Veteran minicamp was a major help for Broncos' draft plans


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the timing-is-everything department, the Denver Broncos' minicamp last week certainly influenced the team's approach in the draft and allowed the decision-makers to adjust what they believed were their positions of need.

Because the Broncos have a new coaching staff in place they can, by NFL rules, have an extra voluntary three-day minicamp for veteran players. That extra minicamp was last week -- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- and ended just hours before the draft's first round began.

And that three days' worth of work -- albeit without pads or even helmets -- allowed the Broncos a sort of final pre-draft look at the roster to confirm their feelings about their situation at linebacker. As a result, none of their nine draft picks was an inside linebacker; the Broncos chose to bolster other parts of the depth chart over the seven rounds.

"With the way the board fell and the way our roster is we just felt like we had some other things we wanted to get done," said John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager. "We like our young guys."

As the Broncos have gone through the early portions of their offseason program, linebackers Brandon Marshall (foot) and Danny Trevathan (left knee/leg) have not been full speed for injuries/surgeries from last season. Marshall, the team's leading tackler in 2014, had surgery to repair ligament damage following the season.

Since both project to be starters at inside linebacker in the team's new 3-4 scheme, it raised the question of whether the Broncos should address the position in the draft.

The Broncos had worked with the linebackers they had on the roster in meetings for a few days in the lead-up to the draft weekend. Last week's minicamp was the first opportunity for the new coaching staff to work with the players on the field. That work reaffirmed the Broncos' belief in the players they had as well as the timetable for Marshall and Trevathan to get back. Trevathan even did limited running this past week.

"Yeah we're very confident that they'll be back," said coach Gary Kubiak, asked if the two players would be ready for the regular season. "So we'll be fine. But I think we've got great competition right there, and if nothing else, with those two missing some time throughout the OTAs and the offseason, it'll give us an opportunity to give us a better look at some of the guys that are behind them. But we feel good about the competition."

The Broncos used two draft picks in 2014 on linebackers: Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson. The pair played in limited specialty situations on defense and were regulars on special teams. The Broncos also signed Reggie Walker, who has played in the San Diego Chargers' 3-4 defense previously, in free agency.

The Chargers' coaching staff felt Walker could play all four linebacker positions in the defense if needed and he was a regular on special teams. And the Broncos also have Steven Johnson, a 2012 undrafted rookie who has carved out a spot on the roster over the past three seasons with his special teams play as well as being a physical backup on the inside of the defense.

Todd Davis, who went from being a waiver claim this past November into the starting lineup following Marshall's injury last season, is also working at inside linebacker.

"I think Danny is a very good player," Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "Obviously he is coming off injury, but he's a tremendous talent. ... He's progressing well. The good thing is Davis, Johnson and Lamin, those guys played last year. They've got some experience. I think it helps them that way that they've played in ballgames and they've played in winning ball games. It's good that we have those guys."

As a result this past weekend, when the big names at inside linebacker were still on the board, players such as Miami's Denzel Perryman or Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney, the Broncos were busily trying to move up to select Shane Ray in the first round.

And later on down the board, the Broncos by-passed TCU's Paul Dawson, Georgia's Ramik Wilson and USC's Hayes Pullard to address other positions with their second- and third-day picks.

So while the three days' worth of on-field work were just a piece of the overall decision-making, it was an important piece by the time all was said and done.

"It's time for Wade and [linebackers coach] Reggie [Herring] and 'Pug' [outside linebackers coach Fred Pagac] to go to work with those guys and they'll sort themselves out," Kubiak said. "But yes, we felt good about them, as well as our backs and wide receivers."