The Cut to 53: Linebackers

Mike Mohamed

MOHAMED: ... lined up at all three LB slots in training camp.

In (7): Von Miller (R), D.J. Williams, Joe Mays, Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving (R), Mario Haggan, Mike Mohamed (R).
Out (2): Alvin Bowen, Lee Robinson.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Versatility is the most valued attribute for most of the Broncos’ linebackers — not just in their defensive abilities, but their contributions on special teams.

Miller can line up on the strong side and as a pass-rushing defensive end. Williams has played all three linebacking slots in the 4-3 at various points in his career, but is back in his most natural spot as weakside linebacker.

Woodyard, Mohamed and Haggan can shift among multiple linebacking slots when necessary and are special-teams stalwarts. Mohamed and Haggan lined up at all three linebacker positions during training camp, and Haggan even worked a few days at defensive end before moving back to his old position.

Of the three rookies, Irving has perhaps the steepest mountain in front of him because of the position he holds. With the middle linebacker making most of the calls and pre-snap reads in Denver’s defense, Irving not only needs to know his task, but those of others around him. A few days out of training camp with a sore ankle didn’t help.

“I don’t know the whole playbook, but I know what we’ve installed, and there’s maybe just some odd things sticking out that I have to go over now and then,” Irving said on Aug. 15. “If I’m not out here practicing, I’m in the playbook.”

The dividends of his study are likely to be evident in future years — unless Mays is injured, in which case two-thirds of the linebacking corps could be rookies, forcing Irving to grow up fast.

NOTES:

  • Robinson worked with the second team in recent weeks, but that wasn’t enough. “He was really productive,” Xanders said. “He’s been here on the practice squad, he’s always been on the edge there, great teammate, but it just happens with the numbers.”
  • Mohamed was the Broncos’ leading tackler in the preseason, finishing with 16 stops.
  • You probably know that Williams and cornerback Champ Bailey are the two longest tenured Broncos. What you may not know is that the linebacking unit has the greatest concentration of Broncos whose tenures date back to Mike Shanahan’s final season as head coach. Only 13 players remain from that camp, a group that includes Williams, Woodyard and Haggan. Haggan joined the team on Nov. 4, 2008 and in just 34 months as a Bronco has seen four head coaches and four defensive coordinators.
  • Woodyard’s season promised to be busy even before Williams suffered an elbow injury against Seattle on Aug. 27. One of the myriad looks the Broncos threw at the Cowboys and Bills the previous two weeks involved using Woodyard and Williams as the two linebackers while Miller moved to defensive end and the secondary went into a nickel package. Expect Woodyard to receive plenty of work even after Williams is back in the lineup.
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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.

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