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Film Room: A Look At Zaire Anderson, Dwayne Norman & Darnell Sankey's Respective Performances In Preseason Game 2

The Broncos lost second-string LB Corey Nelson to a wrist injury Saturday night, putting the onus on the depth players. In today's film room, Chad Jensen reviews the best plays of Zaire Anderson, Dwayne Norman, and Darnell Sankey in Game 2 of the preseason.

There's no question the Denver Broncos collective defense took a step backward in their 31-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers—the second preseason game of 2016. It was a sloppy performance, replete with missed tackles, lack of execution, and busted assignments. The poor performance was pretty evenly metered out across the second and third-string defensive units. However, one bright spot were the backup inside linebackers. 

Second-stringer Corey Nelson left the game early with a wrist injury, putting the onus on the depth players at ILB to stop the gap. They were equal to their opportunity (mostly).

Zaire AndersonDwayne Norman, and Darnell Sankey combined for nine tackles. They were all over the field and always around the ball, as an ILB should be. 

In today's film room, we'll evaluate the best plays of the night from this respective triumvirate. 

Zaire Anderson

Play 1: Forced Fumble

Defense: Nickel

Offense10 personnel (shotgun, trips right)

Coming off a Mark Sanchez lost fumble on the previous play, the Broncos defense is put in a tough situation. With just 39 seconds left til the half, Chip Kelly is going to keep his foot on the gas pedal. 

In their Nickel sub-package, Zaire Anderson and the Broncos are expecting a pass. The Niners attempt a little trickeration here, splitting three receivers out right. At the snap, however, QB Jeff Driskel throws a quick-screen to RB Mike Davis to the left, where there's some open field. 

Anderson begins to drop back, but reads the screen quickly, and drives on the ball. His collision with Davis is violent and explosive, popping the ball out. DE Billy Winn recovers, giving Sanchez and company the ball back in the redzone with time enough to score. Alas, the extra possession was squandered with another Sanchez turnover. 

Analysis: Anderson is a heat-seeking missile. He reads and reacts to the play quickly, and drives on the ball with tremendous force. The kid has a nose for the ball and he finishes his tackles strongly. 

Play 2: Forced Fumble No. 2

Defense: 3-4 base

Offense: 11 personnel (shotgun)

The Broncos are in their base defense on first down, and they seem confused pre-snap. The Niners have trips right again, with a TE in-line to help block, trying to tempo the Broncos as Kelly is wont to do. 

The hand-off goes to RB Davis, and safety Justin Simmons flies down into the box. Simmons doesn't make the tackle, but he gets a hand on the ball, loosening Davis' grip on it. Anderson pursues the ball-carrier, leaping over the downed LG, to once again deliver a punishing hit. Anderson's impact completes the fumble, recovered by DE Adam Gotsis

Analysis: Anderson was credited with the forced fumble on this play, but it should have gone to Simmons. Still, watching Anderson sift through the traffic, while still delivering a hit of that magnitude is impressive. 

Dwayne Norman

Play 1

Defense: 3-4 base

Offense: 12 personnel (shotgun)

Dwayne Norman takes the field after Corey Nelson's injury. Norman is lined up next to Todd Davis. At the snap, the play comes toward Davis, who shoots into the gap, but uncharacteristically misses the tackle. Norman pursues from the backside to clean up the sloppy play. Norman's hit almost knocks the ball out of DuJuan Harris' hands. 

Analysis: I loved the speed Norman displays, driving on the ball and delivering a vicious hit and take-down. Good instincts and tackling technique. 

Play 2

Defense: 3-4 base

Offense: 12 personnel (shotgun)

The Broncos are in base defense, with S Simmons in the box lined up as a LB in response to San Francisco's heavy TE set. The run play is designed to go right, but the RB sees OLB Shaquil Barrett and cuts it back. Meanwhile, Norman has been engaged by the TE lined up next to the RT, but manages to shed him and once again pursue from the backside to clean up another play replete with missed tackles. 

Analysis: Every defense needs a guy like this—good vision and a high motor. Props to the undrafted rookie out of Duke University. 

Play 3

Defense: 3-4 base

Offense: 12 personnel (shotgun)

The Broncos are in base defense again in response to the Niners use of two TE sets. Out of the shotgun, the hand-off is another dive up the middle. Norman, lined up over the RT, squeezes through the C-gap to wrap up the ball-carrier from behind for a short 3-yard gain. 

Analysis: Although they didn't open an interior hole, the Niners O-line got good push on this play. Norman flows downhill to the ball, making the tackle from behind. Well done. 

Darnell Sankey

Play 1

Defense: 3-4 base

Offense: 11 personnel (shotgun)

The Broncos are in base defense, with a single-high safety on second down. At the snap, Sankey keeps his feet moving, angling for the B-gap the RB has zeroed in on. Sankey explodes downhill and delivers a massive "pop" on the ball carrier, stopping him in his tracks at full speed. 

Analysis: Sankey is one of the biggest ILBs on the roster, at 6-foot-3, 249-pounds. He uses his size well and shows immense physicality bringing the RB down from 60-to-0 in a split-second. 

Play 2

Defense: 3-4 base (blitz)

Offense: 11 personnel (shotgun)

The Broncos are in base, but LB Norman is selling out on a blitz. This leaves Sankey to cover the RB out of the backfield one-on-one. QB Christian Ponder, being the veteran, gets rid of the ball quickly on the outlet to the RB, but Sankey tracks his assignment and closes in to make the open-field tackle for only a 2-yard gain. Had he missed the tackle, the RB had a wide-open romp to a first down, at least. 

Analysis: The best defenses tackle well across the board. The Broncos didn't tackle well in Game 2, but Sankey shows great hustle and commitment to bring down the ball-carrier in the open field. I guarantee he earned high marks from his coaches on this play. 


The Broncos have three very intriguing depth inside linebackers. Right now, Zaire Anderson is the front-runner to be the fourth ILB, and thus likely be guaranteed a roster spot. 

But both Dwayne Norman and Darnell Sankey aren't allowing Anderson to rest on his laurels. These two undrafted rookies will get waived before September 8. But unless another team claims them, I'd be surprised if Denver doesn't re-sign both players to the practice squad. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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