If Broncos have their health at linebacker, they'll have everything


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- DeMarcus Ware has played for Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before, so he says he knows what’s coming, what the potential is in the Broncos defense.

“I’ve been with Wade in Dallas, I know what he does, how he does it," Ware said. “And with the players we have, the pass rushers in this defense, I think we’ll be able to force the issue, I think we’ll make some quarterbacks uncomfortable because we have guys who can do a lot of different things."

The Broncos have three potential high-impact rushers in Ware, Von Miller -- both have had seasons with at least 18.5 sacks in their careers -- and rookie Shane Ray all at outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme. Ray, who suffered a toe injury in his final game at the University of Missouri, figures to get some spot duty as Ware’s backup, but Phillips has said he plans on finding ways for Ray, Ware and Miller to play together in some pass-rush situations.

Miller, whose contract runs out following the season, has said even though Ray participated only on a limited basis in the offseason program, he saw enough of the rookie to believe in the potential of such an alignment.

“Oh yeah, we’ve got guys who can get to the quarterback, and [Ray] can be a part of that," Miller said. “And we haven’t seen everything he can do, but you see enough to know he can do some things. I think we have a good group in our [meeting] room across the board and I think people are going to see that."

And in the final days before training camp opens, we continue a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.

Today: Linebackers.

Monday: Defensive backs.

How many coming to camp: 16.

How many the Broncos will keep: A lot will depend on how the return from injury continues for three front-line players at the position. Ray took part in the offseason program on a limited basis, while Danny Trevathan (left leg) did only spot work and Brandon Marshall (foot surgery) didn’t participate at all in OTAs or the minicamps.

Trevathan and Marshall have each said they believed they would be full speed at some point in training camp, but the Broncos won’t rush either player and since Marshall had his surgery later in the offseason, he is still a question mark moving forward. The two are slated to be starters at inside linebacker, so if for some reason they each need more recovery time than expected as the regular season approaches, it’s possible the Broncos will keep an extra player at the position in their initial cut to 53 players.

Overall they project at the moment to keep nine players given several of them will project to be key contributors on specials teams.

The guy to watch: Ray was the unexpected treasure of draft day. The Broncos, originally scheduled to pick at 28th overall, didn’t expect Ray to be in their first-round conversations as the draft approached -- they had him as the No. 10 player on their board.

But an ill-timed citation for marijuana possession just days before the draft, as well as the toe injury, pushed Ray down the board. So much so the Broncos decided to trade up five spots to get him at No. 23.

He has promised the citation is a one-time deal and the Broncos believe the rest and treatment they gave him in the offseason, as well as orthotics in his shoes, will heal the toe injury. If that’s the case, the Broncos have a potential front-line rusher for years to come.

Break it down: It’s all about injury recovery here. Trevathan and Marshall have each led the team in tackles over the last two seasons -- Trevathan in 2013 and Marshall last season. They are active, versatile players who function well in coverage and are physical around the line of scrimmage.

The Broncos have worked Todd Davis and Steven Johnson in the two inside linebacker spots in the offseason work and believe both Johnson and Davis could start and be productive during the season if needed. So one, or both, could be in the starting lineup if Trevathan and/or Marshall aren’t ready when the season opens.

But if the two are healthy, along with Ray, the Broncos will have a deep group that would power what Miller has said can be “one of the best defenses in the league, no doubt.’’