There’s no doubt that the Denver Broncos are young and unproven at the middle linebacker spot, but former Chicago Bears great Brian Urlacher is not the answer. The question of whether the Broncos should sign Urlacher is understandable, especially from fans, but his best days are behind him.
The truth is Urlacher is slow and is more of a liability to a defense today. If the Broncos were interested in an older player to man the middle linebacker position, they would have kept Keith Brooking. Brooking played much better in 2012 than Urlacher did and is healthier at this point in their careers. The fact that Brooking is healthier than Urlacher should tell you all you need to know.
The Broncos are going to go into camp with two players competing for the job and those players are Nate Irving and Steven Johnson. Both Irving and Johnson are young, but at some point the draft choices have to start producing. If the idea is to build through the draft, the Broncos can’t sign a free agent every time there is a position open.
Irving was drafted two years ago for this very assignment, and in my view, he is the leader to land the job. After struggling to grasp the pro game in his rookie season, Irving was much better in his second year. He played in certain situations on defense and was one of the Broncos’ better players on special teams in 2012. This is Irving’s opportunity to show everyone why the Broncos selected him in April of 2011, and it’s up to him to reward that faith.
Johnson made the Broncos as an undrafted free agent last season, and he was one of the pleasant surprises of training camp. Johnson is the prototype middle linebacker in terms of build, and the Broncos like his football smarts. He isn’t the fastest or the biggest linebacker in the league, but he made the Broncos because he knew where to be on every play. If Johnson has a good camp or if Irving struggles at all, the former rookie free agent could find himself in the starting lineup.
The Broncos also signed veteran Stewart Bradley as both insurance and as someone who can contribute on special teams. If Irving, for instance, is the starting middle linebacker, then the Broncos don’t want him playing on special teams. Bradley would slide into that role easily while providing depth at linebacker.
Urlacher is a big name that all football fans know, and it is normal to look at him and ask should the Broncos sign him? That’s especially true with the youth and inexperience at the position he plays, but it is time for Irving or Johnson to step up.
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