As Head Coach Gary Kubiak reiterated throughout the regular season and postseason, the Broncos' path necessitated contributions from the entire roster. This series details the paths of each player to the team's Super Bowl 50 triumph. Today's entries are on the inside linebackers.*
Marshall's route to Denver took a lot of patience. He had been drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Jacksonville, but the Jaguars didn't seem to realize what they had on their hands. They would waive Marshall three times over the span of a year, but the third time was during the team's roster cuts following training camp, meaning his time in Jacksonville was probably over.
In looking at a possible next step, the second-year linebacker eyed two options: signing with the Broncos or the Raiders. Each would require him to start on the practice squad, but the Broncos were a much better team and as such, playing for the Raiders offered a possibly quicker path to the active roster. He called then-Broncos nose tackle Terrance Knighton, who had been a Jacksonville teammate in 2012, and Knighton recommended the Broncos as a great organization and team to join. The Broncos also offered a stability that the Raiders and Jaguars couldn't offer at the time, so Marshall came to Denver.
Marshall rose through the ranks in his first year with the Broncos, eventually being signed to the active roster on Dec. 24, 2013. He would later reveal that quarterback Peyton Manning was an instrumental part of his ascent because Manning consistently noticed Marshall's play, nudging the coaches to sign him to the active roster. He contributed on special teams in the final regular-season game and in each postseason game en route to Super Bowl XLVIII.
In the following season, Marshall was initially tabbed as the backup to linebacker Danny Trevathan, who had led the Broncos defense with 129 total tackles in 2013, moved into the starting spot when Trevathan suffered multiple knee injuries. Marshall excelled in 14 games (13 starts) with 110 total tackles, two sacks, one interception, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble, but a foot injury would sideline him for the final two games of the regular season. In spite of serious pain, Marshall played through his foot injury in the Broncos' Divisional Round game against the Colts.
Marshall rehabbed in the offseason with Trevathan as each recovered from significant injuries. By keeping just two other inside linebackers in addition to Marshall and Trevathan as training camp finished, the Broncos showed confidence that the two would leave their problems behind. Starting next to each other in a new 3-4 defense, Marshall and Trevathan were a formidable duo in stopping the run at a league-best average of 3.28 rushing yards per play.
At a personal level, Marshall and his family escaped domestic violence when his mother fled with her two sons to an emergency shelter when Marshall was about 9 years old. After spending 26 days in the shelter, the Marshalls found stability and they grew strong together. Last year, as Marshall became one of the more talented linebackers in the NFL, he held a clothing drive to collect coats and winter clothes to donate to the Rose Andom Center, Colorado's first gamily justice center that will largely benefit survivors of domestic violence.
Trevathan's 2014 season was a cruel one. He suffered three injuries on his left knee: the first, a fracture just below his knee, came in the offseason and caused him to miss the first three games of the season; the second, a different fracture near his left kneecap, came during the Broncos' Week 6 game against the Jets, just his second game back from recovering from his first knee injury. The Broncos placed Trevathan on the injured reserve/designated to return list, which allowed him time to return to the field before the end of the season. But in that first game back, Trevathan dislocated his left kneecap and the Broncos had no option but to place him on injured reserve.
In the offseason, he and Marshall became inseparable in pushing each other to recover in time for the season. With faith that he would become stronger after such a devastating year, Trevathan set out to become part of the starting inside linebacker duo that would be a lynchpin of the Broncos' dominant defense.
Trevathan would play in 15 of 16 regular-season games and lead the Broncos with 109 total tackles.
With an indomitable spirit, Trevathan was relentless on the field from the day he first played the game. He was an exceptional player, earning a scholarship to the University of Kentucky. He led the SEC in tackles in back-to-back seasons and was named first-team All-SEC in his junior year. However, the Broncos got his as a steal in the draft as a sixth-round pick in 2012.
An undrafted player out of Sacramento State, Davis began his professional career as a college free agent in New Orleans. However, his situation there was unstable; the Saints waived him four times in five months as he split time between the active roster and the practice squad. But on the fourth time, they couldn't sneak him back to the practice squad. The Broncos pounced at the opportunity to snag a promising young linebacker to shore up their depth with Trevathan injured.
In Week 16 against the Bengals, Davis made his first career start. It was one heck of a time for a first start with the Broncos without Marshall, Trevathan and then-starter Nate Irving as they faced a playoff team. He finished the game with seven tackles, and wrapped up his season with 17 total tackles and two passes defensed.
Davis returned in his second season with the Broncos, and played in all 16 regular-season games with two starts.
"He's very detailed," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said two days before Davis' second start. "I'll say this: No player has had a better week of practice than that guy from me watching practice. I'm excited to see him play. There's a lot on his plate. He still does special teams stuff and those types of things, but he's worked really hard for this opportunity."
A seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2014, Nelson has stuck on the roster as a talented linebacker with good instincts and as a leader on special teams. He played in every regular-season game over the past two seasons with 23 total tackles and 11 special-teams stops.
Nelson was also named inaugural Community Rookie of the Year in 2014 for his contributions to the Denver community.