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Mason's Mailbag: Trevathan the 'heartbeat' of the defense

It's time for another dive into the mailbag, where the primary topic is the return of linebacker Danny Trevathan from a tibial impaction fracture.

Remember, you can send your questions to me on Twitter -- username @MaseDenver, #askmase hashtag or you can use the submission form if you want to ask something longer than 140 characters.

Off we go …

It's about as close to a lock as you can get, given that he had three days of full practice and two weeks of work before that to ease into shape. He's listed as probable, and it would be a shock if he is not in the starting lineup Sunday. How much he plays is a different matter, and it may not yet match up to last year, when he played 178 more snaps than any other member of the Broncos' front seven.

That leads us to our next question:

I expect he'll play in a variety of personnel groupings, as he did last year and throughout training camp: in the base 4-3, as one of the two linebackers in the nickel alignment, and as the only linebacker in a dime package. But I expect that his work will be limited, owing to his recovery from injury and the flexibility the emergence of Brandon Marshall and Nate Irving offer.

"I'm not sure exactly, but at some point we will spell him throughout the game and not count on him going out there and playing 80 plays or whatever right away," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio.

"Danny will obviously have to work his way back into playing shape," added defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "I don't expect him to play every play like he usually does. I expect him to maybe play 30, 40 plays."

But even that will help the defense. It withstood the loss of Trevathan and developed its depth in the process. But Trevathan offers the complete package: sideline-to-sideline speed, coverage ability, intelligence and preternatural reading of run plays as they develop.

"Von (Miller) said it best: he's our NaVorro Bowman," said Knighton, referring to the 49ers' 26-year-old linebacker. "He doesn't come off the field on first, second or third down; he makes the calls; he's probably our most productive player on defense, and he's a leader on and off the field.

"We expect a lot out of him. He's really the heartbeat of our defense."

I would expect that to be the case, especially since the 46 roster spots are at a premium, and the return of Trevathan could mean that one of the backup linebackers who has been used on special teams gets bumped off the 53-man roster, and that could force Marshall into the extensive special-teams role he had in the 2013 postseason.

On the other hand, the Broncos could create Trevathan's spot from somewhere else. One possibility is running back, as the Broncos have used three runners on offense in their first two games. In the third, they used all four running backs on offense, but Juwan Thompson's only snap was on an end-of-half kneeldown. The Broncos have options, and as is often the case, special-teams will determine who gets the last spots among the active 46 on Sunday.

During the regular season, each player gets his own room. In the preseason, veterans have their own rooms, but rookies have roommates. Once they make the 53-man roster, they get a room to themselves.

The genesis of this policy was during the Mike Shanahan era; he brought this philosophy from the 49ers, who instituted it under Bill Walsh. The logic behind it was that players have different habits, sleep patterns, and road-trip idiosyncrasies, and one player's method could disrupt another player's preparation.

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