Editor’s note: Eighth in a series previewing the Broncos’ position groups entering training camp. Today, inside linebackers.
On the roster (seven): Seth Benson, Jonas Griffith, Josey Jewell, Drew Sanders, Alex Singleton, Justin Strnad, Ray Wilborn.
How many on the 53? Four or five.
Most impactful offseason move: Re-signing Singleton to a three-year deal.
Last summer the Broncos brought Singleton in on a one-year deal to provide depth and play special teams. All he did was rack up 163 tackles while forming a potent duo with Jewell and continuing to be a special teams standout. Denver rewarded him with a three-year deal with $9 million guaranteed and worth up to $18 million. Now he’ll be expected to be an every-down player and one of the veterans of the Broncos defense.
Biggest question to answer in camp: How will Sanders’ role develop?
The rookie impressed early in the offseason program and then was limited by an injury. Coach Sean Payton called Sanders “a pressure player” and the Broncos defensive staff hopes he can be a versatile weapon to deploy over the course of his career. How quickly does that happen? And might he be a bit of a situational jack-of-all-trades with the depth Denver currently has inside? That will depend on health, of course, and then how quickly Sanders can pick up coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme. Joseph has a history of figuring out ways to get unique players to fit into roles and Sanders could be his next project.
Battle to watch: Strnad and Griffith fight to carve out spots.
If the Broncos only keep four inside linebackers, this could be a straight battle for a spot on the roster. But it doesn’t look that clean on paper. If the inside linebacker group stays healthy and proves to be a strength of the roster — especially if Sanders can be used as a pass-rusher — perhaps the Broncos go heavy inside and take one fewer on the edge or at a different position. Special teams will be a critical part of that consideration. Strnad and Singleton played a ton in that department last year and Griffith did before a foot injury cut his season short. Coordinator Ben Kotwica and senior assistant Mike Westhoff have some sorting to do.
Under the radar player: Griffith.
The way Jewell and Singleton played over the second half of the season, it’s easy to forget Griffith started eight of the Broncos’ first nine games last year next to both Jewell and Singleton as Jewell missed four of the first seven weeks with calf and knee injuries. A broken bone at the top of Griffith’s foot cost him the last nine games of the year, but he’s healthy now and in position to at least give the Broncos enviable depth inside. Perhaps he’ll show enough to make Joseph think about ways he can get all three involved — Denver did some of that last year against run-heavy teams just before Griffith’s injury.
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