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Position Preview: Linebackers


Four words every linebacker loves to hear: "Go make a play."

Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio is no stranger to that command, and his linebackers are eager to obey.

"He loves his players to be playmakers," Wesley Woodyard said. "We might make a mistake but he came up to us and told us, 'Hey, go make a play, I'm not going to take your playmaking away from you.'"

Woodyard and other linebackers have embraced the new freedom that Del Rio, a former linebacker himself, has given to the unit.

But in order to be successful in 2012, discipline and acumen must go hand-in-hand with freedom. Example one: last year's defensive rookie of the year, strongside linebacker Von Miller.

Miller and Linebackers Coach Richard Smith are working together to help the second-year pro eliminate mental mistakes and became a more multi-dimensional player.

"We're looking for bigger and better things out of him this year," Smith said of the 2012 Pro Bowler. "The system has changed a little bit in terms of ... he'll also be asked to drop into coverage. Right now he's taking pride in that. Through OTAs and minicamp he has done a really nice job."

Miller wants to reach a point where his youth never shows on the field.

"I'm not a rookie anymore," Miller said. "I want to start to play like a vet. I just want to be in the spots that my teammates expect me to be in for crunch-time situations."

Middle linebacker Joe Mays knows what kind of force his teammate can be.

"The way the guy can just spin, dip and rip -- just do all types of things -- I can't even explain it," Mays said. "It's amazing, the type of things that he does naturally. And he's only going to get better. So I look forward to seeing him do some special things for us this year."

While Miller holds down the strong side, veterans D.J. Williams and Wesley Woodyard inhabit the weak side. Woodyard, a fifth-year veteran, was second on the team last year with a career-high 87 tackles. Williams is entering his ninth year in the league and is the Broncos' active leader in tackles.

Mays, who re-signed with the team during the offseason, will occupy another crucial role in the linebackers unit - manning the middle.

"We're really happy to have Joe back," Smith said. "In terms of directing the front, he sets the front, the mechanics. Joe had a good year last year and we're hoping that he can continue to get better and have a better year this year."

With Miller and another Pro Bowler in Elvis Dumervil on the edges of the defense, Mays said he expects opposing teams to attack the Broncos in the middle. He doesn't mind.

"I just say bring it on," Mays said. "We're definitely going to be ready." 


Elliot Coffey:An undrafted rookie, Coffey earned All-Big 12 honors as a senior in 2011, taking home the Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP award and leading the Baylor Bears with 116 tackles on the season.

Jerry Franklin: An undrafted rookie from University of Arkansas, Franklin made 50 starts in his career and led the Razorbacks in tackles in each of his four years. He finished his college career with 382 total tackles including 31.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Franklin also recorded five interceptions, two forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. 

Nate Irving: The second-year linebacker participated in all 16 regular-season games and both playoff contests for the Broncos as a rookie in 2011. Irving was selected by the Broncos in the third round of the 2011 out of North Carolina State University following an All-American senior campaign. 

Steven Johnson: Johnson is an undrafted rookie who led the Kansas Jayhawks in tackles in each of his final two seasons. Serving as a team captain during his senior year, he led the Big 12 in tackles with 124. 

Joe Mays: The fifth-year middle linebacker started 12 games for the Broncos in 2012 and finished with 75 tackles, the third-highest total on the team. His 15 postseason tackles tied him for the team lead. He joined the Broncos in 2010 via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Von Miller:A second-year linebacker, Miller was named Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl starter in 2011 after tying the franchise rookie sack record (11.5). He produced two separate five-game stretches posting at least a half sack in 2011 and became just the second player in Broncos history (K David Treadwell, 1989) to be selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. * * Mike Mohamed: Mohamed is a second-year linebacker who played in two regular-season games as a rookie in 2011 in addition to spending time on the club's practice squad. Mohamed was selected by the Broncos in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft after finishing his career at University of California ranked fourth on the school's all-time list with 340 tackles. 

Danny Trevathan: The Broncos' sixth round draft pick in 2012, Trevathan led the Southeastern Conference in tackles his final two years at University of Kentucky. He finished with 20 double-digit tackle efforts in his college career and was the first Wildcat linebacker to earn first-team All-America honors ( in addition to receiving first-team All-SEC recognition.

D.J. Williams: A ninth-year veteran, Williams led the Broncos in tackles the last three seasons and five times overall in his eight years in the league. He is the team's active leader in tackles and owns five 100-tackle seasons, including a personal-best 170 stops in 2007.

Wesley Woodyard: Woodyard has served as team captain for the Broncos the last three years. He started a career-high seven games for the Broncos last season and has led the team in special teams stops in three of his four years in the league. An undrafted rookie in 2008, Woodyard is also a former Kentucky Wildcat, where he started 42 career games and had three 100-tackle campaigns.

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