They could have taken a mix-and-match approach. They could have used a guy here, a guy there to fill in for the do-it-all Trevathan, the team’s leading tackler last season who will miss six to eight weeks with a fracture at the top of his tibia.
Or they could have put one guy in and see how it goes. That’s what the Broncos did this past week after Trevathan suffered his injury in practice, as Brandon Marshall moved into Trevathan’s weak-side linebacker spot in the base defense and worked in the team’s other packages as well.
Sunday’s 34-0 victory over the San Francisco 49ers was the first gameday test, and by all accounts, Marshall fared just fine. Marshall played 28 snaps on defense in the game, which eventually turned into just the eighth preseason shutout the Broncos have pitched in franchise history.
“I had a little pregame jitters," Marshall said following the game. “But after the first snap, I was ready to go.’’
Marshall made five solo tackles in those 28 snaps, so that is certainly efficient play at the position and also tied him for the team lead in the game.
“You know, he’s a young man that was with us a year ago, mostly practice squad, but was acting a little bit towards the end, you know a guy that’s, his teammates like him, the coaching staff likes him and then, you know the Danny Trevathan injury. We’re always talking about the next man up, and it is an opportunity for another young man," Broncos head coach John Fox said following Sunday’s win. “And Brandon I think got a chance to show what he’s capable of."
To play Trevathan’s spot in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s scheme, a player needs enough backbone in his game to play along the line of scrimmage in the run game and enough athleticism to play in the open spaces in pass defense as well.
Trevathan is really the only linebacker who does that consistently in the team’s scheme since Von Miller, also an every-down player at the position, essentially moves to defensive end when the Broncos move into some of their pass-rush looks. But it is Miller who has taken a little walk down memory lane when describing why Marshall is the right player for the job.
“If you just think back to a couple years ago, when (former Broncos linebacker) D.J. Williams was going through what he was going through, Wesley Woodyard came in and had a great season," Miller said. “When Wesley had a little bit of an injury, Danny came in and had a great season. So we’re expecting Brandon Marshall to come in and do great things for us until Danny gets back."
A review of the game video shows Marshall played with good instincts to the ball, with aggressiveness and moved with the kind of agility the Broncos want at the position. The Broncos also got to see the 238-pounder plenty in the base defense as the 49ers stayed in their traditional heavy looks on offense much of the time the starters were on the field for both teams.
The Broncos were in their heavier looks on defense for 13 of the first 16 snaps in Sunday’s game, including some 3-4 looks with Lerentee McCray in as a fourth linebacker when the 49ers still had Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.
“I thought we excelled in the trenches," Marshall said. “They popped a couple of runs, but that’s not us being physical. It was just some assignments that need a little cleaning up. Other than that, I thought we did an outstanding job."
After the game, Marshall added he would have to take the team’s defensive linemen “out for shrimp or steaks or whatever" for their part in keeping the 49ers blockers off him.
The Broncos will get some additional looks at Marshall this week in some situations that will be a little more intense than the usual practices. The Broncos will work against the Houston Texans for three days this week leading up to the two teams’ preseason game Saturday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“I just think here you’re in the best situation to get ready to play defense in a game," Marshall said. “We go against our offense every day in practice, and that’s probably the biggest challenge anywhere to go against Peyton (Manning) and all of the guys we have on offense. If you can hold your own there and make the right calls, you’re going to be ready to do that in a game, and I think that’s the case for me if I just keep working."