with 82 combined tackles, three sacks, one pick and one fumble recovery in nine starts. He also defensed three passes; could Barron be the answer in terms of covering tight ends? That’s been a deficit for Denver’s defenses for years.
Of note, Barron played as a safety and defensive back for four years earlier in his career before converting to linebacker. His 6’2” and 230-pound frame is more befitting a safety than linebacker.
Barron could become that nickel backer for the Broncos, a role Justin Strnad was leading until his season-ending injury. Justin Hollins has been moved to inside linebacker from the outside, and now Barron gives a much-needed veteran at a banged-up position.
For now, the Broncos depth looks like this:
Starters — Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson
Nickel backer — Mark Barron
Backups — Josey Jewell, Joe Jones, Justin Hollins and Josh Watson, in that order.
Note: The Broncos do not have an official depth chart out yet, these are educated guesses.
If Davis, for some reason, isn’t ready to go to start the season then Barron could possibly step in and play alongside Johnson. Or, if he impresses during training camp, Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell may look to third-year man Josey Jewell to step up his game.
While the Broncos are loaded up front — from Shelby Harris to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb — and the secondary seems stacked with veteran studs, the inside linebackers could be the weakness of Denver’s defense. How Barron and Jewell mesh with and grow in the defense will help determine just how great this Broncos defense can be.