ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is blue-chip and there is blue-collar.
When it comes the Denver Broncos' depth chart at inside linebacker, a position where they are trying to replace the leading tackler on the league’s No. 1 defense last season -- Danny Trevathan, who signed with Chicago -- the Broncos have taken the road less traveled.
Among their top four inside linebackers on the current depth chart, only Corey Nelson (seventh round, 2014) was drafted by the team.
“We have a big chip on our shoulder and I think that’s what drives us and what propels us to want to be great and wanting to be known as one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL," Nelson said. “I think when you’re not drafted or even signed and then practice squad, I think you always fill the need to prove yourself no matter where you’re at or what height you’ve reached. You always feel the need to prove yourself. I think as a group, we feel the need to let our name be known and continue to prove ourselves and show that we can play in this league and we can be productive linebackers in this league."
As the Broncos move through their minicamp, Nelson is in a tight battle with Todd Davis to start at inside linebacker next to Brandon Marshall. Marshall was signed to the Broncos' practice squad in 2013 and spent most of that AFC title season there. But his play against the starting offense that set the NFL's single-season scoring record quickly had teammates suggesting to team officials and coaches that he should be on the roster.
Marshall was signed to the active roster at the end of the ’13 season and has been a key figure on the defense since. Davis was claimed off waivers by the Broncos from the New Orleans Saints in 2014.
“Right now it’s Todd Davis (as a starter)," Marshall said. “Right now Todd is playing extremely well, but don’t sleep on Corey either. Corey is playing well. He’s coming into his own. Right now it’s Todd, but who knows ... I love both of those guys. Both of them are good. Both of them want to be good. I think either one will be a great asset to the team."
The fourth player in the group, Zaire Anderson, spent last year on the Broncos’ practice squad after being signed as an undrafted rookie.
In all, the biggest reason the Broncos didn’t take an inside linebacker in this year’s draft is they felt good about the play of Davis and Nelson. And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has said Anderson has also make the roster this time around.
“He’s a good football player," Phillips said of Davis. “...What we do with guys that we feel like we can play and contribute, we try to put them in certain packages or certain defenses that they can play in the ball game. He played a lot of plays last year. He played in all of our short-yardage and goal-line plays and all that."
According to John Elway, the emergence of the inside linebackers shows the Broncos “always have to find the guys in every avenue who we think can help the Denver Broncos."
“Those guys show it’s not how you get here," outside linebacker Von Miller said. “If you can play, they put you in and let you do what you do. And the way Brandon [Marshall] and those guys play, they also show it was somebody else’s mistake to let them go."