Depth gets thin­ner with in­juries at LB

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick ex­cels at de­sign­ing game plans to take ad­van­tage of what he views as mis­matches against op­pos­ing de­fenses.

That’s a bad sign for the mid­dle of the Bron­cos’ de­fense Sun­day. Den­ver could be with­out its two start­ing in­side lineback­ers, Bran­don Mar­shall and Todd Davis.

Coach Gary Ku­biak on Mon­day listed in­juries to Mar­shall (left ham­string) and Davis (strained oblique) as the two big­gest he’ll mon­i­tor this week as the Bron­cos gear up for their most im­por­tant game of the sea­son.

The pres­sure ratch­ets up for the back­ups at in­side line­backer, Corey Nel­son and Zaire An­der­son, who have been forced into ex­ten­sive ac­tion over the past two games.

Mar­shall missed Sun­day’s game at Ten­nessee af­ter suf­fer­ing a ham­string strain in the third quar­ter against Jack­sonville on Dec. 4. The in­jury is in the same spot as the strain he suf­fered against Hous­ton on Oct. 24, which caused him to miss the Bron­cos’ next game in San Diego. He said this in­jury is worse.

The Bron­cos are not op­ti­mistic about Mar­shall be­ing able to play soon. He hasn’t run at all since the

Jack­sonville game but hopes to test his ham­string in prac­tice this week. If Mar­shall is un­able to play, Nel­son would get his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive start. He missed only one snap Sun­day.

Nel­son is the Bron­cos’ fastest line­backer. When he was a backup, he was typ­i­cally used in pass cov­er­age, play­ing more than 30 per­cent of the de­fen­sive snaps even be­fore Mar­shall’s in­jury. Bron­cos de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips has been happy with Nel­son’s sur­pris­ingly stout play against the run so far.

Davis suf­fered his oblique in­jury against the Titans, leav­ing his sta­tus for Sun­day’s game un­cer­tain. Ku­biak listed Mar­shall as day to day, while Davis is still be­ing eval­u­ated. Davis has started ev­ery game this sea­son and ranks sec­ond on the team in tack­les.

“He tried to bat­tle through it,” Ku­biak said of Davis. “But Zaire came in and played re­ally well.”

An­der­son’s tenac­ity and ag­gres­sion against the Titans’ run game were among the rea­sons the Bron­cos im­proved in that area as the game wore on.

Af­ter giv­ing up 138 yards rush­ing and 13 points in the first half, Den­ver al­lowed only 42 rush­ing yards and zero points in the sec­ond half.

The Bron­cos face an­other tough chal­lenge Sun­day against a Pa­tri­ots of­fense that ranks sixth in the NFL in yards rush­ing per game.

Both Nel­son, 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, and the 5-11, 220-pound An­der­son are con­sid­ered un­der­sized to be play­ing in­side line­backer. Quentin Gause, a rookie line­backer pro­moted from the prac­tice squad Satur­day, is the only other healthy in­side line­backer on the team.

“Zaire was one of our high­est­grad­ing guys de­fen­sively,” Ku­biak said. “Corey played a lot of plays. He had a good half and a half that he can play bet­ter in. That could prob­a­bly be said for the whole group.”

Mean­while, quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian left Sun­day’s game with no phys­i­cal set­backs in his first game back since suf­fer­ing a left mid­foot sprain against Kansas City.

Siemian went 35-of-51 for 334 yards, one touch­down and no in­ter­cep­tions.

“He should be good mov­ing for­ward,” Ku­biak said. “I’m proud of Trevor com­ing back, bat­tling through his in­jury, and be­ing there for his team.”

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