Unit-by unit analysis - D-line and linebacker

Check out who's returning for the Denver Broncos at the defensive line and linebacker positions.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- RDE Kevin Vickerson, NT Jamal Williams, LDE Justin Bannan. Backups -- NT Ronald Fields, DE/NT Marcus Thomas, DE Ryan McBean, DE Louis Leonard.

All three of Denver's starters would make solid rotational reserves. Bannan's the best of the bunch, consistently playing with a high motor, but Williams is nearing the end and while he stayed healthy can't play significant snaps and doesn't draw the double-team attention of his All-Pro days.

Vickerson was picked up off the street after training camp and quickly surpassed McBean, pointing at the weakness of this group overall. Thomas could be a free agent and may go.

Ronald Fields can spell a top-notch nose tackle but isn't starter material.

Leonard was a late addition to the roster in December, his third team in 2010.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB Jason Hunter, SILB Mario Haggan, WILB D.J. Williams, LOLB Robert Ayers. Backups -- David Veikune, Wesley Woodyard, Elvis Dumervil, Braxton Kelley, Joe Mays, Lee Robinson.

The Broncos' plans went to tatters the moment Dumervil -- the 2009 NFL sack leader -- tore a chest muscle in a blocking drill in camp. His healthy return is Part 1 of the rebuilding process on defense.

Mario Haggan was a standout with his leadership and versatility, splitting time between outside and inside linebacker. Hunter struggled at times holding the edge as he transitioned from a 4-3 defensive end.

Williams got on the organization's bad side with a DUI arrest and had his captaincy stripped. His future is cloudy, despite his team-leading tackle production.

Ayers still hasn't demonstrated the burst off the edge necessary to be an effective NFL pass rusher to complement Dumervil. He'll need a big offseason.

Mays was a surprise on defense before going down with his hustle and grit, and should remain a special teams fixture, along with Woodyard, who lacks the bulk to be a consistent defensive performer.



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