Scouting the 2014 Broncos: Brandon Marshall’s chance

Sometimes it’s fate, karma, written in the stars, or whatever you prefer. Brandon Markieth Marshall was born on Sept 10, 1989 in Las Vegas, NV.

Vegas, love or hate it, has Lady Luck for its unofficial deity. An injury that’s bad for the Broncos has another side. A player drafted in 2012 by Jacksonville and waived three times now has first shot at a possible starting job on a SB contender. He lived on and off Jacksonville and Denver’s practice squads, which may be a blessing. He's had time to learn.

Denver has a plethora of options in Lamin Barrow, Lerentee McCray, Corey Nelson, and others. Marshall earned his second squad berth behind the injured Danny Trevathan; now he's going to try and hold off all comers to win the starting slot at the Will.

I hated seeing Trevathan go down. You never want your leading tackler injured, but I’m trying to maintain some balance. The only good news is, we might be about to find out which of the young players is ready to play.

Marshall grew up in Vegas and attended the University of Nevada, where he was a four-year starter. He accumulated 259 tackles (145 solo), 40 for a loss, with 102 of those tackles coming in his senior year. He earned second-team All-WAC honors from Phil Steele Publications and accumulated six sacks, three interceptions, seven fumble recoveries, and three forced fumbles over his four years.

Brandon was drafted in the fifth round in 2012, but spent most of the season being waived, rehired, and returned to the PS. He finally made the Jags' 53-man roster in December of that year, and played five games for Jacksonville. He was waived at the end of training camp last year, and Denver signed him just days later. The Broncos' stellar player and pro personnel departments were on top of things.

Marshall spent much of the year on Denver’s practice squad before being activated for the regular season finale at Oakland.

His time on the practice squads may have served him well. As John Fox likes to say, it takes a couple of years to develop an NFL body. It gave him a chance to come to understand the game, and the linebacker’s role in it. He learned from two of the best - Jack Del Rio and Richard Smith. He came into OTAs on a mission this year, and was the recipient of several positive mentions from the dozen or so feeds I read.

Both coverage and holding his run gap were mentioned; Mike Klis listed both Marshall and safety Quinton Carter as the positive surprises of the OTAs.

Marshall started training camp by getting mentioned on Day 1; Andrew Mason commented that Marshall disrupted passes with pressure up the middle. He had 10 tackles for loss in his senior year at Nevada, so that’s not surprising.

By Day 5, Jeff Legwold noted that Marshall was making a run at a roster slot. While most of the press is given to better known players, Marshall has showed up in it regularly in a positive way. It was the same on Days 20 and 17, with several in between. He’s gotten good comments for his run stopping, discipline and coverage, as well as a fumble recovery. Day 21 was more of the same.

According to PFF, Marshall had a sack, a stop, and two tackles in the preseason game against Seattle. He was also targeted twice, and gave up a two-yard reception on one of them. He wasn’t on the special teams squad for that game. His cumulative was a respectable +1.4.

I watched the 33 snaps he took against Seattle. For the most part, he was solid in holding his gap, covered well (whether thrown at or not), and showed speed downhill and laterally. Every young player has weaknesses - it’s hard to remember, but two seasons ago, Trevathan showed some. Marshall will have to shed better (which I say about 90% of the front seven as rookies), but he didn’t miss a tackle.

It’s been the same throughout training camp. I didn’t recall a negative comment on Brandon, nor did I find one as I went through the full OTA/TC archive.

For the rest of the preseason, there will be a spotlight on his every play. It was hard enough last year replacing Von Miller with Nate Irving, who has, according to his coaches, since shown that all he needed was time and development. Now he’s showing starter level skills. He’s moving faster, tackling better, and biting less on fakes. His playing time was a big part of getting him up to speed. That was true with Trevathan, Manny Ramirez, and Malik Jackson, too. It could be true of Marshall, but the Broncos need him now.

It’s time for Marshall to step up and show whether he’s ready to play at this level. It’s even more important since Marshall was one of the names bandied about for nickel and dime groups. T.J. Ward will take over the Mike role a fair amount of the time on nickel/dime downs. Who will stay on as the second linebacker with him is a question yet to be answered.

Asking that of Marshall on top of playing Will would suggest that the coaches have a great deal of faith in him. I don’t see that happening, but it would say a lot of it does.

Marshall’s not alone in his quality work. Seventh round choice (pick 242) Corey Nelson has shown a surprising number of mentions during camp. He had five tackles (four solo) in the Seattle game, which led the Broncos. Unfortunately, he also gave up a 28-yard reception. Since he was on for only 13 plays, it’s hard to draw any conclusion other than he’s not shy about tackling. Five tackles in 13 plays is impressive. He’s been talked about as PS bait but mentioned as a possible backup Will or nickel/dime linebacker. It’s typical camp page-filler - no one knows. What you can say is that recovering from a torn pectoral muscle caused him to drop in the draft. He’s a better player than his late choice would indicate.

Lamin Barrow, appropriately for a rookie, has had his ups and downs, but they became more favorable over time. Lerentee McCray has been stellar, and the team should find a role for him. He’s getting raves for his penetration and tackling, and has shown surprising skills in coverage as well. While McCray is being looked at for backing up Von Miller at Sam, every linebacker learns all three positions. He’s also mentioned as in the mix for the second nickel LB, and might be able to slide to Will at need. Jamar Chaney has the benefit of experience.

John Fox noted,

“Danny’s not exactly a 10-year veteran or anything but [he’s] a fine young player. And we drafted a couple guys, [LB] Corey Nelson, [LB] Lamin Barrow, we’ve got [LB] Brandon Marshall, who’s improved as a young player, and who knows who else? So they’ll just get more opportunities, just like when [RB] Montee [Ball] didn’t play last week, different guys got opportunities.”

One thing is clear - Marshall has a lot of hungry people right behind him.

While Denver can bring in a veteran, there’s a lot of good young talent competing this year. Any one of several could be this season’s Trevathan. It’s a high mark to shoot at, but no more so than the goal of the Super Bowl. Whoever takes the Will position has to earn it.

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

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