Without Von Miller, the Denver Broncos’ linebacking corps is very inexperienced and totally unproven. Nevertheless, thanks in large part to the steadfast leadership and consistent play of middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard, they have played like a well-seasoned unit through the first three weeks of the season.
Starting at weakside linebacker this season is Danny Trevathan. A second year-player drafted in the sixth round that has shown instinctual playmaking ability, but had never started an NFL game before this year. Starting opposite of Trevathan, at strongside linebacker, is Nate Irving. Irving is a third-year player out of North Carolina State that flashed talent playing special teams, but like Trevathan, recorded his first start earlier this year. The only returning starter is Woodyard, but even he only has one year of full-time starting experience.
None of these linebackers are particularly big or overly fast, and as NFL offenses become increasingly pass-oriented, linebackers are required to cover and read offenses just as well as they can stop the run. Starting three inexperienced linebackers is a big risk for Super Bowl contending team, but it’s a risk that has so far paid off in spades.
The Broncos’ young linebacking corps has helped lead the best rushing defense in the football, allowing just 48 yards per game. They have also played very well in pass defense, deflecting five throws and intercepting the ball off once. Their performance not only eases the tension of not having Miller, but it will also give the Broncos tremendous depth that the position when he returns from suspension.
However, this type of consistent production from such a young group is only possible with a guy Woodyard to lead and mentor.
Woodyard receives little recognition in the mainstream media, but he is a consummate pro with the athleticism to play sideline-to-sideline and a superstar like work ethic. Barring major injury, he will be recognized as one of the best in the business in the near future.
After going undrafted out of the University of Kentucky in 2008, Woodyard worked his way to becoming the Broncos’ special teams captain in his rookie year and flourished in this “third phase” for three years. When Woodyard finally got his chance to start last year, he seized the opportunity with both sure hands. In his first year as a full time-starter, Woodyard led the Broncos in tackles with an astounding 51 hits, recorded 5.5 sacks and was tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.
Woodyard’s versatile production has been huge in the absence of Von Miller, but it is his leadership that sets him apart from most linebackers. He provides an unwavering presence on the field, calling plays and for long hours in the weight room and film study. Beyond football, Woodyard is renowned for doing great work in the community and is very popular throughout the locker room.
His work ethic drives the younger players to work harder and study harder. His diverse NFL experience allows him to relate to less-established players as well as the starters, and his personality keeps the defense loose and playing instinctively.
Though he may not be nationally known, the Broncos have certainly taken notice of his leadership qualities by making him only the second Broncos player in franchise history to be elected a team captain every year of his career. In addition, he won the Darrent Williams Good Guy Award in 2012.
At 27-years old, Woodyard is just entering the prime of his career. Already wise beyond his years, he could very well become the defensive leader for the Broncos franchise when Champ Bailey retires.