Broncos roster breakdown -- Defense/ST

ENGLEWOOD -- This is the third season John Elway and John Fox have been at the top of the Broncos football flow chart. And with some of the most difficult roster decisions they’ve had in their tenure on the horizon next week, how the team has shaped its 53-man roster the previous two years can provide some hints how this one will go.

And it is worth noting, in both 2011 and 2012, the Broncos kept 26 players on offense, 24 on defense and three specialists (kicker, punter, long snapper) on their first 53-man roster of the season. Sure, things change, people get hurt, waiver claims are made (i.e. Trindon Holliday last season). But here’s a rundown of how things can shake out later this week -- the Broncos figure to make the bulk of their cuts on Friday with the remainder on Saturday since they play in the league’s opener, Sept. 5, against the Ravens:

Defensive line

Kept in 2011: 10

Kept in 2012: 9

This year: Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson, Terrance Knighton, Robert Ayers, Mitch Unrein, Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams and Shaun Phillips are the top eight. Rookie Quanterus Smith played just three plays against the Rams, but should be in the ninth spot with Jeremy Beal on the bubble and needing the Broncos to be thinking 10 players here. However, because Phillips plays both linebacker and end, the Broncos could keep one more player here and one fewer player at linebacker out of the gate this time around.


Kept in 2011: 7

Kept in 2012: 7

This year: Von Miller’s suspension affects things here since for six games so he won’t be on initial 53. As a result Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving, Danny Trevathan are the top three. Stewart Bradley had wrist surgery so is a candidate for injured reserve/designated for return, but the Broncos can only pick one player for that, so if they use it for him they can't use the designation for Chris Kuper, so they'll have to decide whether to carry Bradley as he's recovering or not. Steven Johnson is a key special teams player so looks like the fourth linebacker. Paris Lenon played as the No. 2 middle linebacker Saturday night so he looks to be in and rookie Lerentee McCray deserves a spot or the Broncos could watch him play elsewhere when he doesn’t clear waivers for the practice squad.

Defensive backs

Kept in 2011: 9

Kept in 2012: 10

This year: The toughest decisions may be waiting here. Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Rahim Moore and Duke Ihenacho are the starters. Chris Harris, Tony Carter, David Bruton are the next three in the rotational order with Harris being the do-it-all guy at the position and Bruton is one of the team’s best special teams players. The Broncos’ investment in youth should include Omar Bolden and rookie Kayvon Webster (Webster played a defense-leading 41 plays Saturday night). If the Broncos keep both of the youngsters -- and again if they are committed to building through the draft as an organization, they will – it could mean the final choice comes down between Mike Adams or Quentin Jammer. It’s rare, but sometimes teams do keep 11 here and go with six linebackers. But a choice would still be coming in October when Miller returns.


Kept in 2011: 3

Kept in 2012: 3

This year: Prater, Britton Colquitt and long snapper Aaron Brewer are the three here in the kicking game. Holliday is the returner who may see some spot duty at wide receiver, so that roster spot has to come from somewhere else.