Most Important Guys You’ve Never Heard Of: Broncos Edition

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

As if we were not familiar enough with a potent divisional rival, meet some of the guys that you may not know, but have been valuable and so far relatively unknown contributors to the excellent season Denver has had so far.

On the Defense

San Diego Charger fans are well acquainted with the Broncos 2013 team leader for sacks, (Shaun Phillips) passes defended (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), and the team’s former first round pick that was tabbed as the next Hall of Fame pass-rushing specialist (Von Miller). The name you may not know right now is the team’s "Will" inside linebacker, in his second year in the league, his first as a starter. Meet Danny Trevathan (#59), the Denver defense’s Most Important Guy You Never Heard Of (MIGYNHO).

Why He Is Important

He is leading the team in total tackles with 58 (39 solo). He is also in a three-way tie for 2nd on his team with 8 passes defended (Denver’s opponents have had to throw the ball a lot). He is also tied for the team lead for INTs with 3, including one that sealed the game against the Cowboys in Dallas (which is the picture shown above), a 51-48 barn burner earlier this year. He also has one forced fumble and a sack.

It is no coincidence that many of the defensive MIGYNHO are skewed toward Will ILB’s in the 3-4 or Mikes, and Sams in a 4-3. The Will OLB’s are mostly pass rushing specialists and are well known. Those players do not typically lead their teams in tackles or have many passes defended to their credit, but often do lead their team in sacks. Linebackers in the 225 – 250 pound range with quickness (and perhaps raw speed) are vital to a defensive team’s ability to shut down backs and TEs working the short middle in the quick-hitting spread offenses that are being run by so many teams.

The 6’0", 235 pound Trevathan fits that profile. Darned near coming from nowhere (the University of Kentucky puts out more hoops players than football players) and taken in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, he has emerged this year as a potential future star in the league. Active and persistent, Trevathan has good enough coverage skills to stay with all but the fastest backs and tight ends. A little short for coverage on TEs, he relies on technique and anticipation to make plays in the passing game. He is a relentless pursuer on wide runs, while his height gives him decent leverage to shed blocks and make plays on runs between the tackles.

Honorable Mention

Duke Ihenacho (#33); Strong Safety – If Trevathan was a steal in the 2012, Ihenacho was highway robbery. The free agent was signed out of San Jose State in 2012, appeared in two games (playing special teams with Trevathan) his rookie year and emerged in the Broncos 2013 training camp (along with Trevathan) as an 8 game starter at his position this year. Ihenacho is 2nd on the team in tackles behind Travathan with 51 (43 solo), also has 8 passes defended and has 2 forced fumbles, with two fumble recoveries.

He has not recorded any INTs or sacks, but is one of the defense's enforcers in the run game. He has had an ankle issue and is officially listed as questionable against the Bolts, but with Denver coming off its bye, I suspect that Ihenacho will be on the field Sunday, looking for ball carriers and receivers to hit and hit hard. He is one of those players that seems to show a complete disregard for his own well-being while he is on the field.

On the Offense

Any Bolts fan that watched the debacle that was the 2012 offense knows how important having a capable Left Tackle is for an offense to properly function. Which means that the Broncos typically have a powerful asset in two time Pro-Bowl Left Tackle Ryan Clady. Unfortunately for Denver, Clady went on IR after the 2nd game of the season. It has not seemed to bother their offense one bit, which makes his replacement, Chris Clark, Denver’s offensive MIGYNHO.

Why He Is Important

Denver leads the league in both offensive yards and scoring. They have passed 336 times and ran 224 times. Peyton Manning has been sacked a mere 11 times out of 347 attempted pass plays. Even though the defenses Denver faces try to get to Manning and slow down the league’s most potent passing offense, Clark has filled in well for a player thought to one the best (if not the best) Left Tackle in the league.

Clark is an unusual athlete. While currently listed at 6’5" and 315 pounds, his college days at Southern Mississippi were spent playing a lot of Tight End. This was how he made the Denver roster as an undrafted Free Agent in 2010, as a Tight End that appeared in 8 games his rookie season. Mostly used on special teams and short yardage gimmick plays as an eligible tackle in 2010 and 2011, he has not caught one pass in the NFL, despite starting 6 games in 2011.

As he has bulked up, his role as a swing tackle and capable back-up was established in 2012. He has performed admirably in replacing Clady this season. The only games he has had issues in dealing with pass-rushers was against Dallas (Ware) and Indianapolis (Mathis). Matched against Larry English or the other uniform numbers the Bolts might send against him, he should once again provide enough blocking to keep Peyton Manning’s blind side secure on Sunday.

Honorable Mention

Trindon Holliday (#11); Return Specialist – It is a testimony to the Broncos offense that every other one of the team’s skill position players should be fairly well known. And I am fairly center that many of you have heard of Holliday, the Broncos primary punt and kick-off returner, as he has been featured on more than one SportsCenter highlight clip over the last two years. After being cut by the Texans last year for fumbling issues, he has emerged as a dynamic changer of field position and weapon for the Broncos last year and this one.

So far this season, he has scored twice, once with a 105 yard kick-off return and the other score coming on an 81 yard punt return. The fumbling issues that resulted in the Texans giving up on him have not left him completely; he has put the ball on the ground twice this season. Still, the 613 all-purpose yards, with a 35.4 return average on his 11 kick-off returns and an 11.4 average on his 20 punt returns are enough to make him a valued contributor to the scoring machine that is the 2013 Denver Broncos. Without a doubt, Holiday is the most dangerous return man in the NFL today.

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