With Nate Irving out for the foreseeable future with a MCL sprain, Andrew Mason, an independent analyst of the Denver Broncos website, says the team will turn to Steven Johnson as the next man up. As the middle linebacker, Johnson will see snaps in base package.
But when the Broncos run nickel sub-packages, it'll likely be the rookie, Corey Nelson, who comes in and plays next to Brandon Marshall. Johnson, a third year pro out of the University of Kansas, came to the Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.
He managed to beat the odds and make the team's final 53-man roster, due to his tenacious work ethic and jack-of-all trades skill-set. He's been able to impact the team, both as a depth linebacker and as their second best special teams player. On the season, he has played just 16 snaps behind Irving, however.
Nelson, on the other hand, has seen 80 snaps, most of which came in week 6 vs the New York Jets. At 6'1, 227lbs, Nelson doesn't have the quintessential size to be a "mike" linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He's more suited to the weakside, where speed is key, like Danny Trevathan and Marshall.
For now, it looks like the odd man out will be rookie, Lamin Barrow. The Broncos selected Barrow in the 5th round of this year's draft. He had a solid training camp but has been unable to gain the coaches trust yet.
When Irving went down last week vs the New England Patriots, it was Barrow who saw what few snaps the Broncos played in base package, but that was because Johnson was inactive for the game (for the 2nd week in a row), with an ankle injury. Johnson claims he is good to go for this week's matchup vs the Oakland Raiders, however.
When the Broncos have called on Steven Johnson, he has answered the bell, like last season, when he stuffed Jamaal Charles on a 3rd-and-goal from the 1 yard line, forcing a field goal attempt. Replacing Irving will be a great opportunity for Johnson, who has worked hard to be that next man up.