The Broncos are just weeks away from putting what has been a rollercoaster of an offseason behind them and attacking the most optimistic time of the year. When the team assembles for training camp the inside linebacker position will immediately be a big area of interest.

Of the eight listed inside linebackers on the current roster, only one has over five years of NFL experience and the two projected starters are recovering from major injuries in 2014. The competition amongst the backups will be wide open but it is likely that everyone’s eyes will be squarely on Brandon Marshall’s foot and Danny Trevathan’s left leg. Here’s a look at who will be looking to fill the middle of Wade Phillip’s defense.

The starters

The two starting spots on the inside of Phillip’s four linebacker positions are not in question. The Broncos are banking on Trevathan and Marshall using their incredible athleticism and versatility to create mayhem for opposing offenses. While healthy both have proven themselves to be elite linebackers.

In 2013 Trevathan had an exceptional sophomore season. He played marvelously as in outside linebacker and ranked 11th at the position according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). He played in all but one game of the season, compiled 88 solo tackles and was great against the run as well as in coverage. The team was understandably very excited for his third season in 2014 but injuries piled up quickly.

Two serious left knee and leg injuries sidelined him for all but three games of the 2014-15 season. The injuries took their toll over the fall and winter months and eventually his knee cap was replaced in January. However, Trevathan remains highly optimistic that he can return to form this year and finally see significant time on the field with his fellow starting inside linebacker, Marshall.

“We are two of the best linebackers in the league. It is time for people to start noticing that. You know we came in with kind of a chip on our shoulder and us lining up next to each other is just extra motivation. I look in his eyes, he looks in mine and we both know that we got abilities to be the best out there. So why not go out there and play every game like it. It’s time for us to make a name for ourselves.”

Marshall, also a entering his fourth year as an undrafted free agent, is recovering from a Lis Franc injury he suffered in December of 2014. Like Trevathan’s 2013 season, Marshall was leading the team in tackles last year and showing the NFL that he could be an every-down linebacker.

Prior to his week 15 injury he had 113 tackles, 91 solo and was making his mark in his first year as a starter. The injury sidelined him for the final two regular season games before he valiantly returned for the playoff contest against the Indianapolis Colts. The delay in the full diagnosis of his foot injury has cost him some recovery time. He has been mostly absent from organized team activities and minicamp but said in early June that he should be ready for training camp by August. The problem is he will be playing the season with screws in his foot and expects the injury to be on his mind throughout the season.

“My trainer told me it will probably bother me a little bit throughout the whole year. Nothing to keep me out, but because the screws are in there, it’ll probably give me a little ailment after the game, after the practice.”

The Broncos are hoping these two starters will be healthy when it matters in September and their defense and season may be linked to that hope.

The backups

After Trevathan and Marshall there is a pretty big drop off in talent. Those starters have had at least a season to mature and excel as starters. Of the remaining six inside linebackers on the roster, as of today only two have a realistic chance of getting significant playing time on defense.

Steven Johnson will enter his fourth season in the NFL, all with the Broncos and has gained some valuable experience on the inside of the defense. Due to injuries to Nate Irving and Marshall, Johnson played in 251 snaps last season per PFF. He struggled in coverage but showed he can stuff the run quite well. He will have to show improvement in Phillip’s system in order to make any sort of noise at training camp and will have to display that he is quick enough in coverage to see the field regularly.

Todd Davis also got a shot on the inside last season when Marshall went down in week 15. Davis, who signed onto the team late in the year, was calling the defensive plays week 16 in his first start in Cincinnati and was learning the schemes quite literally on the run. After struggling in said game he played much better the following week against the Raiders while playing in every defensive snap, per PFF. He will undoubtedly be a front runner as a backup at either inside linebacker position when the team hits the field this August. With an entire offseason on the team it will be interesting to see what he can do.

Both of these linebackers have a slight edge on the rest of the backups simply due to the experience they gained last season but due to the new coaching staff the competition will be very close throughout August. They must prove that their experience last season went a long way in their progression in order to stay high up on the depth chart.

The rest

The remaining roster spots at inside linebacker contain two draft picks from last year, a career journeyman and a rookie. The field will be narrowed quickly with cuts so each player will have to perform immediately in order to stay out at Dove Valley.

Reggie Walker is the only inside linebacker on the team with over five years of experience but in recent years his role as been relatively small. He was signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 as an undrafted free agent but never caught on with the team.

His best season as a professional came in 2013 when he played in all 16 games with the Chargers and got the only six starts of his career. He totaled 36 of his career 73 tackles in 2013 and also added three sacks. However, consistency was a problem for Walker. He struggled against the run and his rushing ability from the middle was less than effective. He saw action in 11 games last season but injuries kept him from making a real impact with San Diego. The Broncos signed him March 13 and are hoping that if he can stay healthy, he can become a solid second-string player.

Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson were both drafted last season by the Broncos and remain in an even match for playing time. They both are around 6-foot, 230-pounds. Between the two of them they saw under 200 snaps on defense but got valuable experience on special teams. John Elway and the coaching staff will be hoping that both players will be in the conversation as backups in the middle this fall.

Lastly, rookie Zaire Anderson was signed as an undrafted free agent after leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers in tackles last season. He will be a long shot to make the team but will only add to the stiff competition among the group.

A lot of the defense’s success will ride on the inside linebackers this season. After a great season against both the pass and run the defense will be trying to improve on that as they transition to a 3-4 scheme. Assuming Trevathan and Marshall return they are locked in as the starters but the competition could not be any more open after that. Trevathan said it best when he described the importance of the whole unit being ready and the Broncos will hope it shows at camp.

“You never know what can happen. You’re one play from getting in. We want those guys to be prepared and be the best that they can be. Those guys have a great head on their shoulders and if they come in with the right mindset every day they are going to be great.”

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