Last week against the Chiefs, the linebacker corps contributed four sacks, a forced fumble and a touchdown to the winning effort. On Wednesday, the unit potentially became even deeper.
For the first time in more than a month, Robert Ayers stepped onto the practice field. Before suffering a foot injury in Week 5 at Baltimore, the second-year linebacker had tallied 1.5 sacks and earned a game ball from Head Coach Josh McDaniels after the win at Tennessee for his run-stuffing performance against Chris Johnson.
McDaniels said the team will take their time evaluating Ayers as the week goes on.
“We have a lot of different things we are going to consider,” McDaniels said. “Not only is he just starting back to practice, but his stamina, his overall ability to play, how many snaps is the big question for us, and how he does and how he reacts once he is back on the field.”
While Ayers works his way back into game shape, the linebackers will continue their game of musical chairs within the front seven.
When the coaching staff decided to bump Mario Haggan to the outside last week, Joe Mays started on the inside and notched seven tackles.
Haggan sacked Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel three times, raising his career sack total to six. Haggan’s bookend, Jason Hunter, picked up a sack of his own and scored a touchdown when he scooped a fumble forced by Haggan and sprinted 75 yards untouched.
“We have some flexibility there,” McDaniels said. “We are probably going to see more than one combination of that in the game I would imagine because I don’t anticipate staying with one grouping for 70 plays.”
Even if Ayers is able to play on Monday night in San Diego, his level of stamina is unknown. After such a productive game, Haggan could see more time for Ayers on the edge, where he spent the majority of his time last year.
Learning two positions comes with the territory for the veteran, and it’s just one way he’s earned his head coach’s respect.
“It’s not easy, and it’s a credit to him because we have made him learn that basically all year,” McDaniels said. “He is very unselfish. He still played a huge role in the kicking game on Sunday, but that is Mario and that’s why he is such a valuable person and a valuable player for our team.”
On Monday Night Football, Haggan might not be the only one pulling double duty.
“We are probably going to put a few guys in different spots, make them double learn this week because we have to,” McDaniels said.
ONE MORE ‘BACKER
David Veikune’s resolve landed him in Denver. The linebacker found a team after tryouts with the Dolphins, Eagles, Texans and Titans.
On Wednesday the team added a new dimension to the front seven by signing Veikune and releasing Jarvis Moss. A second-year player, Veikune played in 10 games for the Browns last season. After being waived by Cleveland, he never lost hope that he would find a new club.
“I always had a good outlook,” he said. “I think a big part of this game is being able to fight through adversity, and I definitely pushed through everything and stayed motivated and it helped me out.”
He said he played inside linebacker in Cleveland, but he doesn’t know what plans Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale has for him. At his first practice on Wednesday, he did his best to keep up.
“They’re throwing as much as they can at me, and I’m just trying to learn it as fast as I can,” he said.
McDaniels expressed gratitude for Moss’ work while he was with the organization and wished him the best of luck down the road.
“He has been a great kid for us. He has done everything we have asked him to do,” McDaniels said. “It just hasn’t been a perfect fit.”
-Gabe Hiatt, DenverBroncos.com
Below are pictures from Wednesday’s practice: