Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eye On- Denver Linebackers

I was writing a recent report grading the entire Broncos Defense, where I was also predicting who would be the starters at which position. Short of some training camp mishaps or a player coming out of nowhere it's fairly safe to say that Champ Bailey and Dre Bly will return as the starting corners in Denver, Marcus Thomas and newcomer Dewayne Robertson will most likely handle the Defensive Interior. Then at Linebacker we can look forward to Free Agents Boss Bailey and Niko Koustividas at the SAM (Strong) and MIKE (Middle) positions, respectively, and as Coach Shanahan stated DJ Williams would return to his natural position at the WILL (Weak) position... Or can we?

All the excitement the Broncos generated by bringing in Champ's brother Boss, spilled over to Koutouvides and fans seemed to forgot about Nate Webster and Jamie Winborn. Webster is coming off a stellar season, in which he accounted for nearly 1/10th of the team's tackles, finishing with 100 Tackles, 77 being solo. He is entering into his 9th season and is capable of playing any of the Linebacking positions. Last year he played well at SAM, he even had a better season than Boss who played SAM in Detroit. Bailey's statistics have steadily decreased since his rookie season in 2003, this is not because of injury, he's only missed six games in four seasons.

Winborn also had a decent season last year, playing as a backup, he managed 34 tackles, 27 solo. Which is more than Koutouvides, but they don't play the same position. Then we drafted Spencer Larsen out of Arizona and quietly picked up Brandon Archer off of waivers from Indianapolis. Though Archer does not threaten anyone’s starting position at this point, he is quite capable of filling a gap quickly and two years ago led the Kansas State Wildcats in tackles for three straight seasons.

Back to Larsen, besides just being a rookie whom Bronco fans would love to emerge as an immediate impact at Linebacker, what is he capable of? He’s a mad man, head hunter or as one NFL Scout referred to him as a “thumper,” I might be audacious enough to compare him to Tedy Bruschi. It looks as if he’ll have an immediate impact on Special Teams, most fans by now know that he is the same age as Brandon Marshall, old enough to be going into his second or third season professionally and already having a family. In college he was known to be able to realize a play quickly and immediately adjust to stop it. The NFL is the NFL though and diagnosing plays instantaneously is not a likely crutch Spencer can fall back on.

Here’s the kicker though, Shanahan has already asked Larsen if he’s willing to try Fullback. However this conversation may or may not have taken place before the Broncos drafted Peyton Hillis in the 7th round. The common factor between Larsen and Koutouvides is the number of games they have started at Middle Linebacker in the NFL-

One more candidate to add to the corps is undrafted free agent Wesley Woodyard, who some of projected to be a Cato June or Derrick Brooks type of Linebacker. Perfect for a Cover-2 or Tampa-2 Defense… Some say he’s undersized, may be better as an “in the box,” Strong Safety, some say he’s just not good enough, big enough, strong enough to even make it in the NFL at all. Scout projections like those applied to Woodyard are eerily similar to the way that Elvis Dumervil was graded coming out of Louisville as well. There didn’t seem to be a scout outside of Denver who wasn’t saying that Dumervil would need to switch to Linebacker to succeed in the NFL.

So who will do what? What will be the most interesting battles come training camp? I say Koutouvides first of all, keep an eye on Middle Linebacker, not only is Larsen capable of pulling ahead and winning the position battle, but Webster is also probably not looking to return to Special Teams and middle looks like the weak link on the chain which ultimately will get him back into the starting lineup. Boss Bailey also may have his hands full sealing off the strong side with Webster and Winborn breathing down his neck.

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