ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard enter 2012 expecting to lead the Broncos linebacking corps.
Mays started 12 games last season at middle linebacker and Woodyard started seven games at weakside linebacker. Woodyard, a three-time team captain, said he views this season as a great opportunity.
"We all come in looking for a starting spot and I think that's something that everybody recognizes and everybody wants to do," Woodyard said. "Every time I have an opportunity in front of me I want to take it and run with it. I just have a massive challenge in front of me to go out every day and play like it's my last day."
Mays said he has no doubts about Woodyard's ability to continue emerging as a leader.
"He's coming to work every day, working hard," Mays said. "He's trying to make sure that we know everything on the field, so when his number is called he is able to go out there and perform and we don't skip a beat. He's ready and the guys behind him are ready as well."
In addition to returning players like Mays, Woodyard and 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller, Denver also drafted Danny Trevathan in the sixth round of this year's NFL Draft. Trevathan has caught on to the speed of the NFL quickly, according to Mays.
"He made a pretty good impression," Mays said. "The guy's fast -- he can flow. He can get to the ball. He's a playmaker. He's one of those guys where you don't really have to teach him too much. The game pretty much comes naturally to him and he's able to go out there and perform so he's going to be a pretty good addition to the team."
Trevathan displayed his athleticism and nose for the ball during Friday's practice, hauling in a diving interception during a 7-on-7.
With depth comes competition. Mays made no predictions about who will finish training camp atop the depth chart at linebacker. All he knows for sure is that starting roles will be tough to come by.
"Everyone is hungry," Mays said. "No spots are given to you. You have to come out here and earn them, each and every day. The guys, they know that, so they're definitely coming out hungry each and every day to try and get better."
The Broncos backers will be pushed not only from within their position group, but also from quarterback Peyton Manning, whose reputation for making his teammates better is a big reason he was acquired.
"There are some times we're used to just standing there, and if we sit there, he'll pick us apart," Woodyard said of Manning. "If we show a blitz too early, he's on top of it and makes a check. Usually that play goes for a big gain. It's always helpful to have a quarterback like that. He's coaching us when we're out there playing him."
But it's not as though Denver's linebackers will be attempting to battle Manning and the offense's attack alone. With key free agent additions like Drayton Florence and Tracy Porter at cornerback and Mike Adams at safety, Woodyard said he expects the defense to be bolstered by strong play on the back end.
"We have different players, but I can say this year, we have guys that came in immediately and complemented us," Woodyard said. "I guess that is kind of a big change. We have some guys that we added to the secondary that are ball hawkers and make plays and we have some guys on the front that are playing amazing. The biggest thing is we're healthy right now."
When the Broncos finally don pads for the first time in training camp Saturday morning, the increase in intensity will be a welcome change for Woodyard and company.
"Especially as the linebacker group, we definitely want to go out there and hit people," Woodyard said. "We're loose right now, but we're just ready for (today's practice) to come."