Now that the majority of the Denver Broncos offseason is complete in terms of player acquisitions, there seems to be a great deal of concern about the middle linebacker spot. I guess I get it because fans, by nature, are always looking for something to complain or worry about, but the concern over the middle linebacker spot is overblown.
The position is just not that important anymore, and that’s a hard statement for some people to hear because it used to be one of the glamor positions in the NFL. However, the game has changed from the days of Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and even the Broncos own Al Wilson. Don’t get me wrong, those players would still be great today, but the position as a whole just is not what it used to be.
Now it should be pointed out that some middle linebackers like Ray Lewis stayed on the field all the time, but they were still playing with two linebackers and five defensive backs most of the time. In the case of the Baltimore Ravens, Lewis was obviously one of the best two linebackers.
It doesn’t always have to be the middle linebacker that comes off the field it just so happens to be that way with the Broncos. The best two linebackers are going to stay in the game when teams go to the nickel defense, and for the Broncos that means Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller are going to be on the field.
People talk about the Broncos’ base defense being a 4-3 with four defensive linemen and three linebackers. That’s the traditional definition of a base defense, but in reality the Broncos were only in that formation about 30-35% of the time in 2012. That number is likely to decrease if, as expected, the Broncos are playing with the lead most of the time. If teams are passing to get back into the game after Peyton Manning has put up 42 points, then the Broncos are going to be in a defense that features five and six defensive backs.
The base defense in today’s NFL is really one that features two linebackers and five defensive backs. That defense is on the field for 65-70% of defensive snaps. The Broncos nickel back, Chris Harris, will play far more than whoever wins the middle linebacker job. In fact, when the Broncos introduce the defensive starters, they should introduce Harris over the middle linebacker.
The Broncos have three guys they like who are going to compete for the position in Nate Irving, Stewart Bradley and Steven Johnson. The front runner at this point is Irving, and I’ve always been a fan of his because I believe he has all of the tools. Irving is a little undersized, but so was Wilson. The Broncos will find someone from those three who can do the job.
Every team has areas of concern. I know people like to point to the middle linebacker spot for the Broncos, but how can a position be that big of a concern when that position is rarely on the field?
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