How might the Broncos replace Nate Irving?

The news on Nate Irving’s torn MCL - that he was placed on IR and won’t return - saddened but didn’t surprise me. I’m sorry for the man, and I hope he recovers quickly and completely. I have a lot of respect for Nate.

But he won’t be back in orange this year, and his contract is up after the season. Denver may move on.

As we talked about on Thursday, Denver’s been using a three-safety look. T.J. Ward has been handling a SS/LB role when they’re in nickel. Quinton Carter has taken over SS, with Rahim Moore at FS. It’s a good option. Corey Nelson has taken some snaps in relief, as has Lamin Barrow. Both are rookies, and neither is at the level of Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, or Von Miller, which is no insult.

The short term solution on Nate is to keep Steven Johnson playing the run at Mike and handling nickel/dime as mentioned before. Trevathan is not due back until the Week 15 rematch at San Diego, at the earliest. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to slide him over and regain their communication. With Danny, though, I don’t worry much about his level of play.

The team also picked up Todd Davis, ILB, off waivers from New Orleans. Davis is a 6’1, 230 lb player out of Sacramento State. Davis put up good numbers while there. He totaled 351 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 30 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. He had one fumble recovery, three interceptions, and one blocked kick over four seasons.

He was someone that Denver was interested in before the 2014 Draft. They considered him as a late-round pick, but went with Nelson instead. Davis was offered a CFA contract, but eventually chose to go with the Saints, who waived him four times before Denver got him off the wire. Brandon Marshall was waived three times, so that doesn’t matter to me much. It might be that the Saints' roster was thick with LBs back then and he didn’t see a chance for himself. Regardless - he’s a Broncos now. Welcome to Denver, Todd.

The question is going to be how to solve the issue of the Mike. There will be both short and long term solutions. Some answers have already presented themselves. Denver’s been bringing Ward down as a linebacker on some nickel plays. They have Carter playing strong safety and Moore at free safety. Marshall’s been the other linebacker, and it’s working well. It’s a workaround, though - not the best long term solution. I love Ward’s physicality, but his coverage isn’t as strong.

I put out the question of possible Mike options to several people. Some wanted to know if Davis is a legitimate option for Mike. I doubt it right now - he was just waived, he needs to learn a thick playbook, and I see better options. No offense to Davis, but he needs to develop before competing for the Mike.

Another question regarded any free agent ILBs out there. I found quite a few, but none as good as some of the options already on the Broncos.

I dropped a tweet to Andrew Mason, whose insight into Denver’s thoughts have often been fruitful. I asked about using Danny Trevathan at Mike with Marshall at Will. Danny is due back in mid-December.

It’s no secret that I’d prefer a versatile Mike. He should stop the run in the early downs and play coverage LB on passing downs. He’d need pass coverage as well as tackling skills. He’d also need a good, clear understanding of Denver’s defense and his potential role in it. Trevathan’s a natural leader, and that’s another skill that should be what Denver looks for. Leadership isn’t an easy skill to master. My question was,

“Any thoughts on Danny T at Mike with Marshall at Will?”

Mason’s reply was sensible and succinct:

“Or maybe the reverse. But neither would surprise me. Get your best guys on the field.”

Exactly.

Going into the season, no one predicted either of two things. First, that Trevathan, who has almost no history of injury, would break the same leg twice. Second, that a thrice-waived castoff from the bottomfeeding Jaguars would turn out to be the kind of player that Marshall has. With a rededicated Von Miller back at Sam/DE, Trevathan and Marshall would round out a fine trio of LBs. Neither would need to come off the field for anything other than a short blow.

“Get your best guys on the field.” We’ll talk about drafting in the offseason. But Barrow was drafted to back up the Mike slot. He deserves a chance next camp to see how much he’s progressed. Nelson’s been playing well for a rookie. He’s got decent coverage and tackling skills. He will also compete. But when you talk about letting the best guys play? That’s Von, Danny and Brandon. It’s not even close.

I tend to think that Danny’s experience will give him a leg up on the position. I doubt that he cares which slot he plays in - he’s not that kind of player. He just wants to win. Marshall’s the same way.

Using them both has another advantage. Given the depth at LB, a draft pick would be ‘opened’. It could be used for a lineman, cornerback, or whatever Denver’s top concern might be.

I don’t worry about John Elway thinking long term. By eliminating the need for more LBs, that option just makes sense. The more I thought about which player should take Mike, the less it mattered. Get the best guys you have on the field. Make sure they fit the role they’re asked to play and let them get after it. Jack Del Rio trains all LBs in all three positions. This has shown us why.

Lerentee McCray can handle the run downs if Johnson falters (no reason to think he will). He’s effective in coverage and rushes the passer very well. He’s been inconsistent in the past, though. He’s a solid option if Miller is out for a time. Nelson and Barrow will have an offseason to build their bodies and immerse themselves in film. Many players make a leap from their rookie season to their second year.

All the best to Nate on his recovery. In the meantime, a sincere hope that the rest of the linebackers stay healthy. Denver’s done very well in collecting them. Some still need the seasoning that experience provides.

Onward to St. Louis. Let’s leave them with the blues.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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