Monday, August 19, 2013
Broncos face juggling act at linebacker
By Jeff Legwold
The list of bumps and bruises left behind by Saturday’s preseason loss in Seattle just keeps getting longer for the Denver Broncos.
Starters like Champ Bailey, Wes Welker, Derek Wolfe and Louis Vasquez were already in the training room, and now middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is scheduled to have surgery on his left wrist in the coming days. He will miss at least three to four weeks. Bradley had been classified as simply “day-to-day" by team officials as recently as Sunday, but a full examination after the team returned from Seattle revealed the extent of the damage.
Bradley was not at the team's practice Monday. He said he felt rejuvenated after signing in Denver, offering he “felt healthy, ready to go," but he has battled injuries previously in his career. Bradley missed three games with a dislocated elbow in 2010 and missed the 2009 season after ACL surgery.
Bradley rolled the dice some to sign with Denver because of what he said were the team's postseason opportunities. He signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal that included a $200,000 signing bonus. Bradley had been elevated into the starting job in the days leading up to the Broncos' preseason opener in San Francisco.
With his surgery, in addition to a possible six-game suspension looming for Von Miller, the Broncos face some depth-chart moves at linebacker. And the issue, moving forward, is they get a little smaller in the base defense with the adjustments they'll have to make if Miller and Bradley are both out of the lineup. At Monday’s practice Wesley Woodyard, a do-it-all player for the Broncos, moved into the middle linebacker spot, a 233-pounder compared to Bradley’s 244 pounds.
Danny Trevathan, who is playing at 240 pounds compared to 233 last season, would be at the weakside linebacker spot, while Nate Irving, who worked as the starting middle linebacker all through the offseason workouts and the opening of training camp, would play on the strong side.
“We’ve got to take care of our business and Von has to take care of his business, on and off the field," Woodyard said. “... I had my opportunity last year when guys were hurt, so hopefully someone will step up and make big plays too."
The Broncos have struggled at least some, albeit with a wafer-thin preseason game plan, in the past two weekends against two of the best power offenses in the league in San Francisco and Seattle. In the preseason opener, the 49ers took the first possession for a field goal in what was a 12-play cameo for the Broncos' starting defense, repeatedly running against the base 4-3 look.
In Seattle on Saturday night, the Seahawks took their opening possession 65 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, the entire drive coming against the Broncos' base defense.
Overall the Broncos played predominantly nickel last season -- more than 60 percent of their defensive snaps by season's end -- so it remains to be seen just how often teams put them in their base defense in the weeks to come. But all the depth-chart juggling suddenly makes Woodyard, who plays in the base and the majority of the specialty packages, one of the most indispensable players on the roster.
“All I want to do is do my job, whatever that is," Woodyard said. “We all need to just get it done."