Preseason, camp injuries changed the defensive side of Denver’s 53-man roster

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After a tumultuous weekend of roster moves, cuts and acquisitions across the NFL, the Denver Broncos are finally set with their 53-man roster. Injuries played a big role this year in deciding who was on the roster to open the season, particularly on the defense.

Here’s how the defensive side of the ball shapes up for Denver entering Week 1 of the 2017 season:

On the defensive line, the starting interior unit in their base 3-4 defense will be Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick at defensive end and Domata Peko at nose tackle.

Domata’s younger cousin, Kyle, will back him up at the nose. Kyle is just a few weeks returned from an offseason injury. His return became vital when flex lineman Billy Winn went down with a season-ending ACL injury during the first preseason game.

Training camp injuries to Crick (back) and Wolfe (ankle), meant Denver had to stock up on defensive ends. Both are expected back for the opener against the Chargers, but Denver is carrying six players classified as ends, five of whom will see snaps at the position, as a result.

Former second-round pick Adam Gotsis appears on the depth chart behind Crick. However, as with most 3-4 defensive lines, the Broncos will rotate their D-line frequently to keep their players as fresh as possible throughout the game. Depth players like Gotsis, Zach Kerr and Shelby Harris should see the field plenty throughout the season. Harris earned his roster spot through a very impressive preseason, notching 11 tackles and three sacks.

At inside linebacker, much remains the same across the board from the preseason. The inside linebackers are the same four that were on last year’s 53-man roster: Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson and Corey Nelson. Marshall and Davis are the returning starters.

One particular spot that fans should keep an eye on is outside linebacker. On Monday the Broncos officially placed Shane Ray on injured reserve, making him ineligible for the first six weeks of the season. Ray tore ligaments in his left wrist early in training camp.

The Broncos will turn to Shaq Barrett in his place, who may also miss time in the first few weeks of the season as he continues to recover from an offseason hip injury. If either player misses extensive time, depth players Kasim Edebali and rookie second-round pick DeMarcus Walker should line up opposite All-Pro Von Miller.

Walker, although listed as a defensive end, has transitioned over to outside linebacker with the injuries mentioned above to Ray and Barrett. He was drafted to bring inside pass rush, but the Broncos believe he is currently best suited for a depth outside linebacker role and will keep him there until further notice.

The Broncos secondary saw the biggest mix up with the departure of strong safety T.J. Ward. One of the charter members of the ‘No Fly Zone’ secondary, Ward and his $4.5 million salary were released Saturday morning.

In his place, the Broncos will turn to second-year playmakers Justin Simmons and Will Parks. According to the depth chart, Simmons is listed as the starter at strong safety, while Parks is listed as Darian Stewart‘s backup at free safety. Parks also stepped into the dime linebacker role during the preseason.

Simmons will have large shoes to fill on and off the field. Ward ranked second on the team in total tackles in 2016 (first in solo tackles), but a hamstring injury opened the door for Simmons and Parks to prove they were ready for larger roles. Simmons’ play in the preseason was promising, as the secondary did not miss a beat with him starting in relief of Ward, but only time will tell if he is capable of filling those shoes for an entire season.

Rounding out the safety position is undrafted rookie Jamal Carter, whose stellar play in the preseason landed him a roster spot. Carter racked up 19 tackles throughout the preseason.

At cornerback, much remains the same as last year with All-Pro cornerback duo Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. lining up at left and right cornerbacks and Bradley Roby playing the No. 3. Lorenzo Doss and rookie Brendan Langley round out the defensive backfield, and will contribute extensively on special teams.

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