By Ryan Ebert | Ryan@nflen.com
Last year the Broncos started off with Joe Mays and ended with Keith Brooking at the middle linebacker position. Both of those players will not be returning this year with the team this upcoming season. The challenge for Jack Del Rio for the duration of training camp will be to find the anchor of the Denver defense.
While Von Miller may be the most indispensable player on defense, the anchor of the defense still comes from the middle linebacker position, the one who reads the offense and communicates with his teammates to adjust their defense to best defend the offense, the one who gets the calls from the defensive coordinator for what defense they should run, the one who establishes a physical presence, and the one who should always be at the ball leading the pack. Names like Randy Gradishar, Al Wilson, and Bill Romanowski come up when we think of middle linebackers in Broncos history. The new season will need one in order for the Broncos to get farther into the playoffs this time around.
This year Nate Irving, Stewart Bradley, and Stevie Johnson are competing for the job (though if you ask me it's really just between Irving and Bradley). Irving is entering his third year in the National Football League, Bradley his seventh, and Johnson his second year in the NFL. Each have different traits and qualities that can benefit the Broncos defense, but which one will help us win the most?
I'm looking towards Irving to make the starting spot mostly since he has a bit more talent than the others, faster than the others, and has been improving nicely in each phase of the game. Also he was drafted by Denver (just an added bonus).
I would like to see Stewart Bradley claim the position because he has the most experience of the three. Bradley also has been a part of a couple good defenses with Philadelphia and most recently with the twelfth overall Cardinals defense in 2012. Stewart has been on some good defenses, that shows he can be the leader that is needed in the middle. He may not pose a huge physical threat based on talent, but he has a knack for the ball. The only knock on him is that he is injury prone. Ever since he tore his ACL in 2009, Bradley has not been the same player. Hope he can be the man though.
Then there's Stevie Johnson. While I'm sure he's full of potential the coaches may see in him and that he may have good talent, I don't want him to earn a starting spot. He's too young, and too inexperienced. He did produce two forced fumbles against the Ravens in Week 15 last season, but can that production last throughout the season as the physical beat down wears on his body? I'm not saying can he make two fumbles a game every time out, but I am saying can he be consistent enough while improving his game to the next level? I hope the best for Johnson.
Whoever Del Rio picks I will be happy with. Or maybe even get Urlacher out of retirement! Not. I would have liked to keep D.J. Williams even though he was a headache to the team because he produced on the field. No matter where he was lined up ILB or OLB, he made plays. I am looking forward to seeing Denver being a stout defense this year led by anyone who is worthy to be our middle linebacker!