ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --With the Broncos down to the NFL-mandated 53 players, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway believes the linebacking corps is left with a solid blend of leadership and youth.
Keith Brooking is an example of the former. The 15th-year linebacker is the most experienced player on the defensive side of the ball, and only quarterback Peyton Manning has been in the league for as long
Brooking, an offseason acquisition, injured his hamstring in his second practice as a Bronco, which caused him to miss all of the preseason games. That made it harder for the five-time Pro Bowler to be evaluated, but his intangibles are ultimately what secured his spot.
"I think we're going off the reputation and the leadership that he can bring," Elway said. "Obviously with him hurting that hamstring early in camp, it hurt him and it hurt us -- the fact that we didn't get to see him. But we just thought at that position, we needed that leadership and the reputation that he's brought in."
On the other end of the spectrum, Steven Johnson is one of two undrafted rookies to make the squad, joining long snapper Aaron Brewer. Johnson, a former Kansas Jayhawk, led the team in the preseason with 15 tackles – three for a loss – and added sack as well. In the final preseason game on Thursday night, Johnson forced a fumble in addition to his three tackles.
"He came in and had a great camp," Elway said. "He's a physical guy that knows the game of football, and did a heck of job competing. (He) made a lot of plays in the games, continued to get better week in and week out, and also worked hard on special teams."
Elway added that Johnson's initial role will be on special teams, but the rookie must be ready to step up if his number is called.
Seventh-round draft pick Danny Trevathan and second-year linebacker Nate Irving are two more players that Elway is excited to have on board in 2012.
Like Johnson, Trevathan secured his spot on the team with a strong training camp and preseason. On Thursday night at Arizona, the Kentucky alum showed why he led the SEC in tackles in back-to-back years. He made eight tackles against the Cardinals – the highest game total for any Bronco in the preseason. Elway called the performance "tremendous" and said Trevathan was "all over the place."
As for Irving, Elway cited his instincts and improvement as elements that made him an asset to the team.
"Nate continues to make strides from last year," Elway said. "He's a very instinctive player that has done a good job on special teams also. He's continuing to get better, which is what we want to see out of the young guys."
Rounding out the seven-man group is Von Miller, who is following up his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign, and a pair of fifth-year players with experience as starters in Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays.
"We've got a good mix in there," Elway said.