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Trevathan takes over Broncos' D

7:27 PM, Jan 27, 2014   |    comments
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(SportsNetwork.com) - Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning pilots the best offense in the history of the NFL, while Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spearheads the NFL's No. 1 defense.

That irresistible force getting ready to go against the proverbial immovable object certainly figures to get most of the attention leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII as the AFC champion Broncos take on the NFC kingpin Seahawks on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

After all, it's the first time since 1991's big game in which the team that scored the most points in the NFL's regular season will do battle with the club that allowed the fewest.

Sometimes the obvious story line isn't the most important, however, and it's conceivable this year's Super Bowl will be decided by the more unheralded units in the game, the Denver defense and its counterparts on the Seattle offense.

A Broncos "D" with the star power of Von Miller for all 16 games and an in- his- prime Champ Bailey would still have likely been overshadowed by Manning and Co. this season. The current group might not even get noticed in New York after allowing 356 yards per game (19th in the NFL) and 24.9 points per game (22nd).

"We think we're a pretty good defense," strong safety Duke Ihenacho said. "Obviously it didn't show that much earlier in the year, but we're starting to click and we've been hitting on all cylinders for the last few weeks. We're OK with our offense being the No. 1 offense. I think that is a good problem to have. If they overshadow us or if we're in the backdrop, that's cool with us. We don't mind it."

On paper, the unit's strength is stopping the run (101.6 ypg, seventh), but it's been susceptible to giving up big plays through the air, allowing 254.4 yards per game (27th).

Miller, Denver's best defensive player, was suspended for the first six games and then went down with a torn ACL late in the regular season, and the Broncos suffered another big blow against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round when starting cornerback Chris Harris suffered a torn ACL of his own.

Meanwhile, defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has not played since Nov. 24 due to the seizure-like symptoms he experienced before a Week 13 matchup at Kansas City, also was placed on IR during the postseason, and Bailey is in the death throes of his Hall of Fame career, a player forced back into the starting lineup by Harris' injury, along with the ineffectiveness of fellow veteran Quentin Jammer.

There are positives, though. Veteran rusher Shaun Phillips has been a godsend off the edge, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has been an impact player on the interior, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has lived up to his reputation as an elite cover corner at times.

The real difference maker, though, is weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan, the Broncos' leading tackler and a player on the verge of joining Miller in the "elite" category.

Despite missing so many key cogs, Jack Del Rio's defense has upped its play in the postseason, giving up just 259 total yards and 17 points to the Chargers before allowing 320 yards and 16 points to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

"We've just been trying to play our kind of ball," Trevathan said when asked about his unit's play in the postseason. "We wanted to stay within our scheme. A lot of injuries occurred. A lot of young guys stepped up and played a key role in this. And the leaders did a good job getting them ready to get ready for this.

"We start off pretty slow, but we kind of find our swag. Guys have that attitude. What happened in the regular season happened then. This is the postseason. This is where people make their names."

Originally a sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2012, Trevathan is making his name thanks to a chip-on-his-shoulder mentality shared by a lot of late-round selections.

"Yeah. I mean, I think it's a chip," he said. "But you've got to be well- rounded. You've got to be a pro, handle that stuff as a challenge, take it upon yourself to go out there and perform and show them what's up."

Trevathan was as productive as it gets in college football's toughest landscape, leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 144 and being named first-team all-conference in 2010. A year later, he was excelling again but passed over when the 12 semifinalists for the Dick Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker, were named.

"It crushed me, to be honest, but it kind of made me get into the groove of things, grind it out a little more and push a little bit harder," Trevathan said. "It made me want to prove to the world, prove to everybody, that I did deserve to be on (the list)."

The knock on Trevathan at Kentucky was his size. At just a shade over 6 feet, he hardly comes across as the prototypical thumper inside. What he does have, though, is athleticism and the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline.

"It's a blessing to be a part of this organization," Trevathan said. "These guys took me under their wings. I kind of snuck through (the draft) and they took a chance with me. I made it my dedication to give them my all, get them everything that I worked for."

At times this season, Trevathan has played as well as any linebacker in the NFL with consistency likely serving as the final hurdle before Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition.

"He's a terrific young player," Denver coach John Fox said. "He has worked very hard. It means a lot to him. He, like all young players, every day they're learning more and more about what it means to be a pro. He's had a terrific year. I thought he did really well as a rookie and I think he's definitely grown up and played very well."

The Florida native has already made the so-called splash plays like when he picked off Dallas' Tony Romo to seal a wild win in Dallas. That said, Trevathan also can lose focus at times, evidenced when he was about to go in for a pick-six against Joe Flacco and Baltimore in the season opener before dropping the football short of the goal line.

"You're going to get knocked down," Fox said about Trevathan's occasional mental mistakes. "Sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come. I think in his case, it was a learning experience."

"Life is a game," Trevathan added. "It's ups and downs, highs and lows. But, you know, I like my lows and I like my highs because without my lows, I never know what my highs are.

"It was a rough, roller-coaster year, but we pulled it together. I've got a strong faith in God and I've got a strong faith within my team. We're here now and we've just got to get this one more win. That is what I'm dedicating this whole week to."

That and stopping Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks' bruising running back who can quickly turn arm tackles into turnstiles.

"If they get the running game going, they can really get going," Trevathan said when discussing the Seahawks. "They play within their scheme. They play with the people that they have. They use them to their strengths. We've got to be prepared for this. This is a powerhouse. They can get going anytime. We've got to prepare for everything. It's going to be a good Super Bowl."

Below is a capsule look at the defense of the Denver Broncos:

DEFENSIVE LINE: In his first season in Denver Phillips, a South Jersey native, led the Broncos with 10 sacks and has now totaled at least seven sacks in eight of his 10 NFL seasons so he is very consistent if not spectacular off the edge.

"If you look at our defense, we've been plugging, chugging all year," Phillips said. "And a lot of us guys weren't even on the team last year so it's just learning the defense and understanding the philosophy and understanding where people fit at and where people don't. We're just getting better and trying to hit our stride as we go on. We're trying to prepare to play our best football game on defense in the last game of the season which would be the Super Bowl obviously."

His counterpart on the left side, second-year man Malik Jackson is a prototypical base left end who is quick off the ball and can flatten inside but has an inconsistent motor. Free agent pickup Terrance Knighton is the team's best pure run stuffer with solid quickness, agility, and balance inside. He's also a decent bull pusher but doesn't have the hand quickness to explode off pass blocks.

"He's been tremendous," Fox said. "He's a guy that we were familiar with coming out in the draft out of Temple as well as Jack Del Rio, our defensive coordinator, coached Terrance (in Jacksonville). Our strength staff had been with him (with the Jags). So we had some pretty good insights on what kind of person and player he was. He's been nothing but A-plus for us since he's been a Bronco."

Rookie first-round pick Sylvester Williams is the other interior player, a raw but occasionally disruptive force thanks to his top-tier athleticism. Veteran end Robert Ayers will also get some reps and tends to turn it up in the postseason where he has three career sacks, second in franchise playoff history behind only Simon Fletcher and Rulon Jones, who each had six.

LINEBACKERS: Trevathan was one of just seven players in the NFL this season to post 120 tackles and three interceptions. Meanwhile, his 124 tackles in 2013 were the most by a Bronco since D.J. Williams posted 170 defensive stops in 2007.

He and SAM backer Nate Irving, a teammate of Seattle QB Russell Wilson at North Carolina State, will flank pedestrian veteran MLB veteran Paris Lenon, who has edged ahead of the more athletic but inconsistent Wesley Woodyard on the depth chart.

Irving is an athletic and instinctive player who has a quick first step but can get caught up in the trash if he doesn't succeed on the first move while Lenon has seen it all over a 14-year career that has seen stops in eight different NFL cities.

"The guy has a lot starts under his belt," Fox said when discussing the 36- year-old University of Richmond product. "He brought some experience. He was new to us this year so like all new players, it takes you a minute to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. We think he's slid into a role that has helped us be productive on defense."

DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD: Rodgers-Cromartie is a solid cover corner who is tied with Green Bay's Tramon Williams for the most pass breakups in the NFL since 2008 with 98. That tells you DRC is around the football a lot and he has returned five interceptions for touchdowns during his career. As good as Rodgers-Cromartie is in coverage, though, he's a major liability in run support and that's why he has bounced around from Arizona to Philadelphia to Denver. The bottom line is DRC can be taken out of the game by physical play.

Bailey is a future Hall of Fame corner who still carries a certain cachet about him but film doesn't lie and at this stage of his career, the 35-year- old, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl, is a rapidly descending player who needs plenty of help from the scheme in order to risk exposure. Bailey wouldn't even be in the lineup if Harris didn't get hurt against San Diego or Jammer did something with his chance. The fact that Del Rio called on Jammer before he flamed out with an awful performance against his old team speaks volumes on just how much Bailey has declined as a player.

"When you look at a room and you can see two guys that you can pretty much say are going to be first-ballot Hall of Famers -- and I'm referring both to Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey -- the successes (Bailey) has had, to never have had the experience of trotting out on Super Bowl Sunday, there are a lot of guys in that room that it means a lot to them because it means a lot to him," Fox said. "He's been a valuable part of the success we've had."

Nickel back Tony Carter is undersized and battling an arm injury and could have plenty of problems dealing with the explosive and fresh-legged Percy Harvin if Harvin's hip is OK.

"I think we're doing a good job of just communicating with each other," Carter said of the Broncos' secondary. "We all trust and believe in whoever is out there. And the coaches do a great job of putting us in a position to succeed. We all trust and believe in each other. The secondary is like brothers -- the whole defense is. We complement each other."

Strong safety Duke Ihenacho totaled 12 tackles and three passes breakups against Baltimore in Week 1 during his first career start and he has been steady, in unspectacular ever since. A undrafted college free agent out of San Jose State, the second-year player is rangy and relatively active in run support.

His running mate 32-year-old veteran Paterson, N.J. native Mike Adams, who is a liability physically perhaps but can make up for a lost step or two with veteran savvy.

"It can get overwhelming because that is where I won my first high school title (at Passiac Tech High School in New Jersey). Well, it's new now, but at Giants Stadium. Now, I'm going home where all my family can see and watch. It's been 10 years, 10 long years just to get to this point. Now we're finally here and now we've just got to finish."

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